Meet some of Sandtown’s changemakers

Nancy West, a member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Baltimore:


Photo by Chelsea Seifert/VoiceBox Media

“When I talk about going back to normal, for me normal currently is there being no grocery stores in that area. Normal for me is 96 percent of the black kids who are caught with drugs are arrested and 4 percent of the white kids who have the very same charge or could have the same charge, only 4 percent of them are arrested. And that’s what’s normal now.”

Alan McLain, a community advocate who is helping to find solutions to solving Sandtown’s food desert problem:

“The way our program was created was to address supply and demand and work with the corner stores and kind of be like ‘Okay, what would you need to sell healthy foods? Can it be infrastructure, refrigeration, or seed money to get some produce?’ Then the demand end has been me organizing with youth in the schools and writing and leading a program, which part of the program is that they get to design a project that will promote health in their community and help corner stores.”

Ernest Wilson “Q”, a Sandtown resident and junior leader at New Song Community Church. He tells us about his relationship with his mentor and friend, Alan McLain:


Photo by Holly Wise/VoiceBox Media

“I met Alan when I was 16. Ever since that day he’s taken us under his wing – my little brother and I. It had been a rough start, with us being in the streets, having a rough life and our dad wasn’t in our lives. But Alan, he actually helped. It might have took him a minute to gain our trust but as time came by, we thought he could be trusted and from that day we fell in love with Alan like he was our brother.

“(He) inspired me to follow in the footsteps he’s going through, to help the community and help the youth and bring positive energy to them and let them know that there’s something to be out here. To show them to hold their heads up high; there’s always something in this world that you can do, that you can change, that one day you will live your dreams.”

“I really love him. God really blessed this man all the way through. He has touched so many people’s hearts. I’ve always aspired to help out with the children but how can I help somebody when I don’t know what to do with my own soul?

That’s when God sent me a model. He sent me a helper and I know that from this day, all the way to the end when we die, that me and Alan are going to be close with each other. That’s my brother.

“It’s time for a change; it’s time to bring back the life of happiness. I call it the life of happiness because when you have joy to yourself you bring joy to other people which will constantly spread the joy of love and the joy of living. Love one another – that brings you together as a family.”

Sheila Washington, a community activist born and raised in Sandtown:


Photo by Reynaldo Leanos, Jr./VoiceBox Media

“It’s important to build the community back up and let these young kids know that things can happen and they can do better. They can live in this community, but they can also venture out and learn different things. They can come back and help rebuild their communities. It’s a beautiful community, but there’s a lot of things going on. The Freddie Gray thing was just something else, it wasn’t it, but it was something else, which brought a lot of things out.

“In 2008 a young lady asked me if I could give her a block party because she got a 4 year scholarship to Bouie. I grabbed people together and got the block party going, so since 2008 until now we’ve been having back to school block parties, marching bands, fashion shows, hair shows and school supplies giveaways.

Luis Camacho, a volunteer from New York:


Photo by Chelsea Seifert/VoiceBox Media

“Although this area was not directly affected by the riots, the riots were the result of decades of not being heard. Consequently a lot of what you see in abandoned buildings is the result of not being heard also, so if you want to see a change, both legislative and in the community, you got to start somewhere. When the riots were happening I was one of those voices out there speaking not for or against it, just guys understanding. What can we do so it doesn’t happen again?”

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