Beyond the Gold and the Hype, There's a Guy Who Delivers
Beyond the gold and the hype,
there's a guy who delivers
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
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.
sounded a lot more interesting than most of the folks I'd crossed
paths with. So the other day I went looking for the
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
I got out of the car to see what was
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.
media lined one wall, a high-school chorus lined the other. The
sheriff's honor guard stood at attention.
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
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.
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
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.
that sometimes you've got to get past the gold chains, the hype and
the Brie to see what they've done.
Borsellino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or
2000, Sun-Sentinel Co. & South Florida Interactive,