By J. K. Schmid, AFRO Staff Writer

Pastor Donte L. Hickman laid out his vision and its realization for addressing Baltimore blight at an interfaith roundtable Thursday.

Hickman, of Southern Baptist Church, has been pastor for 16 years. When he arrived, his original plan was for soup kitchens, food pantries and clothing drives, he said.

“What’s the vision, pastor?” a congregant asked Hickman early in his new position. “We just built this, what are we gonna do in the community?”

Abandoned blight property located at 500 Arlington Avenue, Baltimore, MD. (Photo/J. K. Schmid)

At first, Hickman didn’t know.

“I looked off one day, literally, while sitting outside the church, at a block of homes that had been abandoned for 10 years, 15 years before I arrived,” Hickman said. “They’ve been abandoned still for 30 years.”

“I asked the question: How did they get this way? And if we were to renovate them and rebuild them, what is to prevent them from becoming that way again?”

Since these question were asked, the pastor, his church, and corporations acting on the church’s behalf, have opened over a hundred units for senior living. Hickman says the complexes are fully-leased with rolling list of a new applicants.

Hickman attributes Humana’s restoration of the neighboring American Brewery building to his church taking the first step in the community: the 62-unit $22 million Cole, Grant, Higgs Senior Center.

“The church, under my predecessor, Dr. Nathaniel Higgs, invested the first million dollars, risking on that particular project by faith,” Hickman said.

The Mary Harvin Senior Center, named after a founding member of Southern, burned down during the Freddie Gray uprising.

“We were able to cut the ribbon and rebuild it to a year of the anniversary of the fire,” Hickman said. “The real miracle was people still wanted to live in the community and it was fully leased up on day one.”

Next year, Hickman and Southern are planning to open an additional 88-units nearby in April and developing the Old Bugle Laundry Factory into a 112,000 square foot Health and Wellness Center.

During the same discussion, Hickman also credited restoring people as well as buildings noting the church remains a spiritual entity at its core.

“We devalue the spiritual side, not realizing that the spirituality is the essence, the sub strata, of the numina of anything that can be successful and sustainable,” Hickman said. “It is not enough to invest in the physical capital, but we have to invest in the human capital as well.”