Photo: Mark Wallheiser
Florida Icon: Jack Levine
Child and family advocate; founder, 4Generations Institute; former president, Voices For Florida's Children, Tallahassee; age 67
I take optimism pills every day. There’s nothing in my profession that leaves room for negativity or pessimism. I am the world’s worst complainer. I am the least negative person in the room. I never want anyone to walk away from a meeting with me, regretting that we met.
My wife and I are gardeners. We have an organic, five-bed raised garden. We’re beekeepers. I get most of my creativity done in the garden. There’s something analogous between advocacy and gardening.
I was in my 40s, already in Tallahassee, already a dad, and I had this revelation that my dad’s blindness and age were gifts to me that took me decades to unwrap. My interest in reading and writing, my interest in speaking, my interest in public policy, all were rooted in the fact that for seven or eight years, from age 8 to 16, I worked for my father. I was his second set of eyes. I read to him. My right arm was his lead to unfamiliar places.
Tallahassee is paradise. Everybody has to come to you. It’s the little town making big decisions. Andrew’s restaurant is the crossroads of Florida. It’s like I hang out there, and whomever I need to see is walking down the street — governors, Cabinet members, advocates, businesspeople.
I was a shy kid. I was heavier than most, kind of short and pudgy. For my bar mitzvah suit, my parents had to go to the husky aisle of the men’s store.
The last 25 years, we’ve gone from three-generation families to four-generation families. When I was growing up, it was children, parents and grandparents. That’s all we knew. Our grandparents were the oldest people around. But now because of health practices and medical advancements, we’ve become a four-generation society. On average, families now are children, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. In Florida, we’ve got lots of everybody. If we have 6 million under age 25 and 6 million over 50, how smart do we have to be to realize that we’re perfectly balanced and we have to have the grandparenting age help the first generation and have the first generation help the grandparenting age? That’s what we try to do in families. How dare we not do it in communities.
I see the addiction of technology especially in the new generation — the under 25s — to be pervasive. They must have it. It’s fed by a compulsion for immediacy that is antithetical to contemplation and communication. So, I’m very worried about a generation of tech addicts. I’m worried about them as parents. I’m worried about them as workers. I’m worried about them as citizens.
The economy of speaking during presentations is a great interest of mine. You can say a little in three hours or a lot in 15 minutes.
My father had a very persuasive personality. When he wanted your opinion, he gave it to you. There was no real negotiation involved — and he wanted me to be a teacher. And guess what? At 21, I became a teacher.
I’m never without my camera. It is my journal.
Environmentally, I really think we are getting in serious trouble with how we do our agriculture. The idea of the chemicalization of farming has me very concerned. The access to food that is not chemicalized is minimal, especially for underclass people.
You can be an advocate and not be political, which I’m not, or be a litigant, which I’m not. I’ve found a niche that’s very comfortable for me — collecting information and then finding people who can use that information.
I was at the table when Guardian ad Litem was formed in 1990. We have 11,500 Guardians ad Litem in Florida now, by the way. It’s a perfect example of bridging the generations. Two-thirds of our Guardians ad Litem are over the age of 50.
My mother grew up in an immigrant household. She didn’t speak any English until she went to kindergarten, even though she was American born. She lived to her mid- 80s. Jerry Seinfeld said when you turn 70 in New York, you have to move to Boca Raton, so she dutifully went to Boca. She started a little knitting circle. One of her great prides was she got together a bunch of women and they’d knit the little hats for the preemies at the local hospital. They set themselves on a course of doing 20 a week. That’s a lot of preemies and a lot of knitting. I was very proud of her for that.
You have to realize that partisanship is not necessarily the only way to get things done in Florida. I know that sounds kind of wild and naive because there’s so much passion and money in partisan politics. But we have 616 babies born in Florida every day and not one of them is a Republican or Democrat.
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