Despite vast differences in lifestyle and background, Sy Sperling, whose previously bald head made him and his Hair Club for Men famous, actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Andrew Pollack, a father living in Coral Springs, have all found common ground.
Pollack’s daughter, Meadow Pollack, was one of 17 students and adults killed Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Andrew Pollack hasn’t stopped his crusade to protect students after his work earned him a spot beside Gov. Rick Scott in March while Scott signed a law boosting school safety and restricting access to guns. Pollack’s success has pushed him further — he has a nonprofit geared to students’ safety and sits on the state’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.
Pollack’s passion and hard work have reached a national level and beyond, attracting support from all political sides and walks of life. And that work now includes Sperling, who lives in nearby Hillsboro Beach, and Sigler, best known for her role as Meadow Soprano on the HBO series The Sopranos.
Pollack has emphasized since Day One of his mission that his work is not about politics.
“Everyone’s going to get on board with this,” Pollack told The Palm Beach Post. “It’s what everyone wants. It’s not about being Republican or Democratic. It’s the human party. That’s my message. It radiates to everybody in the country. It’s about what we all want and that’s children’s safety in school.”
Lending a helping hand… and a voice
Pollack said it’s not difficult to get people to join his mission, but not everyone is accepted — he wants to make sure the reasons are right.
“For me, it’s picking out the people who are for real,” said Pollack, who manages real estate. “I weed out the people who aren’t genuine.”
Sperling had his eye on Pollack before he even met him. He saw him on television and immediately felt a connection to him.
“He stood out from the rest of the crowd because he was so passionate,” said Sperling, who grew up in the Bronx before shooting to fame and fortune with his hair restoration and replacement company. “He has a very distinct Brooklyn accent. He got through to me.”
Sperling, 76, married with two children, knows all about marketing and getting the word out. His slogan “I’m not only Hair Club for Men President, but I’m also a client” became a genius slogan that took off in the 1980s and 90s. Sperling sold the company in 2000 for $45 million, according to The Wall Street Journal and now spends the summers in Vancouver. He also spends his time helping good causes, like Pollack’s.
“Along the way, I developed some on-the-job training about how to take a company from ground zero and take it to the next level and the next level over that,” said Sperling, who started the company with very little money.
The two were introduced through a mutual friend, even though a formal introduction wasn’t entirely necessary (Pollack did watch TV in the ’80s). Sperling and Pollack had lunch about three weeks ago at the Farmer’s Table in Boca Raton.
“He’s a master at marketing,” Pollack said. “He wants to help.”
So now Sperling is making phone calls.
“I’m not going to be his PR firm but I’ll be coaching him,” Sperling said. “Maybe more phone calls around the country, getting radio interviews, making business connections, maybe getting donors to jump aboard. I’m just somebody on the sidelines. I don’t have the same passion that he has. Nobody really can.”
Once he gets the interview, Pollack has a lot to talk about. He said the School Board, the FBI, the Sheriff’s Office… they all “let everybody down in the community.”
Pollack recently started a nonprofit called Americans for CLASS, which stands for Children’s Lives and School Safety. Through that, he wants to create a union for students and their parents to make sure they have a voice. The union would be the one to follow up on reports about students making threats or showing signs of mental illness, like what happened with Nikolas Cruz, who has confessed to the shooting.
“We’re going to be the voice of parents and students throughout the country, and we’re going to be the voice to make sure if there is someone like this in the school district, that everyone’s made aware of it,” Pollack said. “We follow through. We follow up and make sure that these people are spoken to or they get the help that they need. Like this kid, maybe he needed help.”
‘There’s nothing out of my grasp’
Pollack also wants to help students with drug addiction and mental illness. He wants to form class watches, similar to neighborhood watches, where parents and grandparents can volunteer at schools. He also is working on programs to train military veterans and retired law enforcement officers to work security at schools.
There was a school resource officer at the school when the shooting happened, but he stood outside and didn’t take any action, said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. This past week Pollack met with the other members of the state commission and they viewed a presentation of how the school shooting happened. He learned that a teacher on the third floor let his daughter Meadow out into the hallway after hearing the fire alarm. Cruz, whom Pollack refers to by his prison ID number, 18-19-58, shot Meadow Pollack four times. She managed to get back to the door, but it was locked. In the hallway, she shielded Cara Loughran and was shot another five times, Pollack said. Both died.
Pollack doesn’t blame the teacher. But he does blame the school resource officer, Scot Peterson.
“Peterson was at the building and he could have stopped him before he went to the third floor. He’s just a coward. He could have saved everybody on that third floor,” Pollack said.
Pollack is also working toward building a playground and memorial to remember all the victims. So far he’s raised about $300,000. He said he’ll have enough by the end of May to build it.
He planned a fund-raising event for May 12 that will be hosted by Jamie-Lynn Sigler at Wish Boca.
For $100, attendees will have cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, listen to live music and meet celebrities. Special appearances will be made by mixed martial artists Tyrone Spong and Rashad Evans and former Miami Dolphins lineman Bryant McKinnie.
Pollack said Sigler heard about the memorial and playground and wanted to help.
“She’s a parent and she wants her kids safe in schools,” he said.
Pollack said he gets a big boost from his wife, Dr. Julie Pollack, and two sons, Huck and Hunter.
“A big part of me got buried with my daughter and I’m not the same person,” he said. “It’s terrible. I changed. All my friends, I changed to them. I changed to my family. I’m not the same person anymore. I’m just not there for everyone like I used to be.” Pollack said.
But, he’s determined.
“There’s nothing I can’t do. That’s what I want the American people to know. There’s nothing out of my grasp,” he said, “and if it’s making the schools safe then that’s what’s going to get done.”