BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Wesley Hawkins leads a group of Baltimore’s youngest residents through his non-profit, The Nolita Project, named after his late mother, Nolita Smith.
It’s an organization devoted to helping Baltimore youth. Its services are a vital lifeline during the coronavirus pandemic and a time when city violence dominates the headlines.
“I did this because I understood that, in our city, we are going through a lot of crime,” Hawkins said. “A lot of violence, poverty and things like that. I come from that.”
Hawkins grew up in east Baltimore. With two parents struggling with drug addiction, he spent much of his childhood in foster care.
“I was four grade levels behind,” he said. “I couldn’t read, write or count on a proficient grade level.”
Now a published author with a masters in education, Hawkins uses his platform to secure housing for homeless youth, provide meals for those in a food crisis and teach hands-on leadership skills.
Hawkins started the non-profit nine years ago in east Baltimore. Since then, its expanded to reach 37 students in neighborhoods around the city.
Hawkins admits he doesn’t do a lot of marketing. Rather, people learn about his intensive and highly individualized work through word of mouth and his in-person school visits.
Over the years, he’s inspired his mentees to pay the favor forward.
WJZ’s Rachel Menitoff: “Would you say The Nolita Project inspired you to create your own non-profit?”
Brandon Clayton, Program Graduate: “Yes. Yes, it did.”
“If I can change one, if I can change five, if I can save 10 lives, then I feel like I have done what I was supposed to do and walked in my mission that God has put me on,” Hawkins said.