“Do you see me?” asks Pastor Don Coleman, Chairman, Board of Directors, of Church Hill Activities and Tutoring (CHAT). He speaks to an audience of community stakeholders, gathered outside, across from Bon Secours’ Richmond Community Hospital. The gathering was to unveil the name of the new East End Community Center, the Sarah Garland Jones Center. The center was created to serve as a safe space where community members may join together and cultivate life skills that position them for a healthy and prosperous future.
With his voice bellowing, Pastor Coleman asked again, “No—do you see me? A boy from Creighton Court, whose family was dismantled by drug addiction, who entered into the foster care system. A proud graduate of Armstrong High School, and then the great Virginia Commonwealth University. A member of the illustrious Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Do you see me?”
For many young men whose story mirrors the beginning of Pastor Coleman’s, they’re not afforded the opportunity to truly be seen in the fullness of who they are. Too often, they’re placed into boxes that rob them of the opportunity to realize their full potential and are written off as a statistic waiting to happen. The young men and women in the Richmond community, despite how rough their upbringing, possess a greatness within, and it’s up to the community leaders to ignite a spark that brings that greatness to the forefront. Community leaders hold a responsibility to dedicate time and provide the resources necessary to make better citizens.
This is why Mark Gordon, CEO the Bon Secours Richmond East, sought to make this center a reality in the East End, in particular.
“This neighborhood is one that has not received the equity and resources that the entire Richmond community has received,” he explains. “So this is about understanding equity. This community deserves it; it has been a long time, and we’re about making that difference.”
With the heavy emphasis on equity within this predominantly Black neighborhood, it’s no wonder why Bon Secours chose to name the center after the iconic Sarah Garland Jones. She was the first African American woman licensed to practice medicine in the Commonwealth of Virginia, plus she dedicated her life to serving as a champion for civil and equal rights for generations to come. In 1895, Jones co-founded the Richmond Hospital, the first medical facility in Richmond dedicated to serving African American patients. That hospital later became the Richmond Community Hospital. Her life is a testament to the belief that despite seeming barriers to success such as race and/or gender, creating a powerful legacy is achievable.
The Sarah Garland Jones Center has three components that each serve a unique purpose, the center is your one-stop-shop for programming that speaks to the entirety of a person– mentally, emotionally, physically, and economically.
First up is Parsley’s Kitchen. Boasting 1,100 square feet of operable kitchen space, Parsley’s Kitchen focuses on hands-on cooking classes, nutrition education, and helps develop and cultivate entrepreneurs aspiring to launch their own start-up business. It holds seating for up to 15 class participants, and will serve as the headquarters for Class-A-Roll, Bon Secours’ mobile learning center.
The Community Room is next, and focuses on group-based community gatherings for both neighborhood members and non-profit organizations. It is in this room that group therapy will take place, along with workforce readiness programs that equip residents with the tools and training needed when entering or re-entering the workforce.
Lastly is the Front Porch Café, which will be operated by Church Hill Activities and Tutoring (CHAT) and will serve as the centerpiece of the organization’s Work Leadership programs. The café will provide job training for the young adults in Church Hill while also doubling as a general gathering space in which the community may dine and convene together.
Through each component of the center, Mark Gordon is confident that its impact will extend beyond the individual programs offered daily. He’s hopeful that through this center, youth will begin to see the similarities between their journey and that of their neighbor’s, which will break down barriers, reduce conflict, and ultimately build bonds.
“We’re tearing down walls,” he says. “When you grow up in a community, you know people who live four or five houses down the street, but you really don’t get to see other kids. Hopefully this is a place where they can mix and mingle; newcomers can meet people who’ve grown up here, which doesn’t always happen. They don’t have a common place to meet, so this center is a place where they can realize the potential of one another and see that each one of us has something to offer to that relationship. We’re more alike than different.”
Thanks to 57 individuals, organizations, and foundations across Richmond, the Sarah Garland Jones Center will have an immeasurable impact on this city’s residents. This collaborative labor of love is providing quality, affordable, and accessible health care while also providing resources that promote wellness through the community. Education truly is the most powerful weapon for changing the world, which is why this heavy emphasis on programming is cause for celebration.
Above all, even with all its programs and offerings, this center will be a place where, like Pastor Coleman so eloquently stated, youth can be seen. Their story, their potential, their hopes and dreams, and most of all, their life matters, and it’s important that they’re made aware of it day in and day out. The community is bustling with future entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, chefs—you name it—and we’ve all got a responsibility to help cultivate that greatness that lies within. It takes a village, and Mark Gordon is proud to jumpstart that village that’ll make it possible.
“I didn’t get here by myself; no one has,” he explains. “We’re here to understand them, relate to them, help them grow, and offer the guidance and support they need.”
When it comes to its legacy, Gordon is also confident in the way this center will shift the perception of this East End neighborhood.
“I hope this will be a spark that serves as a place where people can come, even if they’ve never been to this neighborhood before, and have the narrative of what they thought this neighborhood was challenged. Most importantly, this center’s legacy will change the outcome of the community.”
Richmond is rich with incredible assets right here in our own community, specifically in the East End, and it’s time to begin celebrating the relationships, assets, and resources that already exist. There’s much work to be done and relationships to be built across racial and socioeconomic lines. Even still, the center’s staff is thrilled to be the change agents that jumpstart what we can all agree is a movement within the community.
“We’re creating a friendly front porch culture for our youth,” says Pastor Coleman. “The center will be a space where not only all are welcome, but all will show up.”