SERVING UP PIECES OF THE AMERICAN PIE
Published in: EVERYBODY’S Magazine
They call it the land of opportunity, the place where if you dream big enough and work hard enough, nothing is short of impossible. For years, many hoping to do better for themselves and their families have left everything behind, flocking to its shores in the hope of finding better education, good paying jobs and financial stability – in short – sharing in the American Dream. Sadly though, despite the energy, hard work and sacrifice invested, many Americans, both by birth and naturalization, have passed, never one day living in the realization of their dream. Today, in the Borough of Brooklyn, NY, hope reigns anew, as the deputy in town through her valiant efforts, is challenging barriers, stamping out societal ills and fighting so that every Brooklynite, regardless of race, creed or nationality, can get their rightful piece of the American pie.
She is Brooklyn Borough’s Vice President Yvonne Graham, a woman of strength and character, who has spent the better part of thirty years advocating for all Brooklynites, who have been left behind. Dedicated to serving others, the registered nurse, who migrated from Jamaica in 1979 with all of fifty dollars in her pocket, sought out a degree in public health for the specific purpose of helping others live longer, healthier lives. Since then she has made a significant difference in Brooklyn, fostering cross fertilization among the many multicultural groups, breaking down communication barriers, providing access to much needed resources and ensuring that all can come to share in the reality she calls “the Brooklyn Dream.”
In the six years she’s spent at Borough Hall, “the quiet fighter” as her former partner in crime and friend, Dr. Marco Mason called her, has had a steady track record of success, implementing many health care programs, such as the “Take your man to the doctor, he’ll live to love you longer campaign.” In addition, through her vision, she has been able to forge formidable partnerships with health and educational entities throughout the borough that have resulted in a healthier Brooklyn. Brooklyn’s first Center on Health Disparities, which focuses on reducing cardiovascular disease, HIV/AIDS, and other troubling diseases among minority communities, was the result of one such partnership amongst the Borough President’s Office, SUNY Downstate Medical Center and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health. Also notable, is the Brooklyn Nursing Partnership, developed to address the shortage of PHD nurses as well as Hispanic nurses in the field.
Despite overseeing health care policy and all human services for Borough President Marty Markowitz, Graham has also been working with the educational system, monitoring policies and policy implementation in all schools from day care to high school, ensuring that children in Brooklyn receive the best training and academic schooling available. After all, according to Graham, “A bright future for all of us is dependent on us investing as much as we can in our youth today.”
It is this firm belief of investing in youth that brought Graham to WoolWorth Kitchen on Broadway, early Valentines Day, for the 2008 Child Care Advocacy Breakfast. Advocating with the Council of Supervisors & Administrators (CSA) against the impending budget cuts to child care services, Graham declared, “When you entered this profession you signed a contract and made a commitment to our parents and our government…and you kept that promise. The city also made a promise and I believe at this time, they have not met theirs. The Borough President and I offer support and pledge to you that we will be there for you to make sure that promises made are promises kept.”
For the career politician, those may have been fleeting words uttered to gain public favor. For Graham, however, coming from a grass roots organization known for being morally responsible and reliable, those were meaningful words. “I feel personally responsible and accountable for everyone in this borough,” she said. “I’ve always asked myself, if not me, then who?”
It was that mentality that pushed Graham to forego the security of a job and form the Caribbean Women’s Health Association (CWHA) in 1982; molding it in to one of the leading voices on healthcare and immigration issues for all immigrants. That mentality, coupled with her ability to empathize with those, who like herself, made the journey across the seas, has earned her great respect and support throughout the immigrant community and beyond.
As she and the rest of the staff at the Borough Presidents Office prepare to celebrate this year’s Caribbean Heritage Month, Graham is excited to be able to show off her Borough to the Caribbean heads of State who will be holding their annual conference at the Brooklyn Marriott Hotel, the Borough Hall’s next door neighbor. In a meeting directly following the 2008 Child Care Advocacy Breakfast, Graham, who met with Caribbean Consul Generals from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti and Barbados, who are planning the conference, explored ways in which the planning committee and her office could collaborate to ensure that the heads of state celebrate along with Brooklynites, Caribbean Heritage Month.
A busy woman, Graham who was scheduled to address the State Assembly on the issue of affordable housing, had to prematurely excuse herself from the meeting, refusing to miss her opportunity to address the assembly with what she called “workable solutions” to help remedy the affordable housing problems that have been limiting her constituents’ ability to benefit. Five hours later, after sitting through many presentations Graham was finally able to address the assembly. The unexpected delay in delivering her address though, had caused her to miss out on Markowitz’s special champagne reception for Brooklyn’s sweethearts married more than fifty years. Although a little upset about not being able to attend the reception, which she considered a cute way of giving back to the elderly community; Graham was content knowing that her suggestions to the assembly could be the very catalyst of change in tackling the pressing affordable housing issue.
As her term draws to an end, the deputy, who believes she still has more to offer Brooklyn, is considering her viability to run for Borough President. Graham, who believes she’s had the perfect teacher and mentor in Markowitz, is confident that she can continue the economic growth and renaissance Brooklyn has experienced in the past six years, especially since she’s been a key player in ushering in that change and knows first-hand the effort required.
More than anything though, Graham just wants to continue to serve the Borough she’s fallen so deeply in love with. In her State of the Borough address, the Brooklynite at heart gushed as she spoke passionately about her borough. “Brooklyn has meant the world to me,” she said. “Brooklyn has literally broadened my initial perspective of the American dream;” a dream which today, no longer just includes her own upliftment but the upliftment of all her constituents. As she works to ensure that the opportunities she found in Brooklyn and America are there for the next generation of Brooklynites, she looks forward to the day when high school and college graduates will be heading off to good paying jobs; and will each have affordable and excellent health care; and when all Brooklynites, whether by birth or migration, can come to realize the American Dream.