Easter came early this year at the Black History Program presented by clients and staff of Interfaith Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry, Ambulatory and Primary Care Programs and Community Affairs, which included a standing-room-only audience with stories of Resurrection, courage, faith and resilience.
The program, seamlessly run by Mistresses of Ceremony Sharonnie Perry and Gabrielle Mathias, began with longtime Interfaith religious leader Reverend Canon Frederick Opare-Addo giving an invocation of healing before Norman Davis led with the Black National Anthem and Dr. Evaristo Akerele introduced the new CEO of Interfaith Medical Center Ms. LaRay Brown.
One aspect of her introduction Ms. Brown felt needed correction was as the first African-American woman to head a major hospital. CEO Brown said she is the first at a private hospital, but there have been others as heads of public hospitals and that “I have to recognize my sisters because I stand on their shoulders”.
Ms. Brown shared that being “the first” African-American woman in a particular position of leadership in 2016 was something she was “not proud of” and that there were issues of social inequality and social justice that still existed all around us and that “we have a responsibility to keep on keeping on”.
This was followed by examples of those who “keep on keeping on”, beginning with the clients of the IPRT mental health program with a collection of creative writing by Antoinette, Charmin, Quintin, Marie, Ian, Joy and the multitalented Karen.
In an example of life giving meaning to art, Darren, Linda and Jennie gave a rendition of “Stand by Me” that was a soulful sound resonating with particular meaning for an audience of those who have seen hard times and who, at times, have needed something to hold them while they pulled themselves back up.
Awardee Jose “Joey” Roman spoke to this saying he came into Interfaith as a client diseased by alcohol: “It destroyed in six years what it took forty years to create”, but now is clean and employed at the center. According to Joey, and I think he would know, there is a road to sobriety that must be traveled because “it’s a journey not an event”.
Award recipient Richard Symister spoke of the work ethic he learned from his father and accepted in honor of his parents and grandparents and the values they instilled in him. The standards they set gave him the strength to create MovEvolution, a sports physical therapy, body work and performance enhancement studio located in the middle of the former Bogolon District at 87 Fort Greene Place.
“I am not bipolar, I have bipolar disorder,” announced award recipient Leslie Sterling as she spoke of her “invisible illness” and how it can be helped with exercise, diet and finding release for the unavoidable stresses in life. A believer in the efficacy of creative arts therapy, Sterling says “people can heal through the arts”, and that what is centrally important is to “find what feeds your soul”. One of the things that feeds Ms. Sterling’s soul is the free ShapeUp NYC fitness program she works with at Interfaith every Wednesday at 3pm. (FYI ShapeUp NYC is a citywide program with no registration offering fitness classes such as aerobics, yoga, Pilates, Zumba and more.)
Upon accepting her award, Divinah “Dee” Bailey, founder of The Watchful Eye anti-HIV/AIDS organization, called over Mistress of Ceremony and Director of Governmental and Community Relations Sharonnie Perry to acknowledge Ms. Perry’s years of “work and commitment” in the community and tells of their coming together during the early years of the AIDS epidemic when Interfaith was the first hospital to have an entire floor devoted to AIDS patients.
Ms. Bailey also told a story of how only a few months ago, while driving a large vehicle in downtown Brooklyn, she suddenly felt the deep, seeming life-ending, childbirth-like pain of kidney stones. Though headed toward Methodist, she turned around and headed to the “real hospital right in our community”, Interfaith. The “unapologetically Black” Ms. Bailey said that in our community “we have great people and a great hospital”.
- Awardee Canon Diane Porter is a former member of the Board of Trustee’s for Interfaith Medical Center and founder and CEO for the IM Foundation, focusing on health care issues. A lifelong Episcopalian and a trailblazer in the church in her own right, Canon Porter spoke of her family history from the time her mother refused membership in the Women’s Auxiliary at St. Catherine’s Hospital in Indiana because women were not allowed on the board and her father’s work at Phillis Wheatley Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.
Award recipient Jerome Pogue flatly stated, “Interfaith saved my life” as he spoke of starting drugs at 16 and still carrying two bullets from a time when he had given up on life and was “angry at God”. “It was an ugly thing,” the life he knew before “*MICA taught me to love myself” and he’s now 8 years clean. In his work with young people, he says a lot of young people don’t have work ethics. Pogue says he has painfully come to realize that the very basics such as personal responsibility for showing up on time are things that “they really don’t know” and that have to be instilled because “children are the future”.
Who we are and what we become is held in two pounds of brain matter and the care and feeding of it determines whether it ever is able to discover and exploit its gifts. Subject to smoke, alcohol, drugs, stress hormones and a toxic environment of bad air or water and afterbirth, there is likely a continuation of that womb experience compounded by societal pressures and the “little grey cells” make the wrong connections, don’t know why and as Mr. Pogue says, that’s when things get ugly. The good news from the morning was that with guidance, the human spirit can find its way. That’s what we saw at Interfaith and it was a pleasure to watch. By David Mark Greaves
Original music by Ms. Antoinette Taitt was performed at the lunch provided by Health First.
*(Mentally-Ill Chemical Abuser [MICA] Continuing Day Treatment Program 718.613.4355)
Chemical Dependence Outpatient Services (CDOS) 718.613.4450