The key to overcoming life’s challenges is perseverance – just ask David Burney. David not only continues to pursue his GED after leaving school in the ninth grade, he was recently published in the Florida Literacy Coalition’s book of essays. His tale of “Poppin’ Pete” at the famed Sunset Lounge in West Palm Beach – based on a true story – is filled with surprises, drama and humor. It’s an example of how David has prevailed over the many challenges he faced in childhood.
David is a client of DePorres Place, which teaches reading, writing, and spoken English skills to adults who read below an eighth-grade level. One in seven adults in Palm Beach County are unable to read on a third-grade level, and DePorres serves hundreds of them. David came to DePorres Place in 2018.
His childhood was often grim and frightening. His father murdered his mother and another man when David was young, so he was sent to live with his grandparents. His sister has kidney disease and the family had to take the bus to Jupiter three times a week for treatment. David had an untreated lazy eye, and it made him self-conscious. Because of his limited literacy skills, David initially struggled to find work. He’s been a groundskeeper for the County cemetery for almost 20 years, but has been unable to advance because of his lack of education. Still, David is undeterred!
Here, reprinted with his permission, is his Florida Literacy Coalition submission, “Poppin’ Pete,” about the days he successfully competed in talent shows at the Sunset Lounge.
Poppin’ Pete and the Sunset Lounge
I remember a time in my life when I danced in talent shows. The competition was tough. There were singers, dancers and comedians and all of them were good. The Sunset Lounge was the place to be on Saturday night. That was the night they had the Talent Show. The host of the show was Chico the Virgo. Chico had decided to have a six-week competition. If you wanted to enter the Grand Finals Competition you would have to win one of the six weekly talent shows. Once Chico had six winners, the Grand Finals could begin. I had the right clothes, but not the right shoes to dance in. One day, my grandfather had called me into his room. “Have a seat,” he said. He opened his top drawer and said, “Pick out a bow tie you like and pick out a shirt you like.” My grandfather gave me a pair of his best dress shoes and told me, “These are the type of shoes you dance in.” He just looked at me and smiled. My grandfather had seen me in a talent show. Wow, and did not tell me.
On this night it was the Grand Finals, the biggest show of the year. There were four singers, one comedian, and one dancer. You want to talk about pressure! I felt more pressure than ever. Yes, I knew about the competition. That was why I felt so much pressure. Picture a young man, nervously pacing back and forth, listening to the crowd roar for the competition. Dressed in a black suit, white, long sleeve shirt, black bow tie, white gloves, soft leather low heeled wooden-bottomed Stacy Adams shoes, black hat, and black shades. As I put on my white gloves, I looked in the mirror and took a deep breath. And there was no more pressure. It was just – showtime!
The six finalists were the best of the best in Palm Beach County. All of us were good but there was one young lady whose stage name was Black Gypsy. She could sing Gladys Knight songs like no one else. She even sang a cappella. But that night, she surprised me. She said to me, “You know, Pete, you’re the only one who makes me nervous.” I looked at Gypsy and laughed. “I make you nervous?” Gypsy said, “No. What I am saying is that you bring out the best in me and I want to see your best tonight. So, come on. Let’s go put on a show for them.” What happened next? Yes, I won first place and I was on the front page of the Photo Journal News as the “First Place Winner of the Sunset Lounge Competition.”
Who am I? I’m Poppin’ Pete of the Sunset Lounge.