Richard Clark was the big man on campus -- six-foot-two, 250 pounds of big. He was big like that, even in high school. A star linebacker on the lousy Wildcats. Until the fight with his coach. Proud but not arrogant proud. Quiet proud. Distinguished proud. Says he was giving it all to the team. A good student. Likable too. Always had a group of kids hanging around him in the hall. Treated everyone the same. The kind of guy who wore his big well.
Geri Price was nerd incarnate. Honor roll. Brainiac. Shy. Quiet too, but a different kind of quiet. Scared quiet. Churning inside but quiet on the outside quiet. A nice girl. Her mom Puerto Rican. Her dad African-American. A divorce in the Bronx when she was just a toddler. Fine black hair that rippled and twisted down her back. Honey-colored skin. Eyes as dark and shining as gypsum. Felt as if she didn't fit in anywhere. More comfortable burrowed in a book than with people. (Watchers by Dean R. Koontz was a favorite.)
They sure made an unlikely pair.
But when it came time to invite a girl to senior prom, the football star picked the nerd. "I couldn't believe it! Everybody in that school respected him -- teachers and students -- and he asked me to the prom," Geri recalls giddily.
Geri's inwardness and penchant for solitude reminded Richard of his mom. He read Geri's ability to stand apart from the crowd as strength. "I had a lot of respect for her," he explains. He didn't realize until later how scared she was.
They were just kids. That night, neither knew that 14 years later, they would wind up husband and wife with four children of their own. They didn't know they would remain in Davie. Nor could Geri know that something had started to rumble through her life that night -- a big, quiet, caring something that would change her.
Already at age 17, Richard had suffered enough to twist him to bitterness. But he remained strong and kind. Geri would lean on his strength, draw from it, feed off it, learn from it, and then, as she matured, find her own.
In 2000, at age 32, Geri Clark became the first black elected official in the town of Davie. Her election to the Town Council marked a major shift for the West Broward town where hundreds of people turned out when the Ku Klux Klan marched down main street in the 1970s, a place that today is 87 percent white. Geri Clark, who registered to vote eight months before running for office, trounced white incumbent Jim Bush. She won decisively in both black and white precincts throughout the city.
The effect of her victory on Davie's small black community is only part of the story. Her election also marked the metamorphosis of a young, frightened girl into a public figure with a passion for her community. After Richard got into a dispute with the Davie Police Department this past March, Geri vowed to make sure Davie police treat everyone respectfully. She may ask the town to consider creating a civilian review board like the one Miami voters approved earlier this month. "For me, race is number one," says council member Clark.
It all goes back to Western High Prom Night 1984.
The theme was "Puttin' on the Ritz." Richard bought Geri a fluffy pink dress to wear; she couldn't afford to buy one herself. He brought her a pink corsage of carnations to match the dress and drove his brother Isiah's 1983, burgundy-and-white Thunderbird. On Richard's arm that night, Geri felt as if she were with the best-looking and most upstanding guy in all of Western High.
Rain is washing over Davie today, streaming down in great big sheets. A stationary front parked across Florida's middle is guiding moist air churned up in the Gulf of Mexico across Broward County. Commuters inching along Griffin Road are having a tough go of it. The water is at least a foot deep near the north ramp onto the Florida Turnpike. The canal along University Drive has reached the edge of its banks. If it rains any more, it looks as if the canal might overflow and cover the road. It feels as though it wouldn't take much to turn this land back to swamp, for the pools of water to join up and seek out the mother swamp of the Everglades. Nature is pushing it that way, pushing to reclaim this land, drop by drop, inch by inch.
Some places in Florida have erased history. Everything is so brand-spanking new you can't remember what was there before. Nothing there now triggers the old feelings. Disney did that in Orlando. Squint hard while standing in line at Space Mountain and it's hard to imagine acres of orange groves heavy with fruit.