For a man who has been cited for his community involvement by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Dr. James Mays, 67, is a doctor who remains humble and focused on servicing the South Los Angeles community.
Whenever a crisis emerges in South Los Angeles, Dr. Mays is a familiar fixture on the picket lines or speaking at a press conference about the issues of AIDS education, the downsizing of Martin Luther King Hospital, glaring health disparities, or substandard education.
A fixture in the African American and Hispanic communities, the Pine Bluff, Arkansas native has operated four Mays Medical Clinics for about four decades. When other physicians have packed their stethoscopes and medical charts to move to the more prosperous West Los Angeles or Beverly Hills, the dedicated physician has steadfastly kept his services in the inner city. And community residents are grateful for Dr. Mays dedication–as he strolls through his medical clinics dressed in his white doctor’s coat with a stethoscope draped around his neck, patients greet him like family as he single-handedly treats 40 to 50 patients a day.
And with high blood pressure, diabetes, sickle cell disease, obesity and other health disparities impacting the black and Hispanic communities, Dr. Mays feels that the need for more medical facilities in South Los Angeles is great. “There is a great need for physicians to treat the undeserved,” he observed. “It is my hope that South Central will receive an influx of doctors in the near future who care about the community,” said Dr. Mays, who is a recognized authority in the area of the high blood pressure.
“There must be a special effort to help the black, brown, and poor communities because those are the people who are in the poorest health,” Dr. Mays pointed out. “The black community is lacking adequate medical care. Either we will pay for the health disparities impacting the black and brown communities now, or we will pay for them later,” he maintained.
Dr. Mays, who was the first Chief of Cardiology hired at Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital in 1973, said he is troubled by the downsizing of the embattled medical facility, observing that it is located in a community where healthcare needs are the greatest.
“Our leaders and politicians need to come together to save that hospital,” said Dr. Mays, who wrote a suspenseful book, Mercy is King, about a fictional doctor working at MLK. “It is inexcusable that there is not a full-service hospital available to assist residents in the Watts/Willowbrook area.”
Many have credited Dr. Mays for being an “unsung hero” who never seeks credit for saving lives. While eating lunch at Queen of Angels Hospital during his residency years ago, Dr. Mays once saved the life of a man who suddenly went into cardiac arrest. The man, who was Caucasian, doggedly tracked Dr. Mays down after his recovery to thank him for saving his life.
For his dedication for servicing undeserved communities, Dr. Mays was honored with The Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge award from Mrs. Ronald Reagan and has also served on the board of directors of the American Heart Association and the Watts Health Foundation. He is also the creator and founder of the Compton Sickle Cell and Hypertension Foundation.
Righting wrongs has always been in the physician’s blood. “I got my activist spirit from my mother,” declared Mays. “My mother, Edna Clare, was a community organizer in Pine Bluff for 70 years. She helped poor people all her life and she instilled in me and my siblings to do the same,” said Mays, who said his mother’s contributions have been enshrined in both the Pine Bluff and Arkansas Halls of Fame.
Dr. Mays has accomplished more than almost seems humanly possible. The prolific Mays is also the author of 13 books, including The Black Superheroes, The Mind of Mays, Mercy is King, and Dr. Dan: Man of Steel. He has also penned 100 medical scientific papers.
A decorated combat veteran who served as a medic in the Vietnam War, Mays also lauded local community figures as the co-founder and creator of the Promenade of Prominence Walk of Fame. The memorial, located in Ted Watkins Park in Watts, is dedicated to the accomplishments of local civic and community leaders.
In an effort to help poor families, Dr. Mays founded the Adopt-a-Family Program, where he recruited local professionals to serve as role models for thousands of families throughout the Southland.
In the ’70s, he lifted the self-esteem of thousands of black and brown children with two caped African American superheroes named Radian and Radiance. The superheroes visited inner city schools and urged black and brown students to study hard. “I created the superheroes to give the black children a positive image,” said Dr. Mays.
The doctor is also the co-host of The Audrey Franklin Show, which is regularly broadcast on cable television.
Always a bundle of energy, Dr. Mays recently faced his own health crisis when he suffered two strokes. But despite his slow gait and constant reliance on a walking cane, Dr. Mays said his fiery spirit remains intact.
And protest remains in Dr. Mays’ blood. He recently rallied friends and supporters to protest spiraling gas prices, which he maintains has especially impacted the poor and the elderly. Many elderly and disabled residents were surprised recently when Dr. Mays appeared at a Mobile gas station and gifted them with a gas card worth $25 to ease their gas crunch.
“Gas is so incredibly high that senior citizens on a fixed income just can’t afford to fill up their tanks,” Dr. Mays pointed out. “I feel that churches, businesses, and other types of organizations should be coming together to offer relief for our people and to show that we are true Christian citizens.”
And recognizing other “soldiers” in the community continues to be a labor of love for Dr. Mays, who co-founded the 3rd Annual Mic Awards with entertainer Georgio Washington. The Mic Awards, which were held June 8 at 4 p.m. at the Hollywood Park Casino to honor local entertainers and community leaders, lauded actor Bill Cobbs, Watts community activist “Sweet” Alice Harris, community activist Najee Ali, and entertainer Tommy the Clown.
And Dr. Mays has no plans of slowing down. “I love my community,” he said. “As long as I am breathing, I plan to help my community as long as I can.”