‘These kinds of investments pay off generationally’: Baltimore’s Harlem Park Recreation Center reopens after 7 years

Seven years after it closed, Harlem Park Recreation Center has got its game back.

About 100 people attended the reopening of the West Baltimore rec center Tuesday afternoon, including Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who wasn’t happy when it closed in 2012 and pushed to get it and others back in operation.


“If not for rec centers, I would not be here today,” Young told a crowd of about 100 people attending the grand reopening.

He remembered when his mom used to send him to rec centers. It was a time when there was a center every two to four blocks, he said. Young has long wanted to reopen the centers, which were closed during a consolidation under then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in 2012.

“I view the Recreation and Parks department as part of the crime fight,” he said.

Among those excited about the reopening was Harlem Park resident Shaneka Jones, 34, who had several young children in tow looking at the new indoor basketball hoops and games.

“I first heard about it when I saw Mr. Wylie taking pictures of the building," said Jones, referring to the Harlem Park funeral home owner Al Wylie.

Wylie, who doubles as the president of the Harlem Park Neighborhood Council, told her the city would be reopening the rec center.

"I told him thank you, because they really need something to do,” she said of her children.

West Baltimore residents living in the 21217 ZIP code, which includes Harlem Park, have experienced a violence that is unfathomable to most U.S. residents. More than 345 people have been shot and injured, and an additional 179 people have been killed there since 2015, when violence in Baltimore began to escalate after the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered while in police custody. The victims have included seven children.

“The reason why I was taking pictures is because every time I heard the news, I heard people saying kids needed some place for people to go,” Wylie said. “We had a recreation center in Harlem Park that was closed."

So Wylie took pictures of the closed center and sent them to City Council member John T. Bullock and Baltimore City Recreation and Parks director Reginald Moore, and called the mayor’s office.

All were on board. But there was the funding problem. At the same time, University of Maryland Medical Center President Mohan Suntha was looking at how to help the community. He partnered with the city to refurbish the recreation center with new lighting, books, games and sports equipment and an upgraded multipurpose room.

Suntha explained at the opening that investing in the health of a community isn’t just about what happens inside the walls of the hospitals — like treating pain, gunshot wounds and illness — it’s about prevention.

“The reality is these kinds of investments pay off generationally," he said. "They don’t pay off in a quarter or in a fiscal year. They pay off in a generation.”