Wrangling holds up renaming of rec center

September 11, 1994|By Ken Rosenthal and Mike Preston | Ken Rosenthal and Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writers

It seems like a simple idea, renaming a city recreation center after a favorite son who died famous.

But eight months after a bill was introduced in Baltimore City Council, the Cecil-Kirk Recreation Center in East Baltimore still doesn't bear Reggie Lewis' name.

"You give birth to a person, you name a person, then someone tells you that you can't use that person's name," says Lewis' mother, Inez "Peggy" Ritch, 48. "It's unreal."

Lewis' widow, Donna Harris-Lewis, asked the city to delay plans to rename the center in April, requesting more time to investigate Cecil-Kirk on behalf of the Reggie Lewis Foundation.

"I actually feel like I'm being deprived of our heritage," says Lewis' uncle, Russell Lewis, 46, a postal worker for 23 years. "It seems like it's an ongoing thing to erase the boy's memory."

However, Baltimore City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge says nearly every appropriate city agency has endorsed the renaming, and he plans to seek final approval at a hearing when the council reconvenes on Sept. 26.

"I'm prepared to go through with or without her [Harris-Lewis'] approval," says Ambridge, who represents the 2nd District, where Cecil-Kirk is located. "I don't know if the city is prepared to go to that length and face a challenge in court, but I am.

"It's a very sad commentary that there's any resistance at all from Mrs. Lewis. From my experience talking to the mother and Mack Lewis, the uncle, they're very anxious to move forward."

Harris-Lewis, 29, declined to comment for this article.

Harris-Lewis is president of the Reggie Lewis Foundation, a charitable organization that incorporated 2 1/2 weeks after her husband's death. She has said that the foundation intends to serve Boston and Baltimore, and that Ritch and two of Lewis' cousins are on its board.

Ritch, however, says she has no involvement with the foundation, and learns of its activities only from updates she receives from Harris-Lewis in the mail.

Lewis' cousin, Paula Dozier, 27, is a member of the board, but says she is unaware of any plans to honor Lewis' name in Baltimore.

"Everything has to go through Donna," says Dozier, who works in the media relations department for Columbus Center.

In Boston, the Lewis foundation has endorsed plans for a Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, a project funded by the state of Massachusetts at Roxbury Community College.

The renaming of Cecil-Kirk could be accomplished without any financial assistance from the Lewis foundation.

The idea to rename the center stemmed not from family members but from members of the community, according to Cecil-Kirk director Anthony Lewis, who is not related to Reggie.

"This is something that was suggested by the community at large -- not myself, not Peggy," Lewis says. "They thought it would be a tribute to have the center where he spent so much time renamed after him.

"I thought it would be appropriate, to continue his legacy. It's something that everyone -- not only Peggy, Donna and her kids -- could look forward to for a number of years."

In April, Harris-Lewis expressed concern that a center named for Lewis might be renamed for someone else in 20 years. But Anthony Lewis says: "I don't think the city fathers would allow that. I think it would stand for the test of time."

The center originally was to be renamed on April 18, but the Lewis foundation sent a letter to the city outlining its concerns. The city decided to wait for foundation approval before proceeding.

Meanwhile, the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Boston is scheduled to be completed on Dec. 31.

The facility will feature an 8-foot porcelain tile mural of Lewis in one lobby and a multiple-imaging exhibit chronicling Lewis' life and accomplishments in another.

Harris-Lewis recently wrote Ritch requesting family photographs for the multiple-imaging exhibit. Ritch says she won't be sending them.

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