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A timely talk with two St. Petersburg men about a friendship that transcends race

John Arasa and George King share a timely message.

ST. PETERSBURG — The friendship between the condo owner and security guard at the waterfront community developed over years of shared talks about faith, family and life.

“We just talk as two grandfathers,” said John Arasa, who bought his Isla Key condominium more than two decades ago after retiring from the Long Island Railroad.

“George and I are very close,” he added, speaking of his friendship with George King, who took a job as a security guard at Isla Key in 2006.

“Our relationship just grew to what it is now,” said King, 70, a retired auto mechanic who moved to St. Petersburg from Washington, D.C., and works in the condominium community three days a week.

The men have bonded over their Christian faith. King and his wife are ministers in their own church, Faith Community Deliverance Ministry, a nondenominational Pentecostal congregation that meets at their St. Petersburg home.

Friends George King, 70, a security guard at Isla Key condominiums, and John Arasa, 74, a resident, share a joke on July 21 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

Arasa, “a born again Catholic Christian” since 1973, volunteers at his parish, Blessed Trinity Catholic Church across from Lakewood High School.

The men have obvious differences. Arasa is white. King is Black. It’s something they wouldn’t normally discuss, except for the fact that the nation is currently steeped in racial tension. The way they tell it, theirs is a story of brotherhood and community kindness.

“Judge people by their character rather than by color. The only way we are going to be able to overcome prejudice is to look at the truth, the good in all individuals,” King said.

“We’ve got to look beyond what we look like, and if there is a need, try to be human and reach out,” Arasa said.

Arasa got a chance to do exactly that a few weeks ago, when his friend shared tragic news. King’s 18-year-old grandson, Marquis Harrod Jr., had died. “He was shot and killed on the streets of Washington, D.C., on a Saturday afternoon. He was my youngest son’s son,” King said of the June 6 death.

“John and I have a relationship where we share many situations,” King said. “We pray for people. John is a very trustworthy individual who I can confide in, and he feels the same way about me. He said he was praying for me and my family. He asked me if it was okay for him to share it with Isla Key and from that, the word began to spread throughout the association.”

“I could see what he was going through,” said Arasa, 74, who decided to give his friend $100 to help him attend his grandson’s funeral.

But he wanted to do more.

He texted the Isla Key Association president and told him he was going to send an email to condo owners telling them about King’s loss. There was an immediate response.

“I was able to get at least $2,000, but the board made their own collection and some owners sent me envelopes, and I gave him the envelopes,” Arasa said.

King and his wife were both able to travel to the funeral.

“I didn’t realize how many of them felt about me. A few, yes, but the number of them that willingly reached out and some personally coming forward and calling,” King said, adding that even the son of a resident for whom he had prayed as she fought cancer, made a donation. He had never met the man, King said.

“He told his mom that he had to take part. It really opened my eyes to the number of people that were concerned. There were several people who no longer live there and have sold their places and live around the United States,” King said. “I was overwhelmed with joy and great surprise. I wish that I could personally talk with them and make contact with each one to thank them for what they have done. It was such a great blessing. It lessened my burden.”

Arasa said King deserved the outpouring of generosity.

“George has been so kind to all of us who live here,” he said. “When I did this, it was just trying to make a difference in helping a family that was in need at the time.

“One person doing one small thing can make a difference.”