My San Bernardino is not a perfect place. It is no utopia.
But all of its schools are not subpar.
Methamphetamine is not “everywhere.”
Nor are “meth spas” simmering under every freeway overpass, or bridge.
The homeless are not in every neighborhood shooting heroin, or smoking meth, or stealing copper, or selling their bodies to feed their drug habits or their children.
My San Bernardino is not “THE” symbol of the nation’s worst urban woes. I’ve seen worse.
It is not a perfect place, but it is not the island of hopelessness brought to life by the inimical words of Joe Mozingo and seen through the naturalistic lens of photographer Francine Orr in last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times.
Sunday morning, I was sent a link to the article on San Bernardino by a friend with a note to view it online instead of in print, because in his opinion “the coverage is better.” By the time I arrived Sunday afternoon at Sturges Center in Downtown San Bernardino for The Community Foundation’s Youth Grantmakers Recognition & Grantee Reception I was accosted by several San Bernardino residents. I hadn’t read the article but many in attendance had.
“It’s irreparably damaging,” one resident said.
“We have to tell our own stories,” another suggested.
“Why aren’t they here today witnessing the positive?” another questioned.
Yes, why weren’t they reporting the positive news I wondered…
One of those positive stories is The Community Foundation of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties’ Youth Grantmakers Program. First started in Riverside in 2009, and now in four parts of the region, the program teaches youth the skills necessary to be civic-minded philanthropic leaders. San Bernardino’s Youth Grantmakers’ inaugural class consisted of 18 students from seven high schools. The students learned how to improve their team building, conflict resolution and communication skills while increasing their knowledge of grantmaking and community foundations by awarding modest grants to multiple nonprofit organizations that address youth issues in the city.
After the Youth Grantmakers reception, I made my way over to Pat Morris, the former San Bernardino mayor, who my sister-in-law mentioned was featured in the LA Times story. I asked for his thoughts on the article. He commented candidly that he was interviewed at length and turned the writer on to groups that were helping rebuild the fallen city: Generation Now, Habitat for Humanity, and mentioned some of the city’s best public schools – my alma mater Richardson PREP HI and Cajon High School’s IB Program, both schools and academic programs exceeding state standards.
“San Bernardino is not a broken city but a city full of hope,” he said, surprised that the story was of such a small segment of the population. This is part of a series, he mentioned, hopefully the plan is to tell a deeper and more diverse narrative in the future. Habitat for Humanity’s Executive Director Dennis Baxter confirmed that the Times videotaped their recent build.
Once I finally read the story and viewed the accompanying graphics and photos, I was just as outraged as the people I encountered at the Youth Grantmakers reception. In my opinion the article presents a distorted perspective of the city. Yes, there are some homeless encampments downtown, but I saw worse last month when I visited downtown Los Angeles and witnessed the innumerable tents that have become permanent fixtures of the Skid Row neighborhood; or, every year when I drive through the deserted and destroyed neighborhoods of downtown Detroit while on our annual Underground Railroad Field Study Tour.
I admit, the LA Times photos are compelling. A young woman bathing in a park pond, her name tattooed across the span of her shoulder blades, while another exhales smoke from her methamphetamine pipe or children playing in abandoned grocery baskets in an even more abandoned motel parking lot. They are more than the disenfranchised and left behinds. They are more than the forgotten and dispossessed. They are a segment of a sub-set of people who could be living the same way in almost any other city in any other state. San Bernardino’s woes did not cause their plight nor will fixing the broken city government necessarily restore them and make them whole.
Yes, the statistics are alarming and the city’s bankruptcy has provided enough negative news fodder to scare even the most adventurous and courageous investors, but the article presented a city decimated by drugs and despair.
I was born and raised in San Bernardino and lived there when it was an All-America City in 1976-77. I’ve seen crime increase over the years. I’ve seen some of the best minds leave the city never to return. And I’ve seen once grand neighborhoods succumb to neglect and disrepair. But is it the completely broken, drug infested, “meth spa” that the LA Times captured in its recent article? Not at all.
Like Pat Morris, my San Bernardino is a city full of hope. There are thousands of hardworking passionate and caring individuals who are doing the work to lift the city up every day. They were represented on Sunday by the various public benefit organizations…the award-winning Young Visionaries…Operation New Hope…and Project Fighting Chance – a youth boxing and leadership training organization that is the only club in the state to send multiple individuals to the Olympic trials. And in the youth grantmakers themselves – the seniors heading to UC Berkeley and Morehouse College. The students with exceptional GPAs who describe themselves as “thoughtful, ongoing and cooperative…who go the extra mile to be the tools to create a thriving community.”
Yes, the city’s government is broken, but the people are not.