Various people say how important it is to try and make a difference in your community. Many of these people just talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Richard C. James talked the talked but also walked the walk. Boy, did he ever!
Richard died suddenly last week at the age of 73, and I hope he realized the positive impact he had on others, that he was an example of courage, advocacy, and community betterment, and that he was an inspirational person.
I got to know Richard when he worked here at Webb Weekly as a graphic artist. He was a very pleasant person to talk to, and always had something interesting to say. I was especially flattered when he would compliment me about a story I had written, particularly those about this area’s little known African-American history.
After he left Webb, I got to know him a little better, and always enjoyed my conversations with him.
Richard was a patriot in the truest sense of the word. Not just because he served this country as a member of the U. S. Air Force during the Vietnam War, but also because he embodied the best of what it means to be an American, by freely using his freedom of speech to crusade for racial and economic justice.
My friend Robin Van Auken expressed things well when she told Richard that he reminded her of a “Roman Senator” who used Facebook as a podium, a venue for his public speeches.
Through his forum on Facebook, Richard could freely tell the emperors of authority that they had no clothes when he felt that they were misusing their power.
He once said he that if there was an injustice that needed exposing he would do it because he was too old to worry about what might happen to him.
Richard sometimes made people uncomfortable with his observations, perhaps because those observations hit too close to home. He had much courage in expressing opinions and ideas that may not have been popular, but he felt some things needed to be said, and he said them. He “afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted.”
He came from a family of community activists that includes his sister, Beatrice Gamble.
He was very active with the Beloved Community nonprofit group and was at the forefront of the organizing of its annual Peace Marches. He also was very active in bettering his community through his involvement with the Heart of Williamsport, a grassroots organization that collects stories from the diverse community in the city, identifies what people value, and shares this information to guide Williamsport’s future. He helped steer the Heart of Williamsport organization as one of its founding members and worked with his good friend Mary Woods as a mentor to Lycoming College students as they interviewed dozens of people locally. In his retirement, he enjoyed working on the video production and graphic design projects that Heart of Williamsport generated.
In the past several years, Richard found the plethora of litter and garbage that blighted city streets to be the bane not only of his existence but also for the people living in his adopted city of Williamsport. So, rather than talk, he took action and organized cleanup efforts during the spring to remove the eyesore that was that litter.
I think one quote by Robert F. Kennedy epitomizes Richard and what he tried to do well. “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Richard certainly was one of those “ripples of hope.” And as a tribute to Richard, let us all seek to be our own “ripples of hope” and try to better our community and strike out against injustice.2 comments