Last month I had some lifelong friends visit, which brought joy to my spirit as we reminisced over our experiences in the community and as coworkers in education, and health care.
Rev. Art Forbes and I first met during an Arrowhead United Way Board meeting. Art was an executive from Kaiser Steel in Fontana with the responsibility of serving as the face of Kaiser in all aspects of their business. In other words, he was not there to just represent their interest in the Black community but all the company’s interests. I was an employee with Edison at the time and was at the meeting representing the Boy Scouts interests to help get more finances for scouting in the minority community.
It was interesting to watch how people reacted to this man who spoke with conviction and knowledge of issues who had a company car and company expense account plus authority to spend Kaiser’s money on community events. They were used to interfacing with Blacks who worked in government where influence could easily apply to a silent voice. If you know Art Forbes then you know that would not have changed how he operated.
It was new to every one — Black and White alike — because they did not know how to take a Black man in this kind of position. Art and I talked about those Whites and Blacks who wanted him fired because of his color and how our friendship grew from those days until we worked together at Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in the federally funded Comprehended Health Care Program for low-income families in the Fontana community.
It was not easy because we were in the middle of an institution that did not fully embrace the vision of then Kaiser President Jim Vohs and retired Medical Director Dr. Raymond Kay.
Needless to say, with the undeserving help from God our service to help provide this basic human service to our fellow citizens were successful and our personal relationship grew as well. Both of us grew in our Christian faith as our families were involved and continue to be involved at St. Paul AME Church.
My visit with Art was good and allowed us both the opportunity to look back and evaluate how far we have come under the hand of God.
Another visitor was my friend Dr. E. Neal Roberts, retired Superintendent of San Bernardino City Unified School District. He was the superintendent while I served as a school board member and eventually as president of the board. Neal and I knew one another through other people before I came on the board because my wife Cheryl was a very active mother in the district. With my limited involvement as an everyday working parent, I got involved with community issues that involved a crisis in education. So when I ran for the board we viewed each other from that perspective.
Some people had told me, ‘you cannot trust Dr. Roberts,’ based solely on him being a Mormon and I an African Methodist Episcopal. I am sure the fact that I sued the school district for closing schools on the Westside before joining the board did not help my image of being someone to get close to. However, one thing that stood out to each of us was our personal commitment to each other to always be honest and committed to the children in the district. We committed to never try and embarrass each other in public and with those understandings, we went forth to provide the best possible education for every child and protect the rights of all employees regardless of position.
Neal once told me, “Hardy if you help get the kids to school and in class, I will see to it they get educated.” Likewise, when hot issues would come up in the community, I would tell Neal I would handle them so he could see to it our policies are carried out.
We often talked about how our parents raised us to respect our elders and our responsibility to our families. That is one reason Lorilee, his wife came with him to visit me. And yes we spent equal time talking about Cheryl’s new position as a legislator in Sacramento and what our relationship has meant to them over the years.
There never was a time religion came between us. As a matter of fact, our respect and love for each other has only made us stronger in our faith. We talked about our faith in the Lord as the reason for our strong family friendship.
Yes it was a good visit from lifelong friends and I thank God for placing them in my life.
Hardy L. Brown