Pastor James Brooks is now CEO of Lawndale Christian Health Center. | Provided

Lawndale Christian Health Center has appointed Pastor James Brooks as CEO of the community-based clinic.

Brooks was formerly the Chief Ministry Officer for the community health center. Brooks was born and raised in Lawndale and is also senior pastor at Harmony Community Church, where his father was previously senior pastor.

His experiences growing up in North Lawndale and experiencing the challenges that weigh upon the West Side “gives me a great perspective” on the health needs of the community, Brooks said.

“That experience has informed how I will lead going forward,” Brooks said.

Since the health center was born out of the Lawndale Christian Community Church in 1984, it has always been driven by a mission to uplift the West Side. Church members initially sought to create the health center in an effort to improve the longstanding health inequalities faced by people living on the West Side by making high-quality care affordable and accessible to residents.

“It had very humble beginnings,” Brooks said. “We’re embedded in the community. That means our residents have access to us. Our mission is to share the love of Jesus by promoting wellness in Lawndale and our neighboring communities.”

What started as one small clinic and a basketball court to allow residents to exercise grew into one of North Lawndale’s major anchor institutions. Lawndale Christian Health Center is a safety-net clinic that accepts sliding-scale payment, and 40 percent of patients are uninsured. 75,000 people in the area rely on Lawndale Christian Health Center for primary care, Brooks said.

The nonprofit runs a state-of-the-art fitness center residents can join for just $15, as well as multiple event spaces, a senior center, a pharmacy, an eye clinic and multiple satellite clinics around the West Side. Lawndale Christian Health Center also runs one neighborhood’s only coffee shops, the Green Tomato Café, “where community can gather and have a great meal,” Brooks said.

Despite the major strides in improving health access, people living in the area still face massive disparities in health outcomes. Residents in parts of the West Side have an average life expectancy 16 years shorter than people living Downtown, according to a 2015 Virginia Commonwealth University report. That gap isn’t due to shortcomings in clinical care alone, the study showed: It is also due to social conditions, including disinvestment, segregation and a lack of grocery stores.

A priority for Brooks’ leadership is building community partnerships to improve the social conditions that lead to chronic health issues. Lawndale Christian Health Center is already engaged in such initiatives, like its medication assisted treatment programs to support recovery from opioid addictions and its partnerships with over 20 shelters to serve people experiencing homelessness, he said.

“We want to be a better collaborator and partner with organizations that are boots-on-the ground, trying to make a difference in the social determinants of health. When we look at violence, when we look at homelessness, transportation, we want to partner with those who have that role and come along as a health provider,” Brooks said.

Brooks also intends to follow the mantra of Lawndale Christian Community Church’s founder, Coach Wayne Gordon, who often said, “We are better together.” The health center has worked with local churches on a campaign called One Lawndale that aims to unite the Black community of North Lawndale with the Latino community in Little Village under the shared social challenges each neighborhood faces.

“Our main campus borders both communities. We have a great opportunity as an anchor institution to bring people together and tear down the walls that divide us,” Brooks said.