Saluting Women’s History Month & Dr. Josephine English

Dear Readers,

We are pleased to join the world in celebrating Women’s History Month. Sharing the important contributions of Brooklyn women from the African diaspora, and the accomplishments of women throughout the world, has motivated me to look for ways to make an impact on young ladies in my community.  What will be my legacy for the future?  How can I engage others?

Dr. Josephine English - NY

Dr. Josephine English – NY

Today I am pleased to tell you about the historical achievements of Dr. Josephine English – one of the first African-American women to have an OB/GYN practice in New York and one of Brooklyn’s earliest medical pioneers.

Dr. English was a tireless community leader, patron of the arts and philanthropist.  Most important of all, she was a wonderful mother to her children, and earned a reputation as a highly coveted OB/GYN to Brooklyn residents and notables, including Dr. Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X.

Dr.English's home - via

Dr.English’s home – via

Dr. English was born on December 17, 1920, in Virginia, and she died on December 18, 2011 in Brooklyn, NY, one day after her 91st birthday.  Although she lived in Bedford Stuyvesant for many years, she would spend her last days at the Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, where she was recovering after undergoing a surgical procedure.

Dr. Susan McKinney via

Dr. Susan McKinney via

As I was preparing this post, I wondered wouldn’t it be great if Dr. English had an opportunity to meet Dr. McKinney? Picture a room where Dr. English, a recent graduate from Meharry Medical College who was now living in Brooklyn, could sit and talk with Dr. McKinney, the esteemed Brooklyn native who was the first African-American woman to earn an MD degree in New York State and the third woman to earn an MD degree in the United States.  Can you just imagine the stories they would share?  As medical pioneers with their own series of “firsts,” in addition to their personal and professional triumphs and challenges, I envision a conversation filled with many “aha” moments.

Dr. English spent her childhood years in New Jersey.  Her parents were among the first African-American families to settle in Englewood.  She received a B.A. from Hunter College in 1939 and continued her education at New York University where she received a M.A. in Psychology.  After NYU, she attended Meharry Medical College and received her M.D. in 1949.  Dr. English was ready to make her mark on the world.  Her first stop was Harlem Hospital, where she worked for many years until she moved to Brooklyn in 1956.

Dr. English was a trailblazer who reached back to help others who were in need.  She was among our borough’s earliest women philanthropists who championed the importance of health care for women, men and children.  Shortly after moving to Brooklyn, she founded a Women’s Community Health Clinic in Bushwick.  In 1979, she founded the Adelphi Medical Center which provided services for women and men.

On stage at the Paul Robeson Theater via -

On stage at the Paul Robeson Theater via –

Dr. English loved the theater and she was determined to share her passion for the arts with the community.  In 1980, decades after opening many medical clinics, she purchased an abandoned church and converted it to the Paul Robeson Theater for the Performing Arts.

One year later, in 1981, Dr. English turned her sights to services for children and opened Up The Ladder Day Care and After-School Program which included a summer day camp.  In 1986, she became the first minority, and the first woman, to be awarded a license from the New York State Department of Health to develop a free-standing ambulatory surgical center in Brooklyn.

Dr. English worked well beyond what was considered to be retirement age.  She focused intently on her goals and did not let anything stand in her way.  She changed the health-care landscape for women, men and families, in Brooklyn by providing access to health education and empowering her patients to make healthy life-style choices.  She was a guiding force in Brooklyn and one of our brightest stars.  Her achievements are legendary and it is an honor to salute her.

Dr. English will be truly missed.



Josephine English, one of the first back, female OB/GYNs not stopping at 89 –
Dr. Josephine English, 91 via
Dr. Josephine English, Medical Trailblazer dies at 91 – via
Dr. Josephine English, The HistoryMakers via

The People’s Champion and The Fight to Save Brooklyn’s LICH



Dear Readers:

Last month, I introduced to some (and re-introduced to others) New York City’s Public Advocate Letitia James. At that time I provided a broad overview of the important items on her agenda: good work for fair pay, access to healthcare, a common sense public education policy, universal school lunch and a constituent services plan.

Today I will focus on Public Advocate James’ determination to preserve one of Brooklyn’s venerable health care institutions – Long Island College Hospital (LICH). This has been a public fight and some New Yorkers have been critical of her stance around this issue. The plea was to keep the hospital running as a full service medical center – a noble aspiration but one without any real takers.

LICH was a financially troubled institution for many years.  In 2011 when SUNY raised its hand, and agreed to partner with the medical center, there was a collective sigh of relief and another health care crisis seemed to be adverted.

IMG_0084All of this changed in 2013 when SUNY decided to sell LICH, which was losing anywhere from $6 million to $10 million per month. On October 9, 2014, after a lengthy RFP process and many setbacks – including a labor dispute with the New York State Nursing Association (NYSNA) – Fortis Property Group would be successful.

What does this all mean?  Fortis has been given the green light to redevelop the site to include condominiums and a state of the art medical center to be operated by NYU Langone Medical Center.  In 2018, if all goes according to plan, a new housing development will be on the market and the residents of south Brooklyn will have a free-standing emergency room department. This is not the deal community residents and public advocates originally lobbied for, but sometimes success comes in small steps. Here is what the structured settlement will call for:

  • $5 million to upgrade the interim emergency department that NYU Langone Medical Center will operate until the new facility is complete.
  • $175 million to build a new facility with 125,000 square feet of space.
  • A medical treatment plan that will employ 70 doctors.
  • A total staff of 400.

I must admit there were times when I felt this would be a hopeless fight, and the residents would end up with little or no hope for quality health care.  In the early stages it was easier to call for an all or nothing proposition, but as we all know life is rarely this simple.  There are always challenges seen, and unseen, that further complicate financial deals of this magnitude. Not to minimize the daunting challenge of operating LICH, but my sense of why this fight was so important for James, and former Public Advocate now Mayor Bill DeBlasio, comes down to one word – ACCESS.  This was their way of ensuring an open dialogue around access to health care, during a time when the need is so great.  Perhaps, one day plans for a full-service hospital will show up in another form.

Outlining her agenda -

Outlining her agenda –

For me, this does not mean that Public Advocate James’ fight was lost or not needed.  I’m glad to know that we have elected officials who want to win for the people they represent.

While standing in opposition to a huge business deal such as this was may not always be practical, it is indeed admirable. This was not an easy process for Public Advocate James but she stood by the community and saw the debate through to the end.

To me, she still a champion and, from time to time, everybody needs one.

Have a great week!



SUNY, Fortis reach agreement on LICH –
The End for Long Island College Hospital – New York Time –
LICH Deal Collapses After Hiring Dispute –
University Hospital of Brooklyn at Long Island College Hospital –
LICH History – Dr. Hugh Gilgoff, LICH Pediatrics, Brooklyn, New York

Brooklyn Legends Inspirations V – Embracing Autism

Dear Readers,

A few months ago I came across an article that many in my circle are talking about – In Praise of Imperfection which was written for More Magazine by Priscilla Gilman.

Ms. Gilman addresses the complicated subject of autism. Many of us have first-hand experience, or know someone who is managing a child with autism.  Growing up, I always felt there was a high degree of insensitivity to individuals with this disorder.  Now that I am older, I attribute this behavior to insufficient and/or incorrect information. Additionally, there are long-standing myths about autism that need to be refuted.

It is well-documented that with open communication, coupled with a genuine commitment to understanding the effects, these myths can be dispelled.  “It is critically important to know that a person with autism feels love, happiness, sadness and pain just as everyone else does.  While they may be challenged around how to express these feelings, this does not mean they do not have them.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  This myth, and others that have been perpetuated over the years, are the result of ignorance.”

Thankfully we now live in a time where parents, caretakers, and professionals have been empowered with the information they need to discuss the challenges they face with candor and sensitivity.  I am pleased to share with you Ms. Gilman’s article which addresses how she came to terms with her son’s struggle with autism and what she learned from him in the process.

In Praise of Imperfection

Twelve years ago, at 31 years old, I seemed to have all the components of a conventionally successful life: a handsome and brilliant husband, a promising career as an English professor at Yale, an adorable toddler and another baby on the way. But when, shortly before his third birthday, my son Benj was diagnosed with a host of special needs, the illusion of my perfect life fell away. Benj had been reading fluently, spelling complicated words, reciting swaths of poetry and doing math problems with ease since he was two, but now these gifts were revealed to be signs of hyperlexia, a developmental disorder often found in autistic children and characterized by early reading, challenges with verbal communication and impaired social skills. He had gross and fine-motor delays and sensory sensitivities. He suffered from intense anxiety about changes of plan. Aloof, meticulous and compulsive, he spent hours lining up his blocks and toys in fastidious rows.

I, on the other hand, was affectionate, messy and creative. How could I support a child who was so unlike me? As we went from one specialist to another, I hoped that I could learn how to communicate better with Benj, even if I couldn’t completely understand him.

One day a speech therapist was teaching Benj how to ask for help rather than scream in frustration or shut down. As I listened to her repeat the phrase I need help, I realized that I, too, had a hard time saying those words. I was the one who helped. My father had struggled with depression, and I had been the sunny presence that buoyed and comforted him. In school I counseled and offered advice to my friends. I’d minimized my own problems, and all this caregiving and bolstering, this inveterate optimism, had taken its toll on me.

I found a therapist and shared with her my worries about Benj. For the first time ever, I revealed myself as I was: afraid, vulnerable, in need of assistance. What Benj did literally, I soon understood, I had always done figuratively. He marshaled his toys and became agitated if anything was out of alignment. I had married young, planned an academic career and been the first of my friends to get pregnant. I’d plotted things carefully and wanted all the pieces in place. Tackling my child’s special needs had inadvertently freed me from perfectionism and the need to micromanage my future.

The next few years brought great progress for Benj and me. Rather than accelerating my career, I slowed down, reflected and worked on accepting myself. I wrote a memoir exposing my dark, scared feelings—a huge step for someone who’d guarded her inner life and written only dispassionate essays.

IMG_0063Being Benj’s mother has taught me how to celebrate each tiny milestone (Benj accepted a hug! Benj asked his little brother if he’d had a good day!), how to let go and let be, how to not fret over anticipated disaster and how to inhabit the present more fully. Helping him understand that problems will be thrown our way and that there isn’t always one definitive right answer has deepened my own understanding of the essential mystery at the heart of life. No longer what the poet Theodore Roethke calls “time-harried prisoners of Shall and Will,” Benj and I live the questions together.

Priscilla Gilman is the author of The Anti-Romantic Child: A Memoir of Unexpected Joy.

Stay encouraged!


Myths About Autism courtesy of Medical News Today
More Magazine, March 2014


Sharon Jones – A True “Soul Survivor”

Dear Readers,

Well, one thing I believe we can all agree on, it is truly cold outside.  I am not sure if I ever recall temperatures this brutal since I left Syracuse, New York over twenty years ago.

Hopefully today’s post will warm your heart.  I invite you to spend a few minutes becoming acquainted with the legendary Sharon Jones, soul queen and leader of the Dap Kings band.  And yes, she is a Brooklynite.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings enjoy a wide following in the music world.  They are the spearheads of a revivalist movement that aims to capture the essence of funk/soul music, just as it was during the height of its popularity in the mid 1960s through mid 1970s.  I first learned of Sharon and the Dap Kings while reading a book published by More Magazine,  287 Secrets of Reinventing Your Life: Big and Small Ways To Embrace New Possibilities, in 2011.

More Magazine

More Magazine

Sharon provides a riveting account of the challenges she faced, professionally and personally, hence the title “Soul Survivor Sharon Jones.”  She tells her story candidly, yet gracefully.

In 2007, four years before she is interviewed for this book, 24 of her friends and family members died, include a brother, and her mother suffered a minor stroke.  In 2011, she endured another personal challenge when her mother was diagnosed with cancer.

The next two years would bring a new set of challenges.  In 2013, shortly after supporting her mother during this painful time, Sharon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Her last treatment of chemotherapy was less than one month ago on New Year’s Eve.  I can think of no better way for Sharon to celebrate a new chapter in her life.

Several years ago, I watched my father struggle with stomach cancer, which he eventually succumbed too.  This was one of the most difficult moments in my life.  I refer to this time as “my years of silent pain.”  This was a topic that I rarely discussed.  I buried the pain and anxiety deep within my spirit, for this was the only way I could be strong for my father and my family.  Reading Sharon’s triumph, reminded me just how much inner fortitude we each have during life’s more challenging moments.  Though painful, we do survive.

In the January 23, 2014 edition of The Big Issue, Malcolm Jack shares his interview with Sharon.  They discuss her health, her triumphant return to the stage and, most important of all, the “new Sharon”.   I found her story to be compelling and inspiring.  Rather than summarize the interview,  I thought you might enjoy hearing from Sharon – in her own words.

Today I’m in Manhattan at a hotel. We had a rehearsal with the band because we’re recording Jimmy Fallon’s chat show [Late Night with Jimmy Fallon] on Thursday and Friday. Saturday morning I’ve got CBS News, then Saturday evening I’m flying out to LA. I’ll be on Conan, then The Tonight Show. Then I go to Canada to do some shows. Then I’ve gotta go to the doctor and take a CAT scan to make sure the cancer is out [last June Sharon had surgery to remove a cancerous tumour]. So everything’s going crazy.

Sharon performs on Conan,

Sharon performs on Conan,

I want to get back into the music because music is my happiness.These last few months people have been like, “What you been listening to?” and I haven’t been listening to anything. I’m confident that my strength is going to come back for touring – the doctor said a couple of weeks. Even just getting back into doing interviews and stuff is forcing me to be where I have to go. It’s all part of me getting well.

I’m still feeling the effects of the chemo – it still hasn’t gotten out of my system yet. New Year’s Eve was my last treatment. There’s no hair on my head, no hair in my nose but it’s all happening and I’m just bearing it. It’s part of what I have to do. I’m still a little weak. If I had to perform tonight I couldn’t.

I thought I wasn’t ever going to be able to play this Give The People What They Want album live. I really thought I was going to die. I had pancreatic cancer stage two. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive cancers. People who get to stage three and four never survive.

The album was supposed to come out in August. We were getting ready to tour it then, and we just had to stop everything when I got sick. But they did let Retreat out as a single. After being sick, it changed the whole meaning of that song. Instead of me telling this guy to retreat, I’m telling my sickness, this cancer to retreat. Get behind me: I’m back to give y’all what y’all want, which is old soul music!

My whole eating has had to change. I do green drinks now – I need all the vegetables I can get. My drink in the morning is about 13 different ingredients – spinach or kale or sprouts, and a banana or some grapes to make it sweet. When I drink this stuff it’s like – wow! That had a lot to do with my healing. That’s been a big change in my life, to eat differently.

I think this first show in New York, on February 6, is going to be something special. I’m so excited. For me it’s going to be like a new beginning. This whole Sharon is a new Sharon. I’m not going to have my little dresses on – they’re still hanging in the closet but I’m gonna get them back – I want everybody to know!

Brooklyn Legends is proud to celebrate with Sharon Jones on her amazing recovery.  She will be performing at the Beacon Theater on February 6th.  For tickets, please visit Ticketmaster.

Enjoy the rest of the week!


Big Issue Interview –
More Magazine – 287 Secrets of Reinventing Your Life
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings –