East New York/Brownsville Forum Brings Proactive Approach To Health & Wellness

To be forewarned is to be forearmed, and as the East New York/Brownsville communities move ahead with a $1.4 billion state investment into their communities, it should be up to them to prioritize their needs and how the capital is getting spent.

That was the genesis of Saturday’s East Brooklyn Call To Action For Health and Economic Justice forum held at PS 156 Waverly, 104 Sutter Avenue in East New York.

The $1.4 billion investment is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ongoing Vital Brooklyn initiative, which seeks to transform the Central Brooklyn region by identifying and investing in eight integrated areas that will help to establish a national paradigm for addressing chronic disparities, such as systemic violence and entrenched poverty in high-need communities.

Among the items funded thus far included the playground at the school where the forum was held, which is part of $10.6 million being provided to transform eight schoolyards into community playgrounds.

“The genesis of the call to action is to get the community to empower themselves rather than having the city invade upon their life,” said Brookdale Hospital & Medical Center Vice President of External Affairs Khari Edwards. “This came about because we’re trying to get the community to take a proactive approach in this.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, center, speaks with Khari Edwards from Brooklyn Hospital and Medical Center. Photo by Saul Joseph.

The forum, which drew several hundred people, included Dr. Torian Easterling, from the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), who delivered an East New and Brownsville community health profile.

The profile and related survey, found among other noteworthy facts, a much higher rate of both infant and mom mortality in both Brownsville and East New York; a lack of fresh food and produce, and a lack of access to mental health services.

As action steps and key funding priorities, the DuBois-Bunche Center for Public Policy at CUNY’s Medgar Evers College made eight recommendations. They include:

  • Transform the local food system by expanding urban farming on school campuses, hospital property, and vacant land to support the development of gardens and nutritional education in schools.
  • Work with the city to develop business plans for local farms to sell produce to hospitals, schools and city facilities.
  • Building on the DOHMH efforts to organize and support local bodegas seeking to offer fresh produce.
  • Study the feasibility of establishing a “community wellness hub.”
  • Expand the presence of Community Health Workers in Brownsville and East New York.
  • Develop summer camp programs focussed on nutrition and exercise.
  • Reduce violence by expanding economic opportunities (particularly for formerly incarcerated people) through education, apprenticeships, and job placement on construction, green energy, building retrofits and healthcare.
  • Launch a Healthy Buildings program that tackles unhealthy residential conditions that exacerbate asthma and other medical conditions.
Assemblywoman Latrice Walker spoke about the governor’s initiative, whihc is bringing a $1.4 billion investment to Central Brooklyn. Photo by Saul Joseph.

Among the elected officials who spoke about the need for the community to take a proactive stance in how the money can be spent, and in how to participate in the process was Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Assembly Member Latrice Walker and City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel.

Former Assemblyman Roger Greene, now the co-chair of the Coalition to Transform Interfaith Hospital, served as MC, along with Edwards.

“Every community deserves equal access to the resources they need to succeed, like adequate healthcare, affordable housing and good paying jobs,” said Williams.

“Conversations with community members and stakeholders are an important step toward achieving this goal, so as public advocate, I will continue to partner with those who can help expand these efforts across the city,” he added.

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