When the last living speaker from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom stops by for a visit, everyone wants to say hello.
Rep. John Lewis was the sixth speaker at that historic program, back on August 28, 1963.
On January 24, 2014, at a health clinic on Atlanta’s Westside, he was farther down the line because everyone wanted to say thank you.
Lewis brought a big check, Happy Gilmore style, to celebrate the HEALing Community Center being named a federally qualified health center.
HEAL, as the clinic is known locally, is reaching beyond the boundaries of traditional medicine to transform the health of residents on the Westside, where indicators for cancers, HIV and chronic disease are awful.
Food is central to the approach. HEAL’s founder, Dr. Charles Moore, first made his way to the Westside when he checked the addresses of patients showing up at Grady Hospital with advanced head and neck cancers.
The Westside was home to many of the patients suffering without treatment. Moore began driving the neighborhood, knocking on doors and conducting health screenings out of the trunk of his car. He is not much for red tape.
Today, nine year later, Moore’s clinic is providing medical care for more than 6,000 children and adults. He is also leading a movement to transform the Westside from a food desert into a food oasis.
The food oasis strategy is simple. It’s about enabling patients to eat, cook and grow.
Whatever barrier emerges, Moore removes it. Many of his patients don’t own a car, and the neighborhood “ride man” is pricey. So Moore is lining up transportation through faith-based partners.
Moore is partnering with three Westside supermarkets to add small touches that make his patients feel welcome. The stores have also agreed to a coding system that will promote the healthy choices that line up with the Nutrition Rx program his physicians are launching.
Then there are the recipe cards and cooking lessons, and the kind of fellowship that only occurs through food. All so his patients see how easy it is to turn dried berries, kale and chicken into a salad. Moore’s expansive view of “food as medicine” has him working with chef and farmers as frequently as MRI centers and blood labs.
At the Super Giant on Atlanta’s Hollowell Parkway, owner Sam Goswami and his wife greet visitors from HEAL with hugs. Thanks to another HEAL brainstorm, Goswami is installing raised beds and fruit trees in the store parking lot.
Lewis put his hands in the dirt last week and planted an apple tree. Now there is food growing right outside the doors of the supermarket.
The Westside is hallowed ground. The 30314 ZIP Code that drew Moore to the Westside was where Martin Luther King Jr. moved his family during the Civil Rights Movement.
“So many of the young people who worked in the movement came to live in this area,” Lewis said at HEAL. “Your health should not be decided by the size of your bank account or the ZIP Code where you live.”
Moore’s work is about disrupting old norms for medicine, food and community. Lewis gets it.
“My parents told me, ‘Don’t get in trouble. Don’t get in the way.’ I was inspired to get in the way. I made good trouble,” Lewis said to HEAL staff. “Thank you for getting in the way.”