In July 2020, Pastor Derrick DeWitt, head of First Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Sandtown-Winchester, wanted publicity around his efforts overseeing the Maryland Baptists Aged Home, the oldest African American run nursing home in Maryland.
Atkinson had worked with Pastor DeWitt in 2016 on a pro bono basis and helped him gain local and national recognition for his work in Sandtown-Winchester keeping kids out of gangs, feeding residents who didn’t have enough to eat, supporting efforts around urban farming and overseeing a drug rehabilitation center forwomen.
Atkinson knew Pastor DeWitt had a strong story from the start, but it needed to be told. The story was this: As the pandemic surged the 100-year-old Maryland Baptist Aged Home had recorded zero Covid-19 cases and no deaths from the coronavirus. It was the typical “man bites dog” story taught to Journalism 101 students. It was news. The reason for the success? Pastor DeWitt and his team acted quickly once they heard word about pandemic by stocking up on personal protective equipment and by instituting stringent steps that prevented employees from bringing the virus into the nursing home.
Atkinson pitched the story in June to the Baltimore Sun as well as other news outlets. The story exploded. Reporters clamored to speak with Pastor DeWitt about how the nursing home in an economically challenged area of Baltimore could have such success. From June to December,Pastor DeWitt and the Maryland Baptist Aged Home appeared in 117 news outlets across the country and around the globe including, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, NPR News Hour, BBC, CNN, MSN, Business Insider and AARP. Pastor DeWitt evolved into an expert on aging andwas invited to speak at several universities across the country. He also received awards including the Silver Innovator Award from the Alliance for Aging Research. In addition, money flowed in from readers who were inspired to donate, and Pastor DeWitt used the money to put anew roof on the nursing home and give staff bonuses.