In a year of incalculable losses, our community has now suffered an immeasurable one.

Congressman Alcee Hastings, 84, whose life was marked by passion and principle, has passed away.

The gerrymandered district that Congressman Hastings represented spanned three South Florida counties, but the voice he amplified honored all of Florida for decades.

The 84-year-old attorney and former federal judge had been a crusader for civil rights for over a half-century. He was a voice for fairness and social equality when discrimination and segregation were the norms. He would have none of it, not then, not now, not ever.

 “Alcee,” as he is lovingly remembered by the friends he made and the community he served, was taken from us by pancreatic cancer. He was Florida’s senior member of Congress, living his last few years with the diagnosis.

As a result of his illness, we had seen his bright and beaming presence in public so much less.  He was even unable to travel to Washington to take his oath of office after being re-elected last November, Still, his presence echoed through congressional chambers yesterday.

On both sides of the aisle, and throughout South Florida, you will find tributes and accolades pouring forth in honor of Congressman Hastings.

Alcee will always be recalled for his personable nature, his irrepressible humor, and his enthusiasm for life that was ever so commanding. His speeches and orations were vocal and riveting, second to none in both tone and tenor, content and character.

Alcee Hastings spent a lifetime crusading against more than racial injustice, though. When there was no such thing as “gay rights,” Alcee was protecting the rights of gay people, the rare, elected leader who would speak out on behalf of Dolphin Democrats, and our causes.

Ten years ago, he issued a Congressional proclamation honoring the inauguration of the South Florida Gay News.

When HIV patients needed an advocate, or AIDS agencies needed a voice, he would be there, as the man who could stand up and be heard, fearless in his advocacy, demanding government do more than the government had done.

Alcee was unashamed and unabashed at calling out power that poisoned, corruption that ate at our nation’s soul. He was simply one of the most distinguished leaders in our community’s history.

Alcee championed the concerns as well of women and the elderly, health care for all, and higher wages for anyone willing to work. Alcee never let up. He never let down. He always made you feel like you were part of his family. 

Most of all, to me, he was my friend, my dear friend. Like so many others who shared time with him over the years, our relationship was special, spanning four decades.

Let me share with you one of those special times, to give you an idea of how long we shared our friendship and passion. The year was 1978, and I was teaching a criminal justice class at Florida Atlantic University. Forty-two years ago.

A Broward County Juvenile Court judge had taken notice of a study my class had published on homeless, runaway children in Broward County living on the Fort Lauderdale beach.

The judge ordered public hearings to be held in his courtroom to address this social problem. He demanded the city erect a runaway shelter for those kids, so many of them gay youths abandoned by their parents.

That judge was Alcee Hastings, who would then travel to my class on Juvenile Justice and lecture our students on the law. On that same day, he administered the oath swearing me into the Florida Bar. It was 1979.

Over his life of 84 years, so too did he, day after day, week after week, year after year, travel to your club, your community group, your condo. He impacted so many of us so often.

Alcee’s voice was first heard in Fort Lauderdale in the ‘60s, when, as a Black man, a motel would not rent him a room.

It’s a voice he leaves behind in 2021, with African American men and women serving this community as mayors and congressmen, state attorneys and public defenders, judges and supervisors.

The titles they hold today are in no small part a tribute to what Alcee Hastings, did yesterday.  May we all honor that legacy by having the courage and compassion he so exemplified.

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