On Friday morning, I had the pleasure of attending the opening ceremony for the Simpson Pavilion, a new health center at Urban Health Plan, a network of federally qualified health centers in Queens and the South Bronx. I really appreciated the opportunity to learn about an organization that has been in the South Bronx since 1972 and has had such an enormous impact on the community. According to a press release, UHP has served more than 60,000 patients in more than 300,000 patient visits at eight clinic sites, eight school-based clinics and four part-time sites.
What really struck me the most out of everything that I heard during the two-hour ceremony was a speech by Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz, Jr. Paloma Hernandez, UHP’s president and CEO, said that she wanted to save the best for last. After listening to his speech, I realized that she was right. He has such a powerful voice and a commanding presence. He spoke about his personal connection to UHP and the resurgence of the Bronx, an area that has so much to offer — that is rich with history and culture — yet is constantly bombarded by negative press. The borough — whose 100th anniversary is this year — is the birthplace of hip-hop, home to the New York Yankees, the Bronx Museum of Arts, the Bronx Zoo, the New York Botanical Garden, the Heinrich Heine Memorial, and the Andrew Freedman Home, among others. Not to mention community organizations such as the BLK ProjeK, Mothers on the Move, Per Scholas and The Point Community Development Corporation working to combat issues such as food justice, education and technology. Per Scholas recently announced that a new software testing center would bring 150 high-technology jobs to the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, raking in $5 million in wages in its first year alone. And since January, the BLK ProjeK has been operating the South Bronx Mobile Market, a bus that drives around select areas in the South Bronx selling fresh, affordable produce. It even runs a buying club in which individuals can buy a host of healthy food for only $30 a week.
For Díaz, UHP is more than just a health institution, it is an economic development engine, employing individuals in the area and teaching students in public schools about healthy eating. He said that he is tired of seeing the Bronx “being in first place of everything that’s bad and last place in everything that’s good.” He said that it does not make sense that the borough is in sixth place when it is home to the most world-renowned healthcare institutions and that the healthcare industry is the largest employer in the borough. UHP, he said, is helping to bring back the borough to what it used to be:
What Urban Health exemplifies is the renewal of what I call the new Bronx. You make us proud. Remember what this community was like? You saw the movies. You all lived it. I lived it. Remember what this was like and look at what we have now. Look what’s going on here. This is about rebranding the new Bronx as well, where people from as far as Arizona are speaking about Dr. Izquierdo and Paloma, the faculty and what’s happening here. When the federal government is giving out money and the Congress members were here and the President of the United States, $12-13 million, they’re not giving that to everybody, but they’re giving it to Urban Health.
He continues by stating that he came from humble beginnings but that people like UHP founder Dr. Richard Izquierdo and others during that time period were fighting to make things better for future generations:
My father’s [Rubén Díaz Sr.] not rich. We’re not millionaires. We don’t come from Beverly Hills. That’s a young man from Bayamon, mommy’s from Ponce, they came here, and the Bronx went through a really dark place, and they raised three children — my sister, my brother and I — and through it all, there were battles and there were struggles and there were elected officials and pioneers and there were people who did it all for future generations that they didn’t even know. What did Dr. Izquierdo want? What was his vision? What do you want? What is your vision? What we all want is so that in the future our kids to have just a little bit better. And so he develops a little clinic and now we have this so that one day, this little boy from the Bronx can grow up healthy enough to be able to do anything that I want to do, that I set my mind to. So that this little boy from the Bronx can one day be the Bronx Borough President. It’s emotional.
I strongly recommend taking a few minutes to listen to his speech here. It’s very uplifting and encouraging, and brings home the point that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.