As the discourse in America becomes less civil
By James Preston Allen, Publisher
I am thankful this season to be among so many friends and supporters who have spoken up these past few months on the issue of homelessness, from the students at San Pedro High School who wrote letters, to the homeless advocates, service providers and the readers of this newspaper.
I am thankful for those who believe that this is a nation that can have both a conscience and a purpose that doesn’t vilify the poor or dispossessed. I’m thankful that there are still people out there willing to stand up to political bullies like Donald Trump, who believe that the louder they shout, the more support they have.
There is a clear political divide in this country that runs deep in some very narrow channels. The public discourse on everything from Planned Parenthood to Syrian refugees to the homeless in Los Angeles has not only become uncivil, it’s become murderous.
Nonetheless, I am hopeful still that the majority of this country and my community won’t get dragged into the gyre of misplaced responsibilities and reactionary hostility towards those with the least among us. After all, it is the season of giving and the teachings of all the religions with holidays around the winter solstice have something in common: charity, goodwill and peace on earth. Sometimes these values are just too difficult to find amid the noise and haste of Black Fridays and the public on Facebook.
During this season of both conflict and holiday cheer, I’m remembering Father Art Bartlett, a longtime clergyman at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in San Pedro and the founder of Beacon House, who was also a very good friend of mine. Father Art, as he was commonly known, was more of a brother to me, a companion on this path, who encouraged and inspired me to do more.
From my perspective, Father Art was not just a “man of God;” he was also a man of his word. He practiced what he preached; he walked with the poor, the addicted and the dispossessed. He deeply believed in the capacity of humans to be redeemed by acts of good work. Because he had experienced such redemption, himself, he strived relentlessly to embody and pass along that faith charity, love and brotherhood in its fullest meaning.
To describe Father Art as a man of faith provides only half the picture. He acted on this faith, offered his hand to those in need—always true to that profound sense of personal spirituality. In short, he was an inspiration not only to me but to this entire community in one way or another.
Four years after his death, I still miss Father Art—even though he is still with all who knew him or were touched by him. I remain thankful for his friendship and often ask myself, “Now, just what would Father Art say in this situation?”
Looking back on the 35 years we’ve covered this community in this newspaper, I realize that where we are today is based upon the good works of many more people like Father Art—those who came before us, who sacrificed to make this a better place and who really cared about the people, all of them, not just some.
We still have a lot of that spirit here in the Harbor Area, and it is my goal, not only to carry on the public debate so essential to a community, but to spotlight those whose great caring and consideration for others continue Father Art’s mission of goodwill, charity and redemption.
I know this community and this nation have much bigger hearts and much more important roles to play than what is expressed by those who yell the loudest or who demonize the least among us. The one thing Father Art taught me was to have the courage of my own convictions and to never be afraid to speak that truth clearly.
Disclaimer—nothing in this editorial or the pages of this newspaper should be taken as the official position of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood council to which I was elected President in 2014, nor does it reflect the opinions of any of its board members. The opinions expressed here are my own.