I know it’s the end of football season and last Saturday the Inland Empire’s own Redlands East Valley won the CIF Division II state title, so I guess I should have been thinking football, But I wasn’t. Friday I was thinking about baseball instead. Yes, baseball, the summer sport. Actually, I was thinking about a film about baseball starring Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, and Ray Liotta as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. It’s a film about dreams deferred and dreams actualized. It is also a film about vision. Field of Dreams, released in 1989, is about seeing something no one else sees and having the courage and conviction to pursue that vision.
On Friday the iconic line from that film, “If you build it, he will come” played in my mind as I toured the Mission Inn Hotel in Downtown Riverside as the guest of Craig Goodwin, a docent with The Friends of the Mission Inn. If you have never taken a tour of the historic hotel you are missing an opportunity to learn about an exciting moment in Inland Empire history as well as learn a bit about the way a true visionary works. Frank Miller, a civic leader and the chief developer of the Inn, was one of Riverside’s strongest promoters at the turn of the last century. He was relentless in his promotion of the hotel and the city, and he creatively pieced together the elaborate structure drawing on influences from places he visited during his trips abroad. Craig was able to present information I had never heard before about the Inn explaining how Mr. Miller built the hotel using local materials and hiring local craftsmen. From the story behind the spectacular Tiffany windows in the chapel to the reasons the presidential portraits are in the lobby’s lounge, I began to see the place in ways I had never seen before.
As I walked from The Mission Inn to the Riverside Convention Center for the Sigma Beta Xi Academy for Young Men’s Second Annual Family Dinner, I had no idea that there would be a thematic connection that evening. Sigma Beta Xi currently mentors and develops the leadership skills of 150 high school and middle school boys of color in the Moreno Valley Unified School District. In 2015 they will be expanding the successful program to Rialto Unified. Built on six principles: Wisdom, Brotherhood, Service, Endurance, Excellence, and Unity, chairman Corey Jackson works with his team of mentors to provide additional educational, behavioral, and emotional support to the families of Moreno Valley.
At that event I had the opportunity to sit next to Marcel Smith, a retired major from the US Air Force and current flight instructor, who signed up as a Sigma Beta Xi mentor and devotes one hour a week for a year to mentor a young man in his community. Also sitting next to me was Dr. Denise Fleming, a Moreno Valley Unified School District Board of Education trustee who just returned from San Francisco where the district received three Golden Bell awards, the state’s highest recognition for excellence. The Sigma Beta Xi program, like the other successful programs in which the district is investing, is paying off. The district’s graduation rates have increased 15.3 percent over the past three years to 81 percent, exceeding both the state and national averages.
At the end of the evening, the young men and their mentors made a massive semi-circle around the room, linked arms, and sung the lyrics to “Lean on Me” with emotion, sincerity, and love. Through this program they are building a place of hope and opportunity for the students and their families.
As I walked to my car, I passed crowds of families enjoying the beauty of The Mission Inn’s dazzling four million lights. I saw the smiles of the girls and boys as they enjoyed carriage rides around the downtown streets, and I observed the joy on the faces of couples as they took selfies in the front of the hotel to post on social media and share with their family and friends. And I wondered if Frank Miller could imagine this scene. Could he imagine the spectacle that Duane and Kelly Roberts, the new Keepers of the Inn, built from his dream that has been named the best public holiday lights display in the country.
As I navigated through all the vehicles crowding the downtown streets, I heard the whispers too…”If you build it, build it well, and they definitely will come.”