Son of the Soil:
By Audrey Peterman
Unabashed. Unafraid. Unapologetic. Filled with love and compassion for the people he served. Always striving to make a difference and succeeding in superlative ways.
And those are only the first few words that come to mind upon hearing of the death of our giant, beloved Congressman Alcee Hastings. As the world mourns his passing on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, at age 84, I am comforted by the words ringing through my mind, “There will never come an end to the good he has done.” My husband Frank and I are sending out all the love in our hearts to ease his path and console his beloved family and friends.
Congressman Hastings represented Florida’s District 20 for almost 30 years, and no one could have served more ably. The reservoir of love that flowed from him uplifted everyone around him. The Congressman was a fearless champion of the downtrodden and overlooked, and his entire ethos was focused on achieving equal rights and justice for all.
Succumbing to the disease of pancreatic cancer, Congressman Hastings filled the years between his carefree childhood in Altamonte Springs with a journey to the judiciary, the halls of Congress and destinations at the far corners of the world. In announcing his passing, his family memorialized him thus:
“It is with profound sadness and the deepest sense of loss that we announce the passing of the Honorable Alcee L. Hastings. He lived a life of triumph over adversity and his brilliance and compassion was felt among his constituents, colleagues, the nation and the world. He lived a full life with an indelible fighting spirit dedicated to equal justice. He believed that progress and change can only be achieved through recognizing and respecting the humanity of all mankind. He was never afraid to speak his mind and truly loved serving his constituents and his family. He will be dearly missed, but his legacy and fighting spirit will forever live on.”
I had the privilege of knowing Congressman Hastings as the people’s champion from working at the Westside Gazette since 1985. As the Gazette is the heart of the Historically Black community in Fort Lauderdale and the Congressman was the people’s knight in shining armor, I had ample opportunities to see him interact with the community. It seemed that he showed up to every occasion that he was invited to because he knew his presence made a difference. He supported so many organizations with his own funds. In a community where people could have become jaded from so many empty and broken promises over many years, Congressman Hastings gave the people someone to believe in. They knew he was on their side and would use his power and position to help them all he could.
I was also privileged that Frank and the Congressman enjoyed a friendship dating back to their years in law school at Howard University. As they got older, I saw how much they valued the relationship – there aren’t that many people in your life that you share the experience of college with all the way through age 84.
“If I had to describe his qualities I’d say loyalty, perseverance and commitment. As his friend, there is nothing he wouldn’t do for you, sincerely and without any thought of benefit to him,” says Frank.” He was a study in perseverance considering all he had to overcome to make America what it should be. His commitment to equality and justice is the hallmark of his life. He never found any reason not to challenge the unfairness of the system, and to do it loud and vociferously with the tenacity that marked his character.”
When Frank and I learned how precarious the health of our environment was, for several years in a row Congressman Hastings sponsored a program at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Weekend in Washington, DC, so that we could update other leaders and the community. Besides all the issues he worked on, I am most proud of Congressman Hastings’ passion for the Everglades and his dedication to seeing it restored. He was as committed to protecting nature as he was to protecting people, because he understood that we are inextricably linked. Congressman Hastings was known for his staunch support of immigrants and the elderly, the LGBTQ community and marginalized people everywhere.
So many hearts in our community, in our nation and the world are hurting today, unable to comprehend that the love and joy of Congressman Hastings has left this world. So vast and compelling is his life story that no one could presume to capture it in one piece. I’m grateful that publisher Bobby R. Henry, Sr. gave me the liberty to share my perspective on the salutary Congressman. Over the next several weeks we do not doubt that reams more will be written about the Congressman by people eager to extol his life.
We are praying diligently for his family and would only say to the Congressman, “God speed sir! You have fought the good fight; you have kept the faith and now you have finished the race. May the memories you leave us strengthen each and every one of us to follow your example.”