Sentinel of the sidewalk

John Youngblood creates a life-giving environment on the sidewalks of Seal Beach. Photo by Amiya Moretta

Sometimes the best people in life are hidden in plain sight. But, then again, so is most treasure. Sporting gold rimmed aviator glasses, a pen in his left breast pocket, and a mini tablet in his right, there stands a sentinel on the sidewalk between Central and Electric.

“Hey young man, how ya doin?” John Youngblood calls out with a slight, Cajun twang. A Bank of America security guard and self-appointed ambassador of goodness, Youngblood’s presence acts as a bridge that connects grace and dignity with everyone he meets.

Born in 1949 with 26 brothers and sisters, this Louisiana native learned early on that joy was a decision one must hold dearly, rather than a circumstance on which to depend.

At age 5, Youngblood would work the cotton fields with his mom. Youngblood remembered, “If you don’t pick cotton the right way, it will cut your hands up…to make 10 dollars a day, you had to pick 100 pounds.” Hard work and difficult circumstances have taught Youngblood to choose joy come what may.

“Joy is the best thing in anyone’s life. As long as you got joy, you’ll have peace in your life,” Youngblood revealed. “God gives us joy every day, whether we accept it every day is our choice.”

His family endured on a 280-acre share cropping farm. They raised hogs, cows, chickens, mules, peas, okra, corn, and potatoes. “We cleaned house, scrubbed floors, cooked, and kept kids. My people did all of that,” Youngblood said.

Youngblood later received an education at Grambling State University. “My mother always told us to get an education and I praise the Lord that I did what she said,” he said with a grin.

In 1967, after learning his brother had died in combat, Youngblood was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. For Youngblood, it was a weighty experience. “The object of war is destruction. Ain’t nothin’ else to it,” he said. Upon his return to the homeland, Youngblood struggled to cope with the carnage and bloodshed he witnessed.

Although subjected to both racism and violence, Youngblood couldn’t be a more caring and welcoming person. With reference to hate Youngblood says, “Because of God, I refuse to put that poison in my body. Love each other and find love in your heart, regardless of race, color, or creed.” This is exactly the life Youngblood leads.

Almost every day, Youngblood can be seen helping elderly catch the bus on the way to Leisure World or chatting with people who need cheering up (even if they don’t know it). And of course, he frequently keeps people from parking in the Bank of America lot who aren’t using the A.T.M.

A woman once told Youngblood that she had the right to park in the Bank of America lot and shop up and down Main St. because of how much money she had in the bank.

Youngblood responded wryly, “Honey, I got money in this bank too—but you don’t see me actin’ a fool.” With a deep, cheerful laugh and a smile that stretched across the street, Youngblood made an undeniable point.

There’s something different about Youngblood, something peaceful that radiates outward and attracts people inward- a calming spirit that seems to affect everyone he meets.

It manifests in smiles and laughter: sometimes tears. It erupts in hugs and witty jokes and stories and prayers. He has a deep compassion that cannot be denied. Love seems to ooze out of the cracks of his skin, ready to lift burdens the way balloons effortlessly drift off into the sky.

“Awww there’s my girl…that’s my baby,” Youngblood whispers as Winnie the wide-eyed pug waddles over. “Got something for you.” He winks as the excited dog pants in agreement and devours the treat.

Long after the treat is gone, Winnie is still loyally seated next to Youngblood’s leg. After some time talking, Winnie’s owner pulls out a gift, wrapped and signed from their whole family. Youngblood surprised, thanks her humbly.

Before Winnie and her owner had arrived, another woman stood with Youngblood, speaking earnestly with him while a man stood behind her, waiting for his turn. “I’ll keep you in my prayers,” Youngblood said as the lady walked away and the next person approached him.

Youngblood’s assigned sidewalk is like a revolving waiting room, intervening, releasing, and renewing life in the city one person at a time.

“There goes Speedy!” Youngblood hooted, giggling as a mom and daughter go by. Impartial and thoroughly sincere, Youngblood has learned a little bit about nearly everyone that walks Main St. “That little girl walks so fast. Her daddy is a firefighter. They live right over there,” he points.

The abundant hope in Youngblood spills out into the lives of those who cross his path as he shares his time, advice, and heartfelt generosity without expecting anything in return.

He leans over to Vinique Lam, 25, the parking attendant he works with, “I teach about life every day,” Youngblood says with a satisfied look on his face. Lam looks back, nods, and smiles, “Yes sir, you do.” Youngblood continues, “when you listen, you learn something.”

His pure, peace-loving, and free-flowing spirit is rooted in gratitude and reflects an attitude of a life well lived. He is a pleased man. “I’ve been so many places and I’ve done so many things and I thank God,” said Youngblood. “There’s nothing I can’t do.”

Youngblood enjoys working in Seal Beach. “Here, people look at you; talk to you, and I love it. People have a lot of love here.”

People do have a lot of love here and Youngblood’s seems to be at the center of it, a sentinel on the sidewalk, proud to protect life’s greatest treasure: the human heart.