Baltimore ChangeMakers: A Refuge Through Faith, Prayer and Patience

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Ray C. Kelly is an an organizer and activist with the No Boundaries Coalition which has been working in West Baltimore since 2010.Andre Chung / for NBC News

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By Donna Owens

Baltimore: ChangeMakers will introduce you to some of the individuals who are engaging youth, seeking to improve their neighborhoods block by block, and demanding that their voices be heard in corridors of power. Each one is different but determined in their own unique way to change the paradigm in the city, pushing to help rebuild it one day, one person at a time.

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Change Maker: Ray Kelly

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Activist Ray C. Kelly was born and raised in West Baltimore, a historic black community that was once the home of such icons as Billie Holiday and Thurgood Marshall.

Yet despite its rich history, says Kelly, decades of blight, drugs, crime and high unemployment have left many neighborhoods in what locals simply call “the West side” with social and economic wounds.

“For 50 years, we’ve had disinvestment and a lack of development,” says Kelly, 45, a resident of Sandtown-Winchester, the area where Freddie Gray lived before his police custody death last April. “There’s been no [government] urgency to address it. But we must be the change.”

“There has to be a major cultural change in our city.” — Ray C. Kelly

Kelly is determined to help shift the paradigm in his neighborhood and city. He’s an active member of St. Peter Claver church, a black Catholic parish that dates to 1888.

With ministries that include a soup kitchen, clothing distribution for the homeless, counseling, and programs for youth and elders, “This church is a refuge for our neighbors,” he says, noting that following the unrest in Baltimore, the priest and parishioners immediately began cleaning up their neighborhood. Later, the church welcomed community residents and officials for meetings as the city grappled for solutions.

Ray C. Kelly is an organizer from West Baltimore and an active member of St. Peter Claver church, whose ministries include a soup kitchen, clothing distribution for the homeless, and counseling programs.Andre Chung / for NBC News

The community organizer is equally committed to his work with the No Boundaries Coalition, a local advocacy group comprised of residents from a cross-section of racial and socio-economic backgrounds.

“We’re addressing public safety, health, jobs and education issues in Central West Baltimore,” says Kelly, director of community relations for the non-profit, officially founded in 2012. “There has to be a major cultural change in our city.”

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The coalition has been busy. Members helped register hundreds of new voters prior to Maryland’s primary election in April, they’ve launched a fresh produce stand to address pervasive food deserts, and released a report designed to improve police-community relations.

No Boundaries also lobbied Maryland lawmakers for legislation that would foster greater accountability from law enforcement.

Kelly, a father who’s weathered his share of personal challenges, says strong Christian faith underscores his social justice advocacy.

“I’m true to the vocation that God has called me to,” he says. “I continue to stand as living, breathing proof that with faith, prayer and patience, change is possible.”

Our "Baltimore: Change Makers" series will introduce you to some of the stand-out individuals who are part of a burgeoning movement. Each is determined to help the city rebuild, block by block, person by person, one day at a time. As you read their profiles we hope that you will be inspired to join the conversation and let us know, who are your neighborhood #ChangeMakers? #BaltimoreChangeMakers