Giving Thanks to Those Who Give So Much

In New York Metropolis, we fixate on our flesh pressers and energy brokers, the rich and well-connected. They seize headlines and fireplace up our imaginations. But they aren’t the varieties of people that actually make this metropolis run. They don’t choose up the rubbish, sweep the streets, or assist the underprivileged. If the glitterati disappeared, they might solely be missed for therefore lengthy. The arduous, infinite work within the shadows would proceed with out them.

With this challenge, we revive a Voice custom of specializing in the Large Apple’s unsung heroes. The nonprofit chief serving to to fight diabetes within the South Bronx. The taxi driver combating for the rights and livelihoods of his fellow drivers. The Afghani immigrant serving to others like her acclimate to a wierd new nation.

They don’t seem to be showing in newspapers and Twitter feeds each day. They don’t seem to be TikTok stars. As New York recovers from the worst pandemic in a century, it will likely be these activists, leaders, and peculiar residents who will see us by way of to higher occasions. On this vacation season, we must always give thanks to these New Yorkers, who’re there to make the town one of the best model of itself.

¶ COVID-19, rightly, has been the well being emergency all New Yorkers have centered on for the previous yr and a half. Town’s dying toll was terribly excessive, and the restoration grinds on. However under the floor, many metropolis residents, significantly the working-class and poor, proceed to undergo from different maladies. Different epidemics go comparatively untreated. And it’s Chris Norwood, of the Bronx, who’s making an attempt to stamp them out. “The diabetes epidemic has gotten worse and worse for 20 years. Fourteen percent of people [in NYC] have diabetes now,” she says. “It gets to the point where the indifference is criminal.”

Norwood has spent many years within the trenches combating for probably the most weak. In 1990, she based Well being Individuals as a peer-educator-driven group that supported ladies with AIDS. Norwood had been a journalist who reported extensively on the AIDS epidemic ravaging New York within the Eighties, and he or she noticed, on the time, how few packages existed to assist these in probably the most ache. For the reason that Nineteen Nineties, the South Bronx nonprofit has grown to assist native residents navigate different well being challenges, together with bronchial asthma and diabetes. For Norwood, Sort 2 diabetes has change into a chief focus, as a result of so many extra individuals now wrestle with debilitating well being issues from the illness. In contrast to another continual illnesses, although, Sort 2 may be managed and handled with higher well being habits. Norwood organized a citywide coalition of community-based teams, known as Communities Driving Restoration, and helps prepare individuals to handle their diabetes. Peer educators train native residents how to stabilize blood-sugar ranges, examine meals labels, and decide how a lot sugar is hidden in peculiar meals.

“We have the early model of sending educators to homes of families where kids have asthma—they sit everyone down, the grown-ups and kids, and help them understand good asthma self-care,” Norwood explains. “It became clear with the diabetes epidemic, it was taking so many people. In low-income areas now, you can see it, there are so many people in wheelchairs or missing parts of their feet or legs.”

Norwood hopes for extra metropolis and state funding to proceed packages to assist individuals deal with their diabetes. NYC’s incoming mayor, Eric Adams, has stated that switching to a plant-based weight-reduction plan helped fight his Sort 2 diabetes, stressing the significance of the sorts of packages Norwood oversees. “Diabetes is a chronic disease, and I’m not saying self-care solves everything, but education has a huge, huge impact,” she says. “If people get their blood sugar under control, that’s what self-care education helps with. The risk of complications just plunges.”

¶ In 2018, Richard Chow’s brother dedicated suicide. He was discovered floating within the water under the Brooklyn Bridge.

“It’s why I’m involved with fighting for my brother, fighting for myself, fighting for the 6,000 medallion owners,” Chow says. Like his brother, Chow is a taxi driver. Each males purchased medallions for lots of of hundreds of {dollars}, investing in them like they might a house. For the Chow brothers, making a residing as a taxi driver was the American dream—immigrants like them poured all their financial savings into medallions that appeared, like actual property, to all the time enhance in worth.

However the market collapsed in 2014, ruining livelihoods and triggering suicides. Business leaders had artificially inflated the worth of medallions, that are regulated by the town, pushing the worth previous $1 million. Drivers took on loans they might not afford whereas lenders pocketed lots of of thousands and thousands of {dollars}. To make issues worse, Uber, Lyft, and different ride-hail companies had flooded the streets with vehicles, bypassing the medallion system altogether. Taxi drivers may barely compete. 

Chow joined the Taxi Employees Alliance, which represents many drivers, and started to battle for a bailout from the town. Politicians had been receptive, however Mayor Invoice de Blasio hesitated to assist, regardless of the devastation within the trade. In October, dealing with the specter of chapter and homelessness, drivers arrange an encampment outdoors Metropolis Corridor and held a vigil to protest an preliminary aid plan that offered minimal help and no mortgage ensures. A number one voice within the Taxi Employees Alliance, Chow was one among eight preliminary drivers to begin a starvation strike, hoping to drive the town’s hand. He carried the reminiscence of his brother with him as he struggled to stand upright. “I felt heavy, dizziness, weakness,” Chow recollects. “I was very, very hungry, very weak.”

The starvation strike was remarkably profitable. De Blasio and Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority chief, introduced a cope with the Taxi Employees Alliance and lenders in November that may see their debt written down to $170,000 and amortized in order that month-to-month funds don’t exceed $1,122. Town will assure every of those rescue loans within the occasion of default. Drivers on common owe $550,000 every.

“I love the city, I love the streets, I’ll keep driving until I’m retired,” Chow says. “I’m so very happy.”

¶ A number of months earlier than the September 11 assaults, Girls for Afghan Girls was based to assist Afghan immigrants acclimate to American life and supply them with assist companies. On the time, few Individuals thought a lot about that nation or had been conscious of the rising variety of immigrants in cities like New York.

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan modified all that. Following the warfare and the instability there, extra Afghans started to flee the nation and migrate to New York, the place they hoped to construct new lives. Naheed Bahram, within the years after 9/11, was residing in Queens and feeling homesick. She missed her massive household and had solely her husband right here. In 2006, she joined Girls for Afghan Girls, hoping to do extra for different ladies like her.

A local of Kabul, Bahram had lived as a refugee in Pakistan after shedding her mom in a bomb explosion, earlier than transferring to the U.S. In her travels and in New York, Bahram noticed many Afghan ladies who had been remoted at residence, illiterate in English and even of their native language. “Domestic violence was the issue in the community,” Bahram says. “People wouldn’t address it and couldn’t find a culturally competent organization to ask for help.”

As we speak, Bahram has risen by way of the ranks to change into the U.S. Nation Director at WAW and the pinnacle of WAW’s New York Neighborhood Heart, in Queens. WAW’s efforts embrace literacy and empowerment packages for girls and women, in addition to for males and boys, together with authorized companies and counseling for group members going by way of crises.

Bahram is now overseeing refugee resettlement work for the hundreds of Afghan refugees coming into the US within the wake of the Taliban’s takeover. Her labors are solely simply starting. There are 65,000 refugees on eight completely different army bases in the US, in accordance to Bahram. As soon as they’re out of the bases, lots of the households might be coming to New York. “We help with housing, transportation, case management, and provide legal services,” she says. “We work with JFK to set up their welcome.”

Guaranteeing that Afghan immigrants, significantly ladies, are ready to get an schooling in the US and reside safely inside their very own properties are prime priorities for WAW. Intensive tutoring and job-training packages assist shut a number of the gaps. Bahram not too long ago noticed a lady, helped by WAW, change into the primary in her household to attend school. The statistics on the home violence circumstances WAW handles have really elevated over time, Bahram says, as a result of extra members of the group are comfy coming ahead. Within the early years, ladies had been too intimidated to search assist. Now, she tells us, with WAW firmly established in New York, belief has been earned in a “holistic way.”

“By no means do we want to break families or separate families from each other,” Bahram says. “We’re working with women to make sure the house is a safe space for her.”

¶ Christina Curry says she doesn’t inform disabled individuals what to do. “We help, we don’t assist. Assist fosters dependency. An individual is an grownup.

“What is your goal? What do you want to do? It might be the first time a disabled person is asked that,” she says. “So many times, people tell them what to do. We’re about giving power back to the disabled person.”

Curry doesn’t hear out of her proper ear and has misplaced sight in her left eye. She has misplaced most of her mobility. Because the longtime govt director of the Harlem Unbiased Dwelling Heart, which gives companies and help to individuals with bodily and psychological disabilities, she is likely one of the metropolis’s fiercest advocates for many who wrestle as she does. Anybody who lives in Harlem may bear in mind her profitable battles to get audible pedestrian alerts put in on a hundred and twenty fifth Avenue, have curb cuts repaired, or make sure that ramps are put in outdoors of as soon as inaccessible eateries.

Curry’s purpose is to take away no matter limitations may impede a disabled particular person from residing like an individual who doesn’t have the identical challenges. Much of her time is spent in advocacy, forcing private and non-private entities alike to adjust to incapacity legal guidelines which have lengthy been on the books. For Curry, it’s private: Her mom misplaced her sight as a sufferer of home violence. Curry is equally involved with serving to individuals born with disabilities and those that purchase them later in life.

“For our community, people might be disabled due to violence as opposed to an accidental act, and that means you approach the person differently. Did you become disabled getting shot versus skiing? It’s also about understanding the community, knowing the language of the community. What does your community want? We can’t go out and say, ‘This is what you need.’ It’s about listening to what people want.”

Curry has been the chief director at HILC for 20 years. Earlier than that, she labored with the deaf and with victims of home violence, significantly Black and Hispanic victims of intimate associate violence and baby intercourse abuse. In all of her work, fairness is on the forefront. Her perception is that any enchancment made to a sidewalk or a prepare station will profit everybody—the person on crutches, an individual hauling packages. Together with different impartial residing heart leaders, she has joined class-action lawsuits in opposition to the MTA to make their prepare stations extra accessible.

“When elevators are accessible for me, they’re accessible for you,” she says. “Think about the parent with the stroller, the person lugging that suitcase. That’s what I would say—remember the laws already in place, but just enforce them.”

¶ It might be tough to discover an all-volunteer group wherever extra devoted to the preservation of a pure useful resource than the Jamaica Bay Eco-watchers. A collective of greater than 50 kayakers, fishermen, birdwatchers, and native residents residing alongside the huge estuary on the southern tip of New York Metropolis, the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers are dedicated to defending the long-term well being of the waterway. And Dan Mundy Jr., a battalion chief within the Fireplace Division who grew up and nonetheless lives within the Queens neighborhood of Broad Channel, is likely one of the Bay’s fiercest advocates.

“For a lot of kids in the city, this should be their Yosemite, their Yellowstone,” Mundy says. “You can take the subway to a wildlife refuge.”

Alongside along with his father, Dan Sr., Mundy has been an energetic civic chief in Queens for many years. The Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers shaped within the Nineteen Nineties when it got here to the general public’s consideration that New York Metropolis was dumping sludge into the ocean. After protests from locals and environmentalists, the town constructed 4 remedy vegetation to clear the sludge as an alternative. However Jamaica Bay solely worsened: The water turned a rust shade and fish started to die off. Locals like Mundy protested to the town. They had been dismissed at first as a result of they weren’t scientists or specialists of any variety; their solely qualification was their lifelong love of the Bay.

It was found that nitrogen loading from the remedy vegetation was inflicting algae blooms and the dying of marshlands. Ultimately, the Ecowatchers had been ready to launch a profitable lawsuit in opposition to Mayor Michael Bloomberg to get the Bay cleaned up. Bloomberg, Mundy says, later grew to become an ally—the nitrogen was diminished and the water high quality improved.

Today, Jamaica Bay is in much better form. Marshlands have been restored, a brand new boardwalk is being constructed, and a child humpback whale even confirmed up. The Mundy household’s efforts, together with these of the remainder of the Ecowatchers, had been the topic of the 2016 documentary Saving Jamaica Bay, and Mundy is now dedicating himself to lobbying members of Congress to present federal funds to create extra wetland islands within the Bay. Wetlands may also help pull carbon out of the ambiance and fight local weather change.

One energy of the Ecowatchers is their ubiquity. Mundy, an everyday scuba diver, is all the time maintaining watch, often diving or boating within the Bay, as are different members of the group. The scientists who examine the world can’t be on-site as incessantly, and have come to depend upon the Ecowatchers to present updates, take photos, and share what they arrive throughout.

“It’s amazing what you see—osprey, bald eagles, massive schools of small bay fish, followed by big bay fish,” Mundy says. “It’s been a sort of renaissance for Jamaica Bay. We’ve been very encouraged. Years ago, it felt like we were banging our heads against the wall.”

Fast-takes for the NYC Honor Roll:
Extra leaders and organizations that deserve our thanks and any assist we may give

Yolanda Johnson-Peterkin runs the New York Metropolis Housing Authority’s household reentry program, which is designed to present people not too long ago launched from incarceration, or who’ve been in the neighborhood for fewer than three years, with the chance to reunite with their households residing in public housing for a brief two-year interval. (NYCHA presently denies residency to individuals convicted of Class A, B, and C felonies—probably the most critical underneath state legislation—and a few misdemeanors.) Johnson-Peterkin helps individuals work with organizations that help with securing employment and persevering with schooling. After efficiently finishing this system, individuals can request to be added to their household’s NYCHA lease completely.

Cea Weaver, marketing campaign coordinator for Housing Justice for All, has been on the entrance traces of combating for the rights of tenants throughout New York State for greater than 10 years. Advocates like Weaver helped make sure that Democrats within the legislature would observe by way of on their marketing campaign guarantees and considerably strengthen tenant protections in New York for the primary time in many years. As we speak, rent-stabilized residences can now not be deregulated, thanks to modifications within the legislation made in 2019.

Joel Berg, CEO of Starvation Free America—previously generally known as the New York Metropolis Coalition Towards Starvation—is a longtime voice for these struggling most with starvation and meals insecurity. In the course of the pandemic, the starvation drawback solely worsened, and Berg’s group opened a Bronx area workplace to broaden the town’s community-based SNAP and WIC (Particular Supplemental Vitamin Program for Girls, Infants, and Youngsters) outreach. In the course of the holidays, or anytime, no New Yorker ought to go hungry. Berg is doing his greatest to make a hunger-free metropolis a actuality.   ❖

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