NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray Interview: Discussing the Task Force on Racial Inclusion and Equity
Since near the beginning of NYC’s COVID-19 Crisis the Mayor of NYC, Bill de Blasio, would address the food insecurities suffered by so many due to the financial burdens brought on by the pandemic. Yet, as we went forward into time and statistics grew dimmer a brutal truth would surface and become more apparent. The rate at which the Mayor spoke of it would increase to a nearly daily mention.
The truth was, and still is, that the city’s communities of color were suffering the most from the Novel Coronavirus.
NYC Department of Health’s data shows how the rates of infection, hospitalization and death amongst people of color were two to four times that of whites. Poverty itself would appear to be a deciding factor. Very recently, Governor Cuomo would state how lower income communities were suffering from a higher infection rate.
I was at Marcy Houses, in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, when the Mayor visited with the community there on April 28. Weeks later, we would learn of how this NYCHA complex lead the way in the number of COVID-19 deaths. It would be just one of the many such complexes to suffer at the hands of this health crisis.
The people would suffer physically and mentally – and the outlook for their youth would look bleak.
On April 26, the Mayor announced the creation of ‘The Taskforce Racial Inclusion and Equity’ to be co-chaired by First Lady Chirlane McCray, Deputy Mayor J. Phillip Thompson, Deputy Mayor Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, and Executive Director Grace Bonilla. The purpose: ” to successfully re-open and build a fairer city … with an equity-based approach to COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.”.
In the last week, numerous initiatives and programs were announced by the Taskforce. Amongst them are three summer programs for youth: NeON, Each One Teach One and Community Crisis Response Initiative. Another two would be the Restaurant Revitalization (RR) Program as well as the Expansion of NYC Care and Mental Health Services to Address Disparate Impact of Covid-19 on People of Color.
Today, I had the opportunity to briefly chat with First Lady Chirlane McCray about these programs and more. Admittedly, due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to go over all that I would have liked. I sincerely thank Mrs. McCray for having spoken with me today and enlightening us further on that which is being done for the sake of those communities most in need.
Here below is our conversation with words in bold being my own:
The task force has introduced a number of programs and initiatives this past week. What do you fear would happen if they never came into existence? That is, if nothing was done?
Well, that’s not going to happen. I mean, work is already happening. We’re moving with haste and urgency. The taskforce was established to take immediate action. Not to study the problem, not to admire the problem, not to lament it. It’s to take action. We have our Cure Violence partners who are trained in deescalating violence – working in the hardest-hit communities, who are doing the work.
We have already brought fundamental changes to the NYPD by – which includes shifting money to these programs and hiring community ambassadors within departments. That is happening, because these things do not take additional money – we’re using the money that we have. We’re redirecting it, and of course we’ve also announced that we’re speeding up our NYC Care program by four months. We already launched in the Bronx, Staten Island and Brooklyn. We’re speeding it up so that Queens and Manhattan, especially those hardest hit communities will have people with access to primary care doctors and, of course, all the specialties that go along with having a primary care doctor as soon as possible.
These were some of the priorities that the people have told us, “This is important to us” – and so, we are taking immediate action for all of these areas and there will be more. We will be making more announcements this week.
You mentioned Cure Violence. I was at Queensbridge Houses when your husband visited with community leaders there last month. Amongst those present were K Bain, Eric Cumberbatch and the TA President April Simpson. It was heartbreaking to hear them talk about tenants not being able to grieve properly for loved ones lost to COVID-19. I heard one person describe it as an “epidemic within a pandemic”. Would you say that comes close to describing what other communities have shared with the administration?
Oh yes, it is just, it’s horrible. One of the ministers I spoke with just a couple of weeks ago – we actually did a podcast episode together and, she told me there were 30 members of her house of worship who passed away – and how hard it was – she had to, I mean she’s counseling herself, I mean it was just more than she could possibly take – and we had more than 17,000 Coronavirus deaths in the city, but overall half was in just a few dozen communities. Primarily, black and brown neighborhoods and of course, in addition to every single one of those deaths, a loved one, family member, friend and community all in mourning – and it is just, it’s devastating – and really hard when people can’t gather – and get that kind of physical support that comes along with this kind of loss.
I want you to know that the findings from the community survey, the number one concern was mental health – and I do believe that stems from grief, loss, as well as the economic anxieties that people feel.
Thank you for sharing that with me.
I’d like to ask you about the Street Vendor Enforcement. It’s my understanding that the Task Force requested that the NYPD be removed from it, you know, the enforcement thereof? Can you tell me more about how that decision was arrived at and also, if and when civilians might be used in place of the NYPD?
Well, this has been a long-standing concern. It is not a helpful endoving relationship between police and community when they have this type of – they have a chilling effect on the vendors and it is also our feeling that they’re not truly necessary to do what is really an administrative task. It was one of those things that – it was very easy, very easy to transfer the responsibility. So we heard from communities of color, particularly immigrant communities – for which this creates a negative environment for them, to work in, to live in – and we essentially know that civilian agencies can work on proper enforcement – that’s what we’re going to do. We did this survey with more than 300 residents of the hardest hit communities, we spoke with community leaders and this was one of the most important responses that we got back.
Regarding the youth programs, collectively the three youth iniatives, you know, NeON, Each One Teach One and Community Crisis Response Initiative would reach 3,300 youth. Do you think they may eventually be expanded beyond the Summer to include more young people?
Yes! Yes, we know that this is not enough. I can’t give you a number, but I can tell you that it is a top priority to meet personally and certainly a top priority for members of the Task Force. We know young people – I know as a mother, as a parent, we’ve gotta have positive outlets for young people. For their energy, for their growth, for their maturation – all kinds of outlets, you know, internships, mentorships, recreational outlets and opportunities are lacking in communities of color. We have to do everything we can to address that gap. If there are not constructive avenues for them to (expend) energy, it’s a huge setback. Even if nothing happens, it’s a setback because children, young people need to be learning all the time. That’s their job to be learning and growing.
So, regarding the Summer Youth Employment Program, it’s clear the Mayor and the City Council want to make it happen again this year – I mean, obviously it’s been cut, or rather, stopped in place due to COVID-19 and other concerns. I imagine they’d have to borrow from the virtual approach used in your youth programs? If asked, would you consider leading any new initiatives geared towards putting kids to work for the weeks that are left before the school year?
(Mrs. McCray breaks into laughter before I get to finish that last question.
Luis, where would I find the time? I have to say, I love being with our young people. There’s probably nothing I love more than, the babies – but, I don’t know. It’s not something I’ve actually thought about. What’s most important to me is that we have these programs and that , we have as much as possible – I mean, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next couple of weeks, I mean who does? If we had a crystal ball we wouldn’t have had COVID-19, right? But, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we have maximum opportunities for our summer youth. I think you know that we have, that there are some programs that will be virtual – there will be some job training programs, for example that they can conduct virtually and we’re trying to be as creative as possible, given the constraints, given the virus. You want to keep people healthy and safe, but we’ve gotta see what we can do to work around the parameters that we have. So, it’s an ongoing conversation and it will be part of the decision making with the council.
I’m, again, I’m a volunteer. Everything I do is because I care deeply about the people that we serve and these communities in particular. So, I feel like it’s my duty, my obligation as someone who has surplus to do as much as she can to make things better. My voice will be in this, I assure you
Well that’s beautiful. I Imagine also that the $1 Billion which the City Council is confident that they’ll be able to cut from the NYPD would go a long way? I mean, I guess that’s a foregone conclusion, right?
That’s a lot of money! (laughing) That’s a lot of money! I don’t know if it’ll be a billion. I kind of doubt it. I don’t know what the numbers are in terms of what they think they can do without hurting the patrol strength of the NYPD. I think that is important to these communities of color. Right after people started talking about “Defund the Police, Defund the Police” I want you to know that a group of ministers went to my husband with deep, deep concern because where’s crime beginning to go up? In these same communities – and they’re concerned about the health and safety of their communities. It’s affecting us! It’s affecting communities of color now more than other communities – you know, it’s gotta be balanced properly so that, everyone wants to feel safe.
I know we’re running out of time so I was hoping to get in one last personal question. I’ve seen how some in the media have taken out of context words spoken by yourself and your husband. I see it especially within social media. So I’m wondering, how do you do it? How do you deal with this? I mean, does it affect you in any way?
Oh, of course it does. I don’t read a lot of the things that are written about me. I think it’s not healthy. But I respect people’s opinions and their right to do what they’ve got to do or what they think they have to do. I think that, no, I won’t say I think, I know that what I’m doing is important and that the issues that I’m focusing on are ones that will have the most impact.