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Many Hands, One City

Congressman Elijah Cummings and Naon Locust

“Unsung Hero” Naon Locust lends her voice to Engage Baltimore: A Day of Reflection and Progress.


The candor of community leaders both moved and ignited Bloomberg School students and faculty, sparking thunderous applause at Engage Baltimore, a May 8 forum with government and community leaders. First among them to speak from her heart was Naon Locust, recognized as an “unsung hero” for her volunteerism by the Urban Health Institute.

“I’ll be darned if you don’t look out for East Baltimore,” she said, stating her expectations of Johns Hopkins University to help jump start change in the city. “We surround you. Show us you mean business.”

The life-long ambassador of the Berea-Eastside neighborhood laid out a trifecta of need: health, education and jobs.

The panel on which Locust participated included those who work “out in the struggle,” as she describes it. Among them: the Rev. Debra Hickman, co-founder and CEO of Sisters Together and Reaching, Inc. (STAR); Antoine Bennett, founder of Men of Valuable Action (MOVA); and Selwyn Ray, vice president of Community Engagement and Partnership for Big Brothers Big Sisters and The Maryland Mentoring Partnership.

“This has been such an exciting opportunity to meet people with common interests,” Locust said. “It’s been a learning experience for me.”

After three decades of working hand-in-hand with the city’s police department and various officials, Locust was not shy about approaching Congressman Elijah Cummings, the keynote speaker. She sought his help in preventing the scheduled demolition of the Fort Worthington Recreation Center.

As the eldest member of the panel—Locust is in her late seventies—she recalled when schools were segregated, when the riots of 1968 broke out and when violence tore through the streets. It was a scene she doesn’t want to relive, she said, urging the public health savvy audience to help Baltimore move forward, not backward.

She is optimistic that Johns Hopkins has much to offer in the way of collaboration with the community and public officials. However, she insisted, efforts cannot be for one neighborhood, but have to be for the whole city.

“Many hands,” she said, “can do good work.”

—Salma Warshanna-Sparklin

Read More About the Engage Baltimore Event.