, As a result of the civil unrest in Baltimore City in April 2015, not only were large pharmacy chain stores like CVS looted, but so were many independent local shops. At neighborhood-based Breathe4Sure Pharmacy Solutions, the impacted was severe. Doors were rammed, all of the inventory was taken, and computers were broken. The loss was devasting for the three-year-old pharmacy.
Through all of this, owner Maisha McCoy’s spirit could not be broken. Despite the damages, Maisha continued serving clients who needed their prescriptions through a broken window. She received loans and grants from the city and State of Maryland to help fund repairs and a façade renovation.
A daunting situation for anyone to face alone, the work of rebuilding her business and the neighborhood was going to take a committed community of people. The story of how Maisha rebuilt her business has impact well beyond the bricks and mortar of a building and her customers.
Intersections of Connectivity
Through the Baltimore City Mayor’s office, Maisha got connected to Terri Harrington, a local commercial real estate professional and graduate of The Leadership class of 2009. For many years, Terri had been a member of The Dining Divas, a regular gathering of women created by members of her class, who were looking for a way to help a woman-owned business after the unrest. Maisha and Breathe4Sure Pharmacy Solutions were the perfect fit.
After working with Maisha throughout the year and seeing her commitment to her business and the community, Terri suggested that she apply to The Leadership program. “Maisha was living in the world we were all talking about during the Leadership year experience.”
For Maisha, being a graduate of the 2017 Leadership class allowed her to meet people who were able to have a deep impact on her. “There is no other way I can imagine having made these connections.”
Once immersed in the class, Maisha quickly began to share her story and a peer consulting group began to form around her. A group of 15-20 people came together, listening to her challenges and goals, and sharing ideas that evolved into an action plan. Innovation Works President and CEO, Jay Nwachu, wanted to help classmates from diverse types of organizations “show up” to effect change and helped lead these group discussions.
Jay assisted Maisha in drafting a “problem statement” so that classmates could choose where they thought their input could be best used. They weren’t being asked to solve a problem, but to lend their voices and perspectives.
The experience with Maisha left Jay wanting to do more than pass off good ideas. He was used to programs oriented toward people with new ideas, but recognized that if programmatic systems could also be addressed with those closest to the problems, a longer-term solution might be identified, and we might be better off as a city.
As progress continued for Breathe4Sure Pharmacy Solutions, Maisha was having a challenge getting the construction work associated with a recovery grant started. Having led a construction company for many years, classmate Dave Slaughter understood her frustrations with the capital improvement grant process and knew what she was up against.
By showing up at her job site, Dave created a sense of urgency with her construction team. With an M Luis Construction crew working nearby on another job, he offered to secure permitting of the wheelchair ramp on her building and construct it, making it ADA compliant.
The experience with Maisha has allowed Dave to see things through an entirely new perspective. It frustrates him to see that in a impoverished neighborhood where they often can’t afford to do building renovations, companies that are brought in add premiums because of their safety risk. Now when he has crews in a neighborhood, he reaches out to the community to take care of small items for people in need. Something he would not have thought to do previously.
Although there was progress on the pharmacy building, Maisha was experiencing pressure from the community to help create a garden in the vacant lot across the street. She had been focused on rebuilding her business and needed help with communications.
Classmate Cheree Johnson, Senior Vice President at W.R. Grace, knew the importance of effective and consistent communications in her previous work with McCormick & Co Inc. Maisha learned how to communicate, negotiate and facilitate – all things she needed as an entrepreneur.
“They don’t have classes on these things, you learn through these kinds of connections,” said Maisha. “Cheree broke it down for me and the community responded very positively. I continue to access this knowledge regularly.”
Natasha Dartigue, Public Defender for the State of Maryland, connected Maisha to a free consultation with an attorney who helped her plan how to expand the business. This is a significant step that will have an ongoing impact to her business evolution.
We will continue to watch the journey of Maisha McCoy, Breathe4Sure Pharmacy Solutions and the Sandtown community – and foster the relationships that support citizens in the work they want to do.