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Beyond the Gold and the Hype, There's a Guy Who Delivers

Beyond the gold and the hype, there's a guy who delivers

      
Web-posted: 12:24 a.m. Mar. 1, 2001

   It took a few weeks, but I managed to get Wayne Barton to return my call. Naturally, he wanted something. He was breaking ground on the $7 million Wayne Barton Study Center, a place where kids can go for tutoring, counseling, even medical help.
    And he was looking for some publicity.
    I'd been hearing about Barton for weeks, from all sides. Folks who like the guy worship him. They see him as a selfless advocate for kids who need help.
    Folks who don't like him see a shameless self-promoter who trades on the fact that he's a high-profile black man in lily-white Boca, getting rich folks to put up millions for his programs. They mention that he was a cop for about 20 years and records show he was disciplined about 20 times, including a sticky matter where he kept showing up at the house of a woman who apparently wanted nothing to do with him.
   He sounded a lot more interesting than most of the folks I'd crossed paths with. So the other day I went looking for the ground-breaking.
   I pulled off Federal on to 14th and there were guys in white shirts and vests in front of a sign for valet parking. They were helping folks out of their cars. The address was right, but this couldn't be the place. I was looking for something humble, down-to-earth. I was looking for wide-eyed kids standing in an empty lot in the shadow of a housing project.
   I got out of the car to see what was up.
   Beyond the valet parking sign was a red carpet under a canopy. Male and female escorts were leading folks into a tent, an area decked out with tables sporting elaborate centerpieces. Each person entering the tent was given a white gift bag. On the side of the bag was gold script touting the Wayne Barton Study Center Groundbreaking.
   I kept going.
    Inside the tent was a bar -- soft drinks all around -- and a buffet table. The cheeses ranged from Brie to cheddar. The finger sandwiches included salmon on a dark bread and chicken salad on little rolls. There was coffee, fresh fruit and a large white cake with red roses and more script about Wayne Barton and the groundbreaking.
    Around the room folks were top-heavy with gold chains and diamond earrings, hands glistening with pearl and ruby rings, lots of silk, cutting-edge hairdos. The women were also decked out.
    The media lined one wall, a high-school chorus lined the other. The sheriff's honor guard stood at attention.
    And at the front of the room -- on stage in a jazzy black suit with a half-dozen gold buttons up the front -- was the ringmaster: Wayne Barton.
   He was working the crowd, hugging and kissing the well-wishers who were lined up to pay homage. Art Johnson, soon to be school superintendent, came by. So did Steven Abrams, the guy who wants to be mayor. There were CEOs and MDs, cops and clergy. And there was a stream of folks who wrote the checks to make this center happen. Most kicked in a few grand. Two women kicked in $1 million apiece.
    Barton introduced them all, along with his family, the political types, the architect who designed the place, a couple of teachers from his days in high school and middle school, and two personal trainers from the gym where he works out.
    Barton talked about what he has done for kids in this town. Others got up and said pretty much the same thing.
    Then, about an hour into it, a Boca Raton High School student named Stephanie got up and talked about Barton and the programs he's made available to kids over the years. She talked about having a safe haven to go to, a place to study after school. She talked about how she's gone from being a kid with low self-esteem to being an honor student. And she personally thanked Barton, telling him, "You touched my life for the better."
   Around the room, there were dozens of stories like that. There was talk about the 44 kids now in college thanks to money provided by Barton programs. Nine more start this fall. It was powerful.
    The show ended and I came away thinking about Barton the way I think about Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, or even Eminem. They're guys with a lot of baggage, but they're guys who can deliver.
    It's just that sometimes you've got to get past the gold chains, the hype and the Brie to see what they've done.
   Rob Borsellino can be reached at rborsellino@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6626.
   

     

Copyright 2000, Sun-Sentinel Co. & South Florida Interactive, Inc.

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