Gwendolyn Johnson is a native of Baltimore and grew up in Cherry Hill. Recently, she was celebrated by Maryland Legal aid for her over 50 years of service to the organization and larger community. (Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,
msayles@afro.com

When Baltimore native Gwendolyn Johnson was a little girl, the only thing she knew was that she wanted to be able to help people. 

Her mother had given her up when she was six months old, and another family took her in.  

“My family that I lived with has always been a family that helps other people, and I’ve been raised up like that. If somebody needs something you help them, you help a person [who has] less than you,” said Johnson. 

The 98-year-old grew up in Cherry Hill in South Baltimore, and the neighborhood became the breeding ground for her life of activism and service. 

She began by representing Cherry Hill on the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee, a position she held for 20 years. Voting was always important to Johnson, and she constantly encouraged community members to participate in elections.

She said she told them as United States citizens they had a responsibility to vote, and she’s continued her voting advocacy to today. 

While serving on the committee, former Mayor of Baltimore William Donald Schaefer enlisted Johnson’s help to launch the Eating Together In Baltimore program, which brings seniors together to promote health, reduce social isolation and provide nutritious meals. 

Johnson continued to oversee the program for several years after its establishment. 

In Cherry Hill, Johnson also became the go-to person for youth searching for summer employment. She believed that idle time could lead to young people getting involved in criminal acts or substance use, so she worked with the Baltimore City Council and former Senator Barbara Mikulski to connect youth to summer jobs. 

During her career, Johnson discovered Maryland Legal Aid (MLA), a Baltimore-based organization dedicated to protecting the basic needs and rights of Marylanders, particularly as they maneuver the legal system. It provides free, high-quality legal services to low-income individuals and families across the state. 

She ultimately decided to join MLA’s board of directors and eventually became vice chair of the board, which she recently stepped down from after over 50 years of service. 

“I would be out in the neighborhoods, and people would be talking on the buses, and I would say to them, ‘You need legal aid,’” said Johnson. “I would send them there and tell them, ‘You tell them what your problem is, and Maryland Legal Aid will help.’” 

Recently, MLA awarded Johnson a certificate of appreciation for her decades of service to the organization and the larger community. She said receiving the honor made her feel good and assured her that she had done something worthwhile with her life. 

Johnson hopes that she’s remembered by her commitment to never turn her back on those that ask for help.

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