‘Come down here to 100. Maybe they can help you with the situation that you have.’

BENTON HARBOR, Mich.—Jamal McGee is one motivated man. You could think of him as a recruiter for the Center for Better Health. The 40-year-old Benton Harbor resident estimates that within a month of the center’s Nov. 2 opening he had steered 10 to 15 people to the small medical/social services clinic downtown. [link to story, “Health Equity Moves into the Neighborhood.”]

But his “recruiting” role is strictly voluntary. As McGee sees it, the center is helping him, and he is convinced it can help many more people in his town.

“I came down on a Monday morning, and it’s been, hands down, the greatest experience thus far” he has had in Benton Harbor when it comes to official sources of assistance. “I’ve been in a lot of centers, and a lot of people that want to help or plan to help,” he said. “This is about the best one, thus far, and what is needed in this community now.”

The center is at 100 W. Main St. in the heart of downtown. McGee, a former chef whose restaurant closed when the coronavirus struck, learned about the Center for Better Health from a Facebook post by its legal aid navigator, Chokwe Pitchford. McGee is getting help through the center to expunge a criminal conviction on his record. He is aiming for a better-paying job.

McGee said he knows many people in the community who are facing homelessness, food shortages or medical problems. “I look to them and I tell them, ‘Come down here to 100. Maybe they can help you with the situation that you have. There’s someone down here who’s qualified to assist you with all the things that you need.’

“And they come,” he continued, “and some of them are happy, some of them wishy-washy with it. But as long as they come and see what benefits them down here,” that is the important thing. “So that’s what I do. I’m just a voice for the community. I just help where it’s needed. If we can get a lot of positive going on around Benton Harbor, a lot of this (bad) stuff wouldn’t be happening.”

His father, some cousins and friends have all been guided to the center via McGee, who also uses Facebook to spread the word. On a day when he went to the center for a health check-up, McGee took to Facebook Live to urge Benton Harbor residents to get to the center “ASAP” to get help for any of a range of problems they might have. He held up masks and hand sanitizers that the center gives out. And he repeatedly emphasized that services are free to clients. “Go down and be blessed,” McGee told his online audience.

https://www.facebook.com/jamal.mcgee.33/videos/813396299456336

McGee laughed after describing people’s reaction to the fact that all center services are free. “They’d say, ‘Free?’ Everybody likes ‘free.’”