by Art Levy
Updated 2 months ago
Until I was almost in kindergarten, the only person who could really understand me was my mother. I couldn’t pronounce words like ‘milk’ or pronounce Rs and other sounds. I think that’s why I’ve always had such an affinity for people not being picked on and not being teased because I was teased as a kid.
I don’t ever remember my dad not having two jobs.
One thing that was really fortunate for me was I grew up in a very integrated neighborhood. I never went to a school that wasn’t integrated. Not only was my school integrated racially, but I had two blind students in my class, which had a huge impact on me. It changed me. I became a special-ed teacher, which is what I did the first 10 years of my career
I have a hearing impediment, but I’m actually a very good listener. Many times, people with hearing impairments are much better listeners because they have to be. They don’t have a choice.
What makes Pensacola very cool is the vibrancy. It’s the buzz. The neat part about having a vibrant downtown is you’re not like everywhere else. Close my eyes and take me to a strip mall, and I can almost tell you what stores will be in there and where they’ll be. There’s no uniqueness. Well, Pensacola’s downtown is built on small independent businesspeople. It’s people getting energy from other people. You’re going to see uniqueness.
In leadership, you have to be able to handle failure, and you have to be very resilient, and I think having a speech impediment really has had a huge impact on me and helped me be more resilient and able to handle some failure.
We spend so much time beating up the public school system, railing against public education, but if half your kids aren’t ready for kindergarten, it doesn’t matter how great a teacher you are. You’ve got to get these kids ready for kindergarten.
My first taste of alcohol was wonderful. I was about in the eighth grade, and I was with two guys, and we had a six pack of beer. Gosh, I’ll tell you — it just felt great. I felt like Superman. It gave me a feeling I had never felt before.
When I speak, people think I do these dramatic pauses. No. I’m just trying to figure out a word I can pronounce.
I faced a lot of consequences due to my drinking, but I was one of the lucky ones in that I had a moment of clarity. I had just gone through my second divorce. I had two kids from my first marriage. It was Christmas Eve, and I asked my second wife to come over for a while. I was hoping to convince her to come back because I was lonely. She came over. I had the kids from my first marriage with me. She went to leave, and I begged her to stay and then, like every alcoholic, I hit every button I could — I love you, I’m going to kill myself, blah, blah, blah — and she left, and I’m alone with my two kids and I’m so self-pitied. I put them in the car, took them to their mom’s house, told their mom I didn’t feel good, that I couldn’t watch them. Then, I sat Christmas Eve, all by myself, just feeling sorry for myself. I’m a victim. I got up on Christmas day, went downstairs, and here’s this tree, with empty gifts. I had what Carl Jung, the psychiatrist, would call a moment of clarity. I saw myself as someone else would, a loser. I reached out for help and ended up going to a 12-step meeting — and I’ve been very active in a 12-step program for more than 37 years now.
We just get so hung up on elected officials. Government was never meant to be the economic engine of a community. It’s not that the government can’t play a role, but I think by us waiting for elected officials to act, private businesses have been given a reason to step back. In the old days, what really grew cities were the local people, the local bank president, the local newspaper publisher. One of the challenges in America is that, in the last five decades, you didn’t have the big power players in a city anymore. All that power shifted to the giant cities and so did the talent. What’s really cool is when these small and mid-market cities get hope again. We have a chance now to reverse the migration because many of these big cities have truly become unaffordable.
Florida falls into this trap that thinks the way to solve your traffic problems is just build more roads and wider roads, and I think that’s wrong. Sprawl is not sustainable.
Almost every time I go to an organization that’s having issues, it’s because they haven’t spent the money and invested it in training their people.
Rishy (his wife) is steady. I always tell people on a one-through-10 scale, I’m a nine some days, a two some days, an eight, a three. I’m going up and down like a roller coaster. I see Rishy on the way up and the way down because she’s between a 4.5 and a 5.5 on a regular basis. She’s a great steadying force, and she believes in me. The other thing, she’s a hard worker. She works every day at her coffee shop and her olive oil store. People are blown away. They know she doesn’t have to do that, but there she is every day, cleaning tables.
Read more in Florida Trend's April issue.
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