Home Youth activism Maryland Legal Aid honors 98-year-old Baltimore native for decades of service and activism in her community

Maryland Legal Aid honors 98-year-old Baltimore native for decades of service and activism in her community

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By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,
[email protected]

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 abandoned her when she was six months old and another family took her in.

“The family I lived with was always a helping family, and I was brought up that way. If someone needs something, you help them, you help a person [who has] less than you,” Johnson said.

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

She said she told them that as American citizens they had a responsibility to vote, and she continued her advocacy for the vote until today.

While serving on the committee, former Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer enlisted Johnson’s help in launching 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 inception.

In Cherry Hill, Johnson has also become the go-to person for young people looking for summer jobs. She believed downtime could lead young people to become involved in crime or use substances, so she worked with the Baltimore City Council and former Senator Barbara Mikulski to connect young people 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, especially as they navigate the legal system. It provides free, high-quality legal services to low-income individuals and families statewide.

She eventually decided to join the MLA Board of Directors and eventually became Vice Chairman of the Board, which she recently left after more than 50 years of service.

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

Recently, MLA presented Johnson with a Certificate of Appreciation for his decades of service to the organization and the community at large. She said receiving the honor made her feel good and reassured her that she had done something worthwhile with her life.

Johnson hopes she will remember her pledge to never turn her back on those who ask for help.

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