Truth, inclusiveness focus of Sheen lecture

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Like many Hollywood actors Martin Sheen has been known to speak his mind on political issues of the day. Honestly, it’s just not something I usually want to hear from people I look to for simple entertainment.

Let’s face it, I spend all day, every day delving into stories and details of crime or politics, social and humanitarian issues and many other environmental or economic crises. So when I step away from it and head home for the evening, I’d much rather tune in to a good game, wrap myself up in an engaging novel or head to a show. Frankly, I want to be entertained or amused and far, far away from the chaos and issues of the day.

When my friend invited me to join her in seeing Martin Sheen speak last week at Stambaugh Auditorium, I accepted — but I went with minimal expectations.

Sheen, of course, is an award-winning actor, perhaps best known for his longtime role as President Jed Bartlet on “West Wing.” He also is a social activist and humanitarian.

The southwest Ohio native was speaking as part of Youngstown State University’s popular Skeggs Lecture Series. The auditorium was packed, and the audience buzzed with anticipation.

In the end, they were not disappointed, and I must admit I, too, was pleasantly surprised.

Sheen, 79, spoke and took questions for about 90 minutes. He discussed his Catholic upbringing in Dayton, just blocks from the scene of this summer’s horrific mass shooting. He spoke about his immigrant parents’ trek from Spain and Ireland to Ohio, where they met and eventually married.

“I’m so proud to tell folks no matter where I go in the world that I’m from Ohio,” he stated with pride.

Yes, he hinted lightly at today’s issues of gun violence and immigration, but mostly he spoke about the importance of simply taking a position and fighting for issues in which you believe strongly.

In taking questions from the audience, one man asked how he thinks we should stay strong in today’s world.

Sheen responded simply: “The same way we did in yesterday’s world and the way we will in tomorrow’s world. It’s about lifting up each other, not allowing anyone to fall down. You think you have troubles? Talk to some of our veterans that are coming back from wars in the Middle East.

“It’s about suffering with purpose. It’s about inclusiveness,” he said.

Sheen also spoke about his acting career, how it started and how much he loves it, still to this day.

Sheen described his “West Wing” character President Bartlet as a “good and decent man.”

But, he noted, Bartlet was a politician and so he had to compromise, which is never easy for any of us to do, he said.

And he spoke about the value of truth — in acting and in life.

“Tell the complete truth,” the said from the stage. “It might not be celebrated. It might even be embarrassing.”

As I sat listening, suddenly I found myself relating to his words.

Indeed, as journalists, we strive every day to tell the truth, often harangued by sources or readers who disagree or don’t believe. These days what we write sometimes is met with responses of “Fake news!” — often by those we write about because they simply hope to discredit our work.

But, at the end of the day, we know that the truth might not always be celebrated, but indeed, it is what must be shared.

Sheen opened and closed his lecture by inviting the hundreds who had gathered to hear him speak to join him in singing the hymn, “Amazing Grace.”

It was moving. And it truly was a lovely night away from the chaos of my day.

Linert is editor of the Tribune Chronicle and its Vindicator edition.



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