Loyola Magazine

Justice in Action

Celebrating 30 Years of Loyola’s Center for Community, Service, and Justice
Students painting a large statue of a crab with bright colors that read 'York Road Initiative' outside on a sunny day
A student paints a crab from Baltimore’s 2005 Crabtown Project, a public art project and fundraiser for city schools. The crab can be seen today at the weekly Govans Farmers’ Market as a reminder of Loyola’s commitment to the city.

When Rev. Timothy Brown, S.J., came to Loyola to teach law and social responsibility in 1987, Loyola was establishing an annual Mexico service trip through Campus Ministry. It was clear, however, that there was also a need and interest in “serving in our own backyard.”

The Center for Community, Service, and Justice is the connector between the campus, community, and the city of Baltimore and beyond, with a focus on the York Road corridor. We put faith in action by integrating our Jesuit values and providing people practical ways to get involved as we walk with our partners as collaborators.

—Gia Grier McGinnis, Dr.PH., executive director for Loyola’s Center for Community, Service, and Justice

Fr. Brown helped Loyola develop partnerships and programming, and in 1992 he and Erin Swezey—the director of Loyola’s Community Service Office at the time— co-founded the Center for Values and Service.

“Loyola was one of the first Jesuit schools on the East Coast with a dedicated community service office and with an internship model inviting students to take charge of community-based partnerships and student recruitment,” says Fr. Brown, associate professor of law and social responsibility and director of mission integration.

Over the past three decades, the center—now the Center for Community, Service, and Justice (CCSJ)—has grown and evolved into a “one-stop hub for all kinds of pathways for engagement,” says Gia Grier McGinnis, Dr.PH., executive director.

In a typical year before the pandemic, more than 2,500 students and 70 faculty participated in community-engaged courses, legislative internships, volunteering, immersions, community development, advocacy work, and more. The past couple of years have been a time of rebuilding—and positioning for future growth.

Loyola has become a model for place-based initiatives through the York Road Initiative (YRI), with a focus on community development in the neighborhoods adjacent to its Evergreen campus. The YRI works to improve education and youth development, build civic capacity, and strengthen the York Road commercial corridor, including through strong partnerships like with the York Road Partnership.

“CCSJ helped propel me and the York Road Partnership into new territory,” says Donna Blackwell, York Road Partnership president from 2016-20, who further established and gained visibility for the coalition of 20+ neighborhoods, organizations, and nonprofits in part through her advocacy work with city agencies.

“We will continue to find ways to be in solidarity with our neighbors up and down the York Road corridor,” says Terrence M. Sawyer, J.D., president of Loyola who was instrumental in developing and launching the YRI. “I plan to become further involved in working with partners to address issues impacting our city of Baltimore and to help us build on our many strengths, and CCSJ is a critical part of this work.”

In the meantime, CCSJ has proven invaluable for the thousands of students who have participated in its programming, like Jacob Bierstaker, ’23, a sociology major who has held several CCSJ roles as he’s prepared for a career in social work.

“Throughout the last four years I have gained so much perspective, insight, and knowledge around issues of justice and equity and how we can build a better world— many of the values central to our mission of diversity, equity, and inclusion I plan to carry with me for the rest of my life,” Bierstaker says.


Black and white photo of a student slow dancing with a senior citizen


The Senior Citizen Prom event has bridged generations and brought joy to countless Baltimore residents.
Black and white photo of a student kneeling down to scoop grout


Led by the Class of 1992, Loyola purchased and renovated a house in the Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore through Habitat for Humanity.
Black and white photo of students smiling while volunteering at a food pantry


St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore’s Beans and Bread, a resource program for those experiencing homelessness, was an early partner. Photo by Christopher M. Lyneh.
Black and white photo of two students posing for a photo in Mexico while holding gardening equipment


The Project Mexico trip piqued many students’ interests in serving locally. All Photos Courtesy of Loyola/Notre Dame Library.