Heart of Williamsport is deeply saddened that our dear friend and founding member Richard James has passed away. We will always cherish our time with Richard, and appreciate his dedication to freedom and racial unity through love and engagement for all people.
By Sophie Herzing
Heart of Williamsport
When you first meet Richard James, shake his hand, and introduce yourself, you’re overcome with his presence, immediately understanding that this is a guy who is genuinely interested in your story and also has a couple good ones of his own. Even though Richard did not grow up in Williamsport, he has a deep admiration for the town. “I like the small-town feel,” he says. He’s lived in the town for about 16 years now, coming from Philadelphia to get a break from the desolate job search down there. “I ended up staying because I fell in love with the place,” he says.
Change is Coming
Richard has moved about the city of Williamsport, from a small “tacky” place, as he calls it, to now living in the beautiful and historic section of Millionaire’s Row, which is a collection of older houses and stately mansions built in the late 1800s. No matter where he has lived, however, he always finds a sense of camaraderie and belonging within the town. “Here, any time you walk into the grocery store, you’re bound to find somebody you know and have a conversation with them even if you saw them just last week.”
When asked what he would hate to lose about Williamsport, he felt compelled to say the fresh air. He loves the mountainous landscape that he can trace with his eyes as he walks along the River Walk, his favorite spot. “It’s very peaceful… you’re within the city, but you feel like you’re in the country,” he says. The access to nature and the small-town feel is what Richard said he believes to be Williamsport’s greatest asset. He hopes it can be retained by finding a balance between commercial development and the preservation of older sites.
Richard is involved with the Beloved Community Council, which works to uphold the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The group also inspires service opportunities for residents. This sort of project relates closely with Richard’s own personal story of working at a newspaper publication company, called Web Weekly back in 2003. He was the first African American to hold a management position. Through the Beloved Community Council, and the work he does with Heart of Williamsport, he is seeing change beginning to manifest. “You saw people from all walks of life come together: young people, old people, rich and poor and we said that we are going to let this be our town,” he says, “we aren’t going to let it go to the drug dealers and the gangs, and it’s working. I’m proud of that.”
Richard added that he believes the hard work isn’t over. “I see a bright future for Williamsport,” whether that be through uniting different groups of diversity or enhancing the wonderful architecture or natural aspects we have in the city. “There is going to be new opportunities. I can feel it. I want Williamsport to be the crown jewel of Pennsylvania,” he said. “People are going to point to us and say ‘these people, they got it right’”