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On the corner of Bond and Eager Streets there is a boxing gym run by Mr. Mack Lewis Foundation. At least that’s what it says on the door. According to Executive Director Gregory Wilkes, it is so much more.
“It’s really a very challenged community. There’s a lot of drug abuse, alcoholism and pretty much everybody lives below the poverty level. You also see a lot of violence,” Wilkes said. “We try to teach youth how to be good people. We’re not trying to make professional fighters. We use boxing as a way to get young people interested in being a part of our program. Once we get them in, we can introduce them to all the other programs.”
Mr. Mack Lewis Foundation has been serving the East Baltimore community for more than 80 years. The late Mr. Mack Lewis’ vision focused on changing the lives of the kids in the neighborhood, giving them hope and a path forward.
Local organizations come in to do hands-on training for skills such as CPR and AED. There is also a computer lab where young people can receive tutoring help or community members can develop resumes and job search.
Additionally, every Tuesday for the past four years, about 125 community members stand in line for nutritious groceries. Aside from the obvious health benefits of having nutritious meal options, Wilkes said this distribution has given residents some needed social interaction and community building.
“Some people line up as early as 10 a.m. Now that they’re in those lines, they’re having conversations,” Wilkes said. “We’re getting them out. They’re socially engaging with people. That’s something that’s missing for them that we can give back.”
Mobility is an issue for some, especially when it comes to accessing quality healthcare. When Wilkes heard what GBMC HealthCare and Gilchrist were doing in East Baltimore with the GBMC Health Partners Primary Care—Jonestown practice and the Elder Medical Care program, he was eager to have a resource to share with residents.
“We try to do whatever we can with whoever we can to come into the community and make a difference, change the quality of life for people that, I would say are underserved, but some of them are actually forgotten,” Wilkes said. “I really appreciate partnerships like the one we have with GBMC and Gilchrist because they are making a difference.”
Distrust in the medical system is a valid concern for the Black community, especially in Baltimore City, which is why building trust over the long term and demonstrating commitment is vital.
“Trust Is the biggest barrier. When you have predominantly African American communities where leadership doesn’t value them, it’s hard for them to trust anybody outside of that community,” Wilkes said. “On Tuesdays, during our food distribution, GBMC would send a nurse out to do blood pressure readings and just have general conversations with people, not once or twice, but continuously. Having a relationship with GBMC and Gilchrist really enhances what we are all trying to offer to the community.”