While I was campaigning I had the opportunity to walk the streets of the 17th Council District like I have not done since I was a young boy who was bored and poor and just walked everywhere to keep myself entertained. That experience of walking the streets again gave me an opportunity to see exactly what many are not able to see when you just stay in your confines of your comfort zone.
I saw the poverty that statistic after statistic keeps on reminding us how bad the situation is for many of our fellow South Bronx citizens. I took on the challenge to want to change the conditions of my community because I have lived here much too long to not see the type of positive change that many other communities have experienced. I, like many in our community asked why? Why is it that we continue to have some of the worst statistics in the city, the state and in some areas the nation? Year after year the health of our borough is usually at the bottom.
The more I walked my community and the district I wanted to represent, the more energy I got to continue to meet and greet people. Not for photo ops, but to hear from them as to what they felt were the issues that I should be speaking about. I heard them loud and clear, and thus we came up with our 17-point plan to help our district. I also did not hide from the reality I saw. I embraced it knowing that once you know the problem solutions are easier to find. Unfortunately, many of our leaders don't feel the same way I did.
I remember several folks, some elected and others handpicked representatives of those elected, who would ask me why was I emphasizing so much on the negative aspects of the Bronx. Some advised that I should not mention the negative and just focus on the positive. I sometimes looked at them to see if they were really serious about what they were asking of me. First, I answered that I was not speaking of the borough as a whole, but emphasizing on the district that I was running: Morrisania, Hunts Point, West Farms and Mott Haven, which had some of the worst statistics.
I also remember that in one of the debates that I had with the incumbent, Ms. Arroyo (who was also the chair of the NYS Council Health Committee), why voters should give her another four years as our representative when nothing seems to have improved in the health of our community in the last eight years that she has been our representative.
I remember how she began to run off a list of all the health initiatives that she had done and brought to the district. She bragged as how as chair of the health committee she has done so much for the district. I have to admit that the rambling of projects, programs and statistics sounded impressive. However, I kept remembering the countless number of people I had met through my many walks in the district and somehow everything Ms. Arroyo was saying did not add up. It might have sounded impressive, but just as I learned; statistics and numbers could be made to reflect anything, including a false reality. What was worse is that she actually believed everything she was saying, just like the others who had asked me why I kept talking about the negative statistics. I soon realized that they were all disconnected from a reality that unfortunately they claim to represent.
It's like many of the young folks who have moved up to the South Bronx who say they live in the South Bronx. I quickly remind them that perhaps they should say that they "sleep" in the South Bronx. I explain that living in a community means that they actually go beyond the nearest subway stop and the nice deli on the corner. These well-intentioned but confused individuals do not shop, walk, eat or entertain themselves in our neighborhood. They do all of that outside the borough, but yet they claim they "live" in our community, when in reality they are oblivious to what is really happening in the community that they sleep in.
That is why when today -- six months after the primary election that we lost -- I read an article in the NY Daily News that once again repeats and specifies startling statistics about the borough's health, and I can't help but wonder what these elected representatives think. The article states how the Bronx is placed dead last of the 62 counties in the state. It states how 10 percent of the babies born here are born at low birth rates and how "an astonishing 41 percent of Bronx kids live in poverty and 64 percent of the borough's children live in single parent households." The article goes on to give more details, but just those few statistics can give most a pretty good idea of how bad things are.
Therefore, I wonder what would Ms. Arroyo would say today to those statistics. I wonder if they even want to read these types of articles. If so, why don't they quote them, and more importantly, do something to address the problem? But then again I think how can you address a problem if you don't even recognize it, or refuse to mention it? Worse, they don't like others to mention it either. Perhaps they only want to read and highlight the positive aspects of the borough while denying the reality of these pressing long-term negative statistics that continue to plague the Bronx year after year.
I guess I was brainwashed by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King who so eloquently said: "The truth will set us free." Thus I will continue to speak the truth and let others decipher their own reality.