During The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s a prominent literary figure, Claude McKay, penned a poem titled, “If We Must Die.” In it he challenged the community to keep fighting injustices, even when their backs are against the wall. With backs against the wall, on Tuesday, June 25, New York State Nurses Association, Local 1199 Union, The Rev. Al Sharpton, politicians and the Bedford-Stuyvesant community joined forces in a rally and Town Hall meeting to save Interfaith Hospital.
A group of staff members and demonstrators marched from the Interfaith Hospital entrance on Pacific Street, down Fulton Street to The King Emanuel Baptist Church at 342 Malcolm X Blvd. On the journey they carried signs and chanted” they say cutback, we say fight back”, as drivers -by and ordinary people looked on. NYPD vans, cars and scooters were on the scene. A resident Police Precinct team even threatened to shut the demonstration down if they did not get out of the streets. Undeterred, the demonstrators pressed on, in search of justice.
At the church, Union Delegate and Nurse Charmayne Saddler-Walker, gave the most poignant example as to why this hospital should not be closed. Only a couple of hours before she joined the marchers, a Police Officer rushed down Fulton Street on a scooter to the hospital, carrying a baby in his arm. The quick care saved a life. Had the hospital been closed the distance to another may have produced different results. Interfaith Hospital is located in Brooklyn, a Borough with an increase of over 60.000 new residents. The hospital is in the heart of Bedford- Stuyvesant, a community undergoing gentrification. It serves a population of over 11.000 residents each month. This Teaching Hospital sees over 40% of AIDS patients from the community, it has a high ratio of patients with heart problems, and with limited mobility seeking geriatric care. It is an easy access for pediatrics.
Interfaith hospital is scheduled for closure because of financial difficulties. The announcement of the hiring of a new president and CEO of the hospital drew a thunderous applause. The closing of hospitals in Brooklyn was stressed throughout the evening. They are too many not to notice, there are, Long Island College, SUNY Downstate, Brookdale and Interfaith. All of these hospitals are located in communities with large population of people of color. This glaring miscarriage of justice was addressed by City council member Letitia James, Comptroller John Lui, City council member Dr. Mattieu Eugene, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Bill DeBlassio, 1199SEIU President George Gresham, NYS president of the Nurses Association, several elected officials from across the city, clergy and community residents.
The Rev. Al Sharpton reminded the crowd that he was a Brooklynite. He said that he was committed to the plight of Interfaith Hospital and promised “to be here every Tuesday night because we have issues that will not be solved with one Rally. Today, the Supreme Court overturned sec. 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Everything Dr. King fought for has been destroyed.” He continued… “ if you have any integrity, you always make sure where you come from is alright, we cannot allow Gov. Cuomo to close Interfaith Hospital, we must make it clear that they will not close Interfaith, including moving up in the building, so that they do not close Interfaith.” His point was well taken. And, to quote Claude McKay…. “Though hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, if we must die, O let us nobly die so that our precious blood may not be shed in vain. Like men we will face the pack. Pressed to the wall, but fighting back!”