Getting The City Out Of The Way

I recommend today’s Frank Mickadeit column on the private, faith-based community center started earlier this year in a gang-infested Santa Ana neighborhood, because it contains lessons not just for Anaheim, but for every community in this nation.

“The center is a kind of rogue facility that opened up when a cop-turned-pastor named Kevin Brown and a university professor named Cristina Jose Kampfner rented a two-bedroom apartment in the 1800 block of Evergreen Street. They just leased the place, opened the doors to the apartment-saturated neighborhood and started calling themselves a community center. No help or official go-ahead from the city or school district.

The day I discovered it in August, it had just gotten a little lending library donated by Access Books. Kampfner, a psychologist, was offering therapy and starting to work with juvenile delinquents. Brown’s Side-by-Side Church was doing Bible studies.”

Mickadeit re-visited Evergreen-Cedar Community Center this past Saturday, and ran into Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait there:

I guess I shouldn’t have been completely surprised by Tait. I’d told him about Kampfner’s little miracle last August, right after one of Tait’s own poor Hispanic neighborhoods had erupted in rioting. Tait had asked for Kampfner’s contact info, and he’s now met with her a couple of times. On Saturday night, some of Brown’s guys were going to start walking an Anaheim neighborhood for the first time, trying to build trust.

“It’s inspiring what one person can do,” Tait said as we watched families milling around Kampfner in the courtyard of the apartment complex. “Rent an apartment. … Let the city get out of the way.”

The two ideas Mayor Tait expressed — “it’s inspiring what one person can do” and “Let the city get out of the way.” are, of course, exactly right.

Government has a critical role to play in terms of law enforcement. That’s why we have government. That is removing the criminal element from the equation. The rest is really up to the Kampfners and the Browns of our communities – private individuals acting out of love of God and humanity. Government can’t really do that.

Mickadeit’s column reminded me of Marvin Olasky’s great book “The Tragedy of American Compassion,” which examines America’s robust and largely forgotten history of private charity and how it was displaced by the welfare state. Olasky quotes this dialogue from the 1844 McGuffey’s Reader that contrasts two philosophies of charity:

Mr. Fantom: I despire a narrow field. O for the reign of universal benevolence! I want to make all mankind good and happy!

Mr. Godman: Dear me! Sure that must be a wholesale sort of job: had you not better try your hand at a town or neighborhood first?

Mr. Fantom: Sir, I have a plan in my head for relieving the miseries of the whole world…

Mr. Goodman: The utmost extent of my ambition at present is, to redress the wrongs of a poor apprentice, who has been cruelly used by his master…

Mr. Fantom: You must not apply to me for redress of such petty grievances…It is provinces empires, continents, that the benevolence of the philosopher embraces; every one can do a little paltry good to his next neighbor.

Mr. Goodman: Every one can, but I do not see that every one does…[You] have such noble zeal for the millions, [yet] feel so little compassion for the units.

Mayor Tait’s point apply beyond just getting the city out of the way. The larger principle is getting government, in general, out of the way. The legacy of the  Mr. Fantoms of this country, from the Progressive Era to the Obama Era, is an enormous welfare state and a citizenry increasingly dependent on it. On a local level, the path away from the legacy won’t be paved with ticket taxes or dedicated diversions of TOT revenue, but by the action of more Kevin Brown’s and Cristina Jose Kampfners and those in the private sector who will help them.

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