New Healthy Community Center transforms historic library into beacon of wellness

people walking into the new Ohio State Healthy Community Center opening event

On a bright, sunny afternoon in early May, nearly 300 members of Columbus’ Near East Side gathered to celebrate their new community center. Among the first to arrive was Ann B. Walker, a centenarian deeply woven into the fabric of the neighborhood.


Seated in the front row at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center Healthy Community Center, Walker looked thoughtfully at the transformation of the building located on Long Street in the historically Black neighborhood. Once bustling with readers as the Martin Luther King Jr. branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, the structure has been turned into a hub of health and wellness, thanks to a $5.1 million investment from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, which will operate the community center.

Walker, who will turn 101 this year, had good reason to reminisce. As an award-winning TV journalist, she once interviewed Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I was just thinking about how much things have changed,” Walker shares, her gaze lingering on an image of King Jr. installed in the building. “It’s great that it can now be used as a health center. There are people in the area who need services and don’t have access to them.”

The Healthy Community Center is more than just a building: it’s a hub for the neighborhood, focusing on promoting healthier lifestyles. With plans to host dietary and exercise workshops, health screenings and educational health programming, it’s a gathering space that’s geared to meet the real needs of the community.

From books to health: A legacy reimagined

“The history of this place begins with a longing to learn,” says Joshua Joseph, MD, the center’s medical director, at the opening ceremony.

He shared the center’s journey from its origin as the city’s East Side library in the 1960s. He recalled the words of Martin Luther King Sr., who spoke at the library’s dedication in 1969:

“You have a beautiful space conducive to reading, but books are worth nothing unless you read them.”

Dr. Joshua Joseph at the opening of Ohio State’s Healthy Community Center
Joshua Joseph, MD, (left) serves as the medical director for the Healthy Community Center. Javonte McDonald is director of the center.

Dr. Joseph says those words are reflected in the building’s new purpose: “It’s a beautiful building, but it means nothing if it’s not filled every day with programming and people improving health and wellness."

Read about the events and programming taking place at the Healthy Community Center

Programming geared for a healthy community

The transformation was a true community effort, says the center’s director, Javonte McDonald. It required a commitment to understanding and meeting community needs, which influenced every aspect of the center, from the state-of-the-art teaching kitchen for nutrition classes to the café that supports local entrepreneurs to an art gallery that spotlights area artists.

“It will help address pressing needs in creative and collaborative ways to improve the health of the communities that we serve,” says John J. Warner, MD, chief executive officer of the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and executive vice president at Ohio State.

•	Two paintings hanging on the wall

Local artists contribute artwork displayed in the Healthy Community Center.

food display at the opening of Ohio State’s Healthy Community Center

The Healthy Community Center helps fill a gap in providing access to healthy foods to area residents.

A woman teaching a young male a recipe in a kitchen setting

A demonstration kitchen will be used to teach healthy cooking and nutrition skills to community members.

ribbon cutting at the opening of Ohio State’s Healthy Community Center

Members of the community and leaders from the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center cut the ribbon for the grand opening of the Healthy Community Center.

A plaque dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. in the Healthy Community Center

The Healthy Community Center honors the legacy of the building's former use as the Martin Luther King Jr. branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

a crowd watching speech at the opening of Ohio State’s Healthy Community Center

Community members at the grand opening of the Healthy Community Center.

    Dr. Joseph says his team is working closely with community partners to match services with community needs. “Ohio State has a vested interest in supporting healthy lifestyle changes so everyone has the opportunity to lead longer, healthier lives,” he says.

    The Healthy Community Center will have a café with indoor and outdoor seating. The space will serve as a business incubator for an independent restaurant owner. The center’s partners include the Mid-Ohio Food Collective, Partners Achieving Community Transformation and the Growing and Growth Collective.

    Longtime resident Pamela Shields, who founded the Urban Aging Residents Coalition, emphasized the center’s role in bridging health disparities.

    “Our focus is health, wealth and wellness. We aim to get African Americans, people of color and marginalized groups healthy, attending their medical appointments and involved in research studies,” she says.

    Pamela Shields, founder of Urban Aging Residents Coalition, at the opening of Ohio State’s Healthy Community Center
    Pamela Shields has lived in the Near East Side for more than three decades. Her Urban Aging Residents Coalition will host monthly meetings at the new center.

    A neighborhood cornerstone

    As the community looks ahead, the Healthy Community Center is set to become a bedrock of the Near East Side.

    a crowd watching speech at the opening of Ohio State’s Healthy Community Center
    Near East Side resident Julialynne Walker (center, wearing sunglasses) attended the grand opening ceremony with her 100-year-old mother, Ann B. Walker.

    “My greatest hope is that the entire community sees this center as a resource,” says Julialynne Walker, with the Bronzeville Growers Market. She’s also Ann B. Walker’s daughter. “If everyone welcomes, embraces and uses it fully, we will see a change in our community’s health over time.”

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