Roxanne Williams has lived in San Bernardino for several years. In that time, she has made many friends and allies who have become advocates for the struggling city that four decades ago was bestowed with the All-America City award.
One of the most vocal and visible supporters of San Bernardino was John Henry Griffin.
“He loved his city and especially his neighborhood, Delmann Heights,” said Williams, a Parks, Recreation and Community Services commissioner, of Griffin and his friend and fellow San Bernardino supporter, Tyrone Jones.
Griffin’s passion for his city and neighborhood prompted San Bernardino City Councilwoman Bessine L. Richard to appoint the 69-year-old as a parks commissioner overlooking the city’s Sixth Ward, his beloved Delmann Heights and the Westside.
Griffin had a lot of plans for the area, especially Delmann Park, but on Nov. 9, Griffin was killed in his home in the 1800 block of Darby Street. Reports indicate he was shot in the back of the head.
“I read about the death in The San Bernardino Sun, about the murder and death of my friend, and I yelled, ‘Oh my God, they killed John Griffin!’?” said Williams, pausing when her voiced cracked over the pain of losing not only a fellow commissioner but a friend.
“All these murders in San Bernardino, we have to stop this,” Williams said. “It’s outrageous and discouraging to me that someone so respected in the community who had a relationship with the police, with the community, with everyone, could die in this way.”
Griffin, a father and grandfather, was so committed to the city, he would reach into his own pocket to keep the Delmann Heights Community Center open if there were not enough city funds.
“He was instrumental in keeping that community center open because he wanted a safe place for the children,” Richard said. “Everything he did was for the young people. So the young people could be safe. This was a great, great loss to the community. Especially the Westside. He was someone who protected it.”
A former Black Panther Party associate and someone who was interested in civil rights issues through the 1960s, Griffin rallied residents of the Westside to stand up for their communities and to work with the police to create better lives for themselves and especially the next generation, Williams said.
“I knew John and interacted with him frequently,” said San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan. “He was well-known in the community and had a passion for his neighborhood. I know a lot of people are hurting because of his death. My thoughts and prayers are with them.”
Although San Bernardino police investigators made an arrest in his slaying, many questions linger, especially why.
“Did they know who he was to this community?” asked Richard. “This is a devastating loss.”
GRIFFIN AND JONES AS WESTSIDE PROTECTORS
For decades, the Westside had two staunch defenders in longtime friends Jones and Griffin.
The men, who had known each other since the late 1960s — and at one point had been affiliated with the Black Panther Party in the early 1970s — founded the Westside Nubians, a grassroots kind of neighborhood watch that helped steer children away from a life of gangs and drugs. The group attempted to calm violence as well as tension between residents and law enforcement.
“They were on the front lines of our community,” said former Councilman Rikke Van Johnson. “They were trying to do all they could to keep harm away from the community. (Griffin) and his friend, Tyrone, were caretakers of the community.”
Johnson remembers Griffin at various city meetings asking for funding for the community center and park. He also recalled how Griffin and Jones both rallied residents to participate in cleanups and neighborhood improvements.
Griffin, carrying on the legacy and wishes of his friend, continued with the Westside Nubians, attending City Council meetings and fighting for his Westside neighbors.
His candor and passion caught the eye of Richard, who earlier this year appointed Griffin to the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department.
“He said, ‘Girl, I’m ready,’?” recalled Richard. “He knew the residents, they needed the park, they needed a place to go and a safe haven. Being on the board was a way he could see that the Delmann Heights Community Center stayed open and remained a safe haven for the kids in his neighborhood.”
The loss of Griffin has left a vacuum in the community that Williams feels will be hard to fill.
“But we need to keep their vision going,” she said. “We can’t go back.”
The funeral for Griffin is scheduled for 11 a.m. Nov. 29 at Temple Missionary Baptist Church, 1583 W. Union St.