CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A local pastor and leading figure in black history in Charleston is being dedicated with a plaque in his honor and for the work he has done in establishing a community center for kids in the area over the past 24 years.

Rev. James D. Ealy, currently a pastor at New Life Fellowship in North Charleston and a former city council member, was honored with the plaque Thursday at the Paul S. Dunbar 2nd Avenue Center on Charleston’s West Side.

The community wanted to do something to honor Ealy for pioneering the acquirement of the community center in 2000 after it had been overtaken by a group of drug dealers.

Ealy said after he had returned from a 28-year stint in the military, he came back to be a pastor at the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church on the west side. He said he started to notice the drug dealers at the abandoned community center and when he asked about it to people at the church, they said the building used to belong to the church before the drug dealers took it over.

He said he then felt inspired to take the facility back, and so he and the church group came together in fellowship to do something about it in a peaceful way.

“We started our street ministry, and so each day we would come out, and the rules were clear, don’t bother them, we’re just going to go and have prayer and move about, and we’ll see where that takes us,” Ealy said.

Ealy said they continued to have prayer every other night before the drug dealers left the area. He recalled one evening during Wednesday night service how the drug dealers actually let them pray with them.

However, Ealy recalled that the inspiration to create something like the community center came long before when he was still in the military and was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He said his sister invited him up to an Easter play they were putting on at her church in Washington D.C. at the time when the idea initially came to him.

“I was so impressed with all of the young people at that thing that I said then, if I ever get an opportunity, we’re going to make something happen for the young people in Charleston,” he said.

Ealy said when they acquired the building in 2000, they ran about 150 kids through the facility, holding after school programs and activities throughout the summertime. He said he’s been personally funding the facility for the past 24 years.

Ealy said despite the work and the funding it takes for its upkeep, he said he wouldn’t change a thing.

“It’s been worth it, its been really worth it, just seeing the kids have a place to go and something to do,” Ealy said.

Teresa Brown has also been helping to manage the center since the very beginning. She said the number of children coming through the facility has fluctuated over the years, but they now run about 30 kids.

Brown said the facility truly does bring some light to what a community center really means.

“This is all we got,” she said. “All the people that you see that works here all lives in this community, and all of the kids that you see here all live in walking distance, so it’s like a community taking care of their own.”

Ealy’s plaque now resides on the front of the 2nd Avenue Community Center.