With a background in public health, Dorchester resident Leonard Lee knew, when COVID-19 hit, that it would disproportionately affect minorities — especially those with preexisting conditions. He also knew that he had to do something to help, because in the spring, face masks were hard to come by, and unaffordable for many, especially for Black and Latinx minimum-wage earners and essential workers. So Lee, 62, took to Facebook and asked friends, family, and colleagues to give up a cup of coffee for a day and donate the money so he could procure masks and disseminate them to those in need. The money started pouring in and, to date, Masking the Community has raised close to $50,000 — far exceeding Lee’s initial goal — and has given out more than 80,000 masks. Senior centers, shelters, MBTA police, and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department — which needed masks for inmates and guards — are just some of the recipients of the free masks. Lee and his volunteers have also spent time in high-traffic areas in and around Dorchester and Roxbury, handing out masks to passersby. Along the way, Lee has become known to many as “the mask man,” a name that makes him chuckle. “I’m just a regular ol' person who had an idea,” said Lee, who worked for more than a decade at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and now works for the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation overseeing the Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex in Roxbury, and the Roxbury Heritage State Park, where he is also the general manager and curator of the Dillaway-Thomas House, a museum on the park grounds. We caught up with Lee, who has three adult children, to talk about all things travel.
Favorite vacation destination?
Cuba, because of the people, the food, the music, and the dance.
Favorite food or drink while vacationing?
Gin and tonic, [with a] lime twist and vanilla bitters. I like to experiment with something new and different when I travel. And I just love food, all types . . . especially barbecue lobster.
Where would you like to travel to but haven’t?
My dream is to go to the motherland, the African continent and the land of my ancestors. I want to explore South Africa and then experience Victoria Falls, “the smoke that thunders.”
One item you cannot leave home without?
I have to remember my eyeglasses so I can see. It’s no fun squinting your way through a vacation trip.
Aisle or window?
Window, so I can see the clouds roll by. I daydream and see what different kinds of shapes the clouds take. It makes me want to create.
Favorite childhood travel memory?
Family trips to Whalom Park in Lunenburg. It’s gone now [it closed in 2000 after operating for more than 100 years], but back in the day, we had a ball leaving the city and enjoying the park, the food, and going on the rides.
Guilty pleasure when traveling?
Finding live music and joining in. I play drums.
Best travel tip?
You are a guest in someone else’s town or country, so always be polite. People will treat you better if you speak a few words in their language and say please and thank you.