The opening-night crowd rightly roared for Jelon Vieira’s DanceBrazil. These powerhouse dancers—strong, sinewy, silky—recall ensembles like Ailey’s, Ron Brown’s, and Ballet Hispanico at their juiciest. And if you constantly crave capoeira, you’ll find it graciously woven into almost everything they do. But Vieira may aim to please too often. His new Anjo de Rua, on Program A romanticizes urban Brazil’s tourist-targeted street prostitution. Curiously, the press release, and to a lesser extent the concert notes, suggest that a grittier work may have been originally intended. Despite one highly stylized gang bang and moments when men sling women like laundry sacks, Anjo mostly bubbles over with the kind of worry-free, sensual celebration that draws tourists to Vieira’s homeland in the first place. All praises to guest choreographer and brilliant performer Matias Santiago, who in Eleuther transformed himself into a coquí—the tree frog mascot of Puerto Rico—and brought the house down.
Sitting in the shadow of the World Trade Center in early September, I cheered Ron Brown’s wondrous dance troupe, Evidence, on the plaza. Amazed and proud, I thought as I often do how excellence in art makes me grateful to be alive. Two nights later, in midtown at the Graduate Center, the musicians and dancers in “The Facts and Artifacts of Korean Dance” celebrated a culture far different from Brown’s and mine, in a city where their people and ours have often been at odds. These exhilarating shows were the last I saw before tragedy broke all our hearts—two distinct companies united by discipline, beauty, and spirituality. May we find these virtues within ourselves, and answer murderous hatred with something finer than war.
Traditional Korean performers honor nature—reflected primarily in the use of human breath as the impulse and shaper of dance—and have a deep trust in cosmic law and order. Each element of their art—from costume and makeup to the architecture and execution of movement—is pristine, creating a worthy vessel for expression that can be delicate, fierce, or an unnerving combination of the two. Four lovely, scary ladies doing a hwang hae do geum mua sword dance floated along in floor-length garments that elongated their bodies, revolving their swords with a mere wrist flick. They turned, spun, and skittered, blades ringing like sleigh bells from hell.
The musicians of Deun-Swae, surfing sound waves of unpredictable speeds, volumes, and intensities, worked themselves into ecstatic trance. Anchored by the hourglass-shaped changgo drum, the percussion—raucously, joyously over the top—danced in my body as I listened. Heat rose to the surface of my skin. Remembering these drummers now, I think of Mavis Staples: “I know a place . . . Ain’t nobody cryin’ . . . I’ll take you there.”
During Alvin Ailey’s later years, he seemed torn between showing off the virtuosity of his tremendous company and fostering human drama. As the technical ante for dancers rises, the split becomes more obvious. Ailey dancers tend to make everything look as big and strong as possible. This works wonderfully for Ron Brown’s Grace, currently being performed during the company’s City Center season (through December 31). The piece may be too drawn out, its message of spiritual redemption blurred, but the dancers, led by the superb Linda-Denise Evans, tear thrillingly into Brown’s African-influenced movement—powerful, inventive, and shaped by an interesting rhythmic sense.
What the audience responds to in Carmen de Lavallade’s new Sweet Bitter Love is subtler. This is a duet (expanded from an earlier solo that de Lavallade made for herself) about a love affair that is ending. The songs voiced by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway are sweetly rueful, as if the breakup were inevitable. The choreographer shuns passionate pleadings and violent pushings-aside. Renee Robinson leans to slide her cheek against Glenn A. Sims’s inattentive shoulder, and I catch my breath at the truth she brings to the tiny moment. There are several sides to virtuosity; one has to do with finesse in details.
Geoffrey Holder’s costumes—a swirling, pale blue evening dress for Robinson, a skintight black suit for Sims—place the couple at a party or a nightclub. Regret and good manners restrain anger and despair. When the man is alone, frustration wracks him; when the woman is alone, her movements become larger and wilder; but together they hesitate, reach out, draw back, kiss lightly. Robinson is magnificent. Sims, so terrific in Grace, still misses some of the nuances. He looks uncomfortable, as if the choreography were constricting his urge to move big.
Jamison’s recent Double Exposure gives fiery roles to the marvelous Jeffrey Gerodias and Clifton Brown as two rivals, or perhaps alter egos, and to Briana Reed, Rosalyn Sanders, and Tina Williams. But as they dance amid a barrage of elaborate, pulsing video designs (by Art in Commerce), which include footage from little cameras held by performers, I sense that Jamison intended meanings that don’t come through. The women flock like the Three Fates, or perhaps they’re aspects of the same woman (hard to convey in dance). Everyone looks at everyone else with awe and wonder, as if to say, “My God! What is he doing?” Search me. The troubled, impassioned dancing has its effect, but the absence of that other aspect—nuances of mood and narrative—turns the piece into a guessing game.
Everyone looks at everyone else with awe and wonder, as if to say, “My God! What is he doing?” Search me.
When Brooklyn’s old Majestic Theater, now the BAM Harvey, first reopened as a provocatively beautiful ruin, it housed Peter Brook’s astonishing production of the Mahabharata. The traces of ocher and viridian pigment clinging to its walls still remind me of India. But the theater, for all its vividness, metamorphoses slyly. In Eiko and Koma’s When Nights Were Dark, earlier this month, blackness, shot with beams of pale light or flickering fire, turned it into primal forest.
Jeff Fontaine contributed to the lighting concept, and Scott Poitras directed it, but the two Japanese choreographers made the set: a gigantic mound of what looks like ancient earth and twisted roots, with a dead tree and Spanish moss above and caves below. Recently they traveled around the country performing a barely moving piece on a caravan whose sides let down, and around which spectators could walk; now they and their habitat turn at a snail’s pace while we stay in our seats.
Like many of the couple’s works, When Nights Were Dark seems to depict an eons-ago world in which people are almost indistinguishable from their environments; their pale forms sink into leaves, merge with tree trunks. Joseph Jenkins’s wordless score, softly hummed and vocalized by the five Praise Choir Singers, sounds like the insects, wind, and water that might have inspired music back when humans replaced dinosaurs.
Eiko and Koma often make you feel a terrible tension drawing them together—slowly, falteringly, inexorably. When they stand like saplings, swaying and leaning toward each other or toward the mound, you can believe that arriving at a destination will take all night. But in the aftermath of a blackout, their environment slowly rolls toward the audience with them on it. As it revolves, they may rise from its depths or sink and later reappear under its roots. Their clothing vanishes. Like snakes, they keep their twisting, crawling bodies close to the mossy surface; this is their home, their place of safety. Yet their gestures toward each other are abortive. Near the end, they rise up slightly and jam their faces together. She falls away from him, and they sink down in the moss. They are, finally, clumsily, in each other’s arms as the mound slides away into darkness.
“Fridays@Noon” (92nd Street Y) helps choreographers get immediate, informal feedback on works in progress. What could be more bracing, I wondered, than showing your fledgling dance to the tough, honest crowd—city schoolkids—surrounding me? Sweet, nutty Raymundo Costa had to go first, poor man, but Bags, his solo about the joys and perils of curiosity, won the nicest response. Clearly, kids identified with Costa’s resourcefulness. Each time he dived into one of numerous brown paper bags, it was as if they went right in with him. He retrieved surprises—a mousetrap (ouch!), a bouquet (awww!)—or turned bags into lumpy body fat or percussion instruments or wading boots in which he heroically forged ahead. Wendy Blum’s Tripping the hot wire explored how far, how heedlessly she could push her hardy but human body; part of Doug Henderson’s woozy, discordant music sounded, aptly, like a distant siren. There’s a bravura performance waiting to emerge here. Phyllis Lamhut’s clever Do Rag, to Scott Joplin rags, featured Jessica Nicoll and Barry Oreck skittering and slinking in and out of view while wearing the title headgear. The best part was long, tall Oreck testing gravity with his resilience and expressiveness.
In “Vocalscapes: Rituals” (Danspace Project), singer Philip Hamilton presented a tapestry of vocal and musical wonders interwoven with dances by Katiti King, Ron Brown, and Kevin Wynn. If the St. Mark’s Church sanctuary were more intimate, this inventive program would have rocked harder. Even so, Telly Fowler in Brown’s solo, Hope Sister, managed to seize all the energy and spiritual authority in the space, undulating like Damballah and striking killer balances—a perfect counterpart to Hamilton’s masterful voice.
She came to Washington in the summer of 1995, like so many before her, to assume a coveted position at a powerful government institution. Here, in her own words, a young intern describes her tumultuous, ultimately doomed affair with her boss, a highly placed married man.
I never expected to fall in love with the President. I was surprised that I did.
We… sort of acknowledged that there had been a chemistry that was there before and that we were both attracted to each other, and then he asked me if he could kiss me.
We enjoyed talking to each other and being with each other… We would tell jokes. We would talk about our childhoods. Talk about current events. I was always giving him my stupid ideas about what I thought should be done in the administration or different views on things.
When I was working there (at the White House)… we’d start in the back (in or near the private study) and we’d talk and that was where we were physically intimate, and we’d usually end up, kind of the pillow talk of it, I guess… sitting in the Oval Office… We spent hours on the phone talking… just how we were doing… We talked about everything under the sun.
I used to say to him that I like it when you wear my ties because then I know I’m close to your heart.
He had told me… that he was usually around on the weekends and that it was okay to come see him on the weekends. So he would call and we would arrange either to bump into each other in the hall or that I would bring papers to the office.
When I was getting my Christmas kiss [the President was] looking out the window with his eyes wide open while he was kissing me and then I got mad because it wasn’t very romantic. He responded, “Well, I was just looking to see to make sure no one was out there.”
We were both aware of the volume and sometimes… I bit my hand so that I wouldn’t make any noise.
There were… some occasions when I sent him cards or notes that I wrote, things that he deemed too personal to put on paper just in case something ever happened, if it got lost getting there or someone else opened it. So there were several times when he remarked to me, you know, you shouldn’t put that on paper.
He said he was going to be going into the office soon. I said, “Oh, do you want some company?” And he said, “Oh, that would be great.” We made an arrangement that… he would have the door to his office open, and I would pass by the office with some papers and then… he would sort of stop me and invite me in. So that was exactly what happened.
We had… had phone sex for the first time the week prior, and I was feeling a little bit insecure about whether he had liked it or didn’t like it… I didn’t know if this was sort of developing into some kind of a longer-term relationship than what I thought it initially might have been, that maybe he had some regular girlfriend who was furloughed… I asked him why he doesn’t ask me any questions about myself, and… is this just about sex… or do you have some interest in trying to get to know me as a person? The President laughed and said he cherishes the time that he had with me… I felt like he didn’t really even know me yet… [He] kissed my arm and told me he’d call me, and then I said, “Yeah, well, what’s my phone number?” And so he recited both my home number and my office number off the top of his head.
Trouble in Paradise
People were wary of his weaknesses, maybe, and… they didn’t want to look at him and think that he could be responsible for anything, so it had to all be my fault… I was stalking him or I was making advances towards him.
He [Timothy Keating, Special Assistant to the President] told me I was too sexy to be working in the East Wing and that this job at the Pentagon, where I’d be writing press releases, was a sexier job. I was never going to see the President again. I mean, my relationship with him would be over.
I had asked [the President]… if he was doing okay with Ron Brown’s death, and then after we talked about that for a little bit I told him that my last day was Monday. And… he seemed really upset and sort of asked me to tell him what had happened. So I did and I was crying and I asked him if I could come see him, and he said that that was fine. He told me that he thought that my being transferred had something to do with him and that he was upset. He said, “Why do they have to take you away from me? I trust you.” And then he told me, he looked at me and he said, “I promise you if I win in November I’ll bring you back like that. You can do anything you want. You can be anything you want.” And then I made a joke and I said, “Well, can I be Assistant to the President for Blow Jobs?” He said, “I’d like that.”
I’m an insecure person… and I was insecure about the relationship at times and thought that he would come to forget me easily and if I hadn’t heard from him… it was very difficult for me… Usually when I’d see him, it would kind of prompt him to call me. So I made an effort. I would go early and stand in the front so I could see him.
I kept a calendar with a countdown until election day. I was so sure that the weekend after the election you would call me to come visit and you would kiss me passionately and tell me you couldn’t wait to have me back. You’d ask me where I wanted to work and say something akin to “Consider it done” and it would be. Instead I didn’t hear from you for weeks and subsequently your phone calls became less frequent.
I just don’t understand what went wrong, what happened? How could he do this to me? Why did he keep up contact with me for so long and now nothing, now when we could be together?
With love’s light wings did
I o’er perch these walls
For stony limits cannot hold love out,
And what love can do that dares love
Romeo and Juliet 2:2
Happy Valentine’s Day.
— published February 14, 1997, The Washington Post
When I was hiding out in your office for a half-hour, I noticed you had the new Sarah McLachlan CD. I have it, too, and it’s wonderful. Whenever I listen to song #5 I think of you. That song and Billie Holliday’s version of “I’ll Be Seeing You” are guaranteed to put me to tears when it comes to you!
A Thank-you Note
All of my life, everyone has always said that I am a difficult person for whom to shop, and yet, you managed to choose two absolutely perfect presents! A little phrase (with only eight letters) like “thank you” simply cannot begin to express what I feel for what you have given me. Art & poetry are gifts to my soul!
I just love the hat pin. It is vibrant, unique, and a beautiful piece of art. My only hope is that I have a hat fit to adorn it (ahhh, I see another excuse to go shopping)! I know that I am bound to receive compliments on it.
I have only read excerpts from Leaves of Grass before—never in its entirety or in such a beautifully bound edition. Like Shakespeare, Whitman’s writings are so timeless. I find solace in works from the past that remain profound and somehow always poignant. Whitman is so rich that one must read him like one tastes a fine wine or good cigar, take it in, roll it in your mouth, and savor it!
I hope you know how very grateful I am for these gifts, especially your gift of friendship. I will treasure them all… always.
The Beginning of the End
I don’t care what you say, but if you were 100 percent fulfilled in your marriage I never would have seen that raw, intense sexuality that I saw a few times—watching your mouth on my breast or looking in your eyes while you explored the depth of my sex. Instead, it would have been a routine encounter void of anything but a sexual release. I do not want you to breach your moral standard…
Please do not do this to me. I feel disposable, used, and insignificant. I understand your hands are tied, but I want to talk to you and look at some options.
An Illusory Future
He remarked… that he wished he had more time for me. And so I said, Well, maybe you will have more time in three years. And I was… thinking just when he wasn’t President, he was going to have more time on his hands. And he said, Well, I don’t know, I might be alone in three years. And then I said something about… us sort of being together. I think I kind of said, Oh, I think we’d be a good team, or something like that. And he… jokingly said: “Well, what are we going to do when I’m 75 and I have to pee 25 times a day?” And… I told him that we’d deal with that. I left that day sort of emotionally stunned, for I just knew he was in love with me.
A Birthday Party
I had set up in his back office, I had brought an apple square and put a candle and had put his birthday presents out. And after he came back in and I sang happy birthday and he got his presents, I asked him… if we could share a birthday kiss in honor of our birthdays, because mine had been just a few weeks before. So, he said that that was okay and we could kind of bend the rules that day. And so… we kissed. He said, “I’m trying not to do this and I’m trying to be good.” …He got visibly upset. And so… I hugged him and I told him I was sorry and not to be upset.
It was awful when I saw you for your birthday in August. You were so distant that I missed you as I was holding you in my arms.
So it’s over. I don’t know what I will do now but I can’t wait anymore and I can’t go through all of this crap anymore. In some ways I hope I never hear from him again because he’ll just lead me on because he doesn’t have the balls to tell me the truth.
I believe the time has finally come for me to throw in the towel. My conversation with Marsha left me disappointed, frustrated, sad, and angry. I can’t help but wonder if you knew she wouldn’t be able to detail me over there when I last saw you. Maybe that would explain your coldness. The only explanation I can reason for your not bringing me back is that you just plain didn’t want to enough or care about me enough… I just loved you—wanted to spend time with you, kiss you, listen to you laugh—and I wanted you to love me back. As I said in my last letter to you I’ve waited long enough. You and Marsha win. I give up. You let me down, but I shouldn’t have trusted you in the first place.
Well, I found out from Betty yesterday that he not only brought me a T-shirt, he got me two T-shirts, a hat, and a dress!!!! Even though he’s a big schmuck, that is surprisingly sweet—even that he remembered!
Any normal person would have walked away from this and said, “He doesn’t call me, he doesn’t want to see me—screw it. It doesn’t matter.” I can’t let go of you… I want to be a source of pleasure and laughter and energy to you. I want to make you smile… all you have promised me is an empty promise… I am once again totally humiliated. It is very clear that there is no way I am going to be brought back. I will never do anything to hurt you. I am simply not that kind of person. Moreover, I love you.
I’d like to ask you to help me secure a position in New York beginning 1 December. I would be very grateful, and I am hoping this is a solution for both of us. I want you to know that it has always been and remains more important to me to have you in my life than to come back… Please don’t let me down.
I asked you three weeks ago to please be sensitive to what I am going through right now and to keep in contact with me, and yet I’m still left writing notes in vain. I am not a moron. I know that what is going on in the world takes precedence, but I don’t think what I have asked you for is unreasonable. This is so hard for me. I am trying to deal with so much emotionally, and I have nobody to talk to about it. I need you right now not as president, but as a man. PLEASE be my friend.
Both professionally and personally… our personal relationship changing has caused me more pain. Do you realize that? I don’t want you to think that I am not grateful for what you are doing for me now—I’d probably be in a mental institute without it—but I am consumed with this disappointment, frustration, and anger. All you… ever have to do to pacify me is see me and hold me. Maybe that’s asking too much.
I was so sad seeing you last night. I was so angry with you that once again you had rejected me… I wanted to feel the warmth of you and the smell of you and the touch of you. And it made me sad. And I—you confuse me so much. I mean… I thought—I thought I fell in love with this person that—that I really felt was such a good—such a good person, such a good heart, someone who’s had a life with a lot of experiences.
You want me out of your life. I guess the signs have been made clear for awhile—not wanting to see me and rarely calling. I used to think it was you putting up walls. I wanted to give them [gifts] to you in person, but that is obviously not going to happen.
I will never forget what you said that night we fought on the phone—if you had known what I was really like you would never have gotten involved with me. I’m sure you’re not the first person to have felt that way about me. I am sorry that this has been such a bad experience.
I knew it would hurt to say goodbye to you; I just never thought it would have to be on paper. Take care.
One of four articles in our Clinton’s Sex Scandal feature.
When then mayor Koch announced the closing of Harlem’s Sydenham hospital back in 1980, all hell broke loose. Angry protesters stormed the hospital.
Demonstrators occupied offices for 10 days. And city officials learned an important lesson: henceforth no one would ever be so impolitic as to close a public hospital outright. The Sydenham blunder paved the way for today’s more clandestine approach to hospital downsizing, in which the city reduces its contribution to the Health and Hospitals Corporation and the agency is thereby ”forced” to make cuts to the public hospitals.
Sydenham, which did end up closing after much wrangling, left another legacy as well. When the hospital shut its doors, the federal government agreed to fund outpatient centers to serve the neighborhood’s residents–a move that was seen as a sign of things to come in the city’s health care. Five clinics, including the Sydenham health center, which had been associated with the hospital before it closed, then joined to create the Renaissance Health Care Network in 1988. With sites at public schools and housing projects throughout Harlem, Renaissance was hailed as a groundbreaking step toward improving the community’s health, reaching people who might not have made it to the hospital, and treating them before their illnesses got worse.
Today, the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs Renaissance, has taken another big step into the world of public outpatient care. HHC still views Renaissance with pride, but the spanking-new, $45 million Ron Brown center is the corporation’s latest crown jewel. Located just around the corner from Harlem Hospital on Lenox Avenue, the splashy facility offers an undeniably wide range of services, from audiology to cancer control to treatment for memory disorders. With playful frills such as fish tanks in the central areas and fun-house mirrors in pediatric waiting rooms, HHC is clearly trying to court patients who haven’t already been wooed away by private health-care providers.
The Ron Brown center may prove a litmus test for how well the city agency can manage in today’s competitive health-care market. HHC’s task of caring for the poor and uninsured while somehow turning the kind of profit the Giuliani administration expects is a daunting one. And its prospects for success are less than rosy, as one critic sees it. ”Does it keep HHC in the game? I don’t think so,” says Howard Berliner, professor of health policy at the New School. The center, while newly constructed, has been in the works since before the Dinkins administration. In the meantime, says Berliner, the cutting edge of health care has actually evolved back to the tried and true doctor’s office setup. Ambulatory care centers, which generally have an institutional feel, are becoming a thing of the past in the private sector. ”It’s not clear that people will be happy with the old-style facility,” says Berliner.
For neighborhood health activists, however, the issue seems less the center’s style of care than its timing. Ron Brown’s opening came just before HHC axed 252 staffers at Harlem Hospital, which provides backup care to the center. But such cutbacks, spread throughout HHC, leave advocates wary about the city’s commitment to keeping the clinics adequately staffed and the hospital open.
”We agree that the system needs to be transformed,” says Diane Lacey Winley, a Harlem-based community advocate and City Council–appointed member of HHC’s board. ”We just worry that a community will be wiped out in the meantime.” Winley bases her concerns on HHC’s growing stinginess (the city has cut its contribution to an all-time low) as well as on her long history as an advocate for Renaissance. Winley, who goes to Renaissance for her own health care, says Renaissance users have had to periodically fight to maintain services at the network. Between cuts and reassignments since 1994, the network has lost more than 100 workers and Winley foresees similar struggles for the Ron Brown center.
Modibo Baker, who chairs the Renaissance community advisory board, worries that the city is moving toward a future in which it will run clinics, but not hospitals. The whole system, he fears, will ultimately be dominated by a few conglomerates. ”The clinics would just be tentacles for these giant private hospitals,” says Baker. Baker predicts that if Harlem Hospital were to close, Presbyterian Hospital, a private hospital roughly 30 blocks north, would step in to provide inpatient care to those from Ron Brown. But because Presbyterian doesn’t share HHC’s legal obligation to treat all who need care, Baker worries it may underserve the uninsured.
HHC has pointed to the Ron Brown center precisely to dispel rumors that it is trying to close Harlem Hospital. The agency has no intention of closing Harlem, insists HHC spokesperson Jane Zimmerman, who goes on to argue that ”the disinformation that Harlem is being shut down has done more to damage the image of HHC than the limited staff reductions.”
Whether it bodes badly for Harlem Hospital or not, HHC’s heavy investment in the Ron Brown center does at least speak to its effort to claim a place in the ultracompetitive world of today’s health care. MetroPlus, the city-owned managed-care program, is trying to snag medicaid patients as they walk into the lobby. Shiny TVs suspended from the ceilings show the Muppets to children–and Jerry Springer in the adult waiting room. (HHC staff say programming will soon be taken over by educational videos.) Each floor has an area where financial counselors help patients arrange for payment and apply for medicaid (using today’s health business–speak, HHC calls these ”customer-service centers”). And official greeters are on every floor to direct patients to their appointments.
The beauty of the arrangement is that, like all the care HHC provides, this quintessentially modern, consumer-oriented approach is bestowed on the insured and uninsured alike. ”We focus on all of our patients as if they’re in managed care,” says Audrey Weston, an associate executive director at HHC’s North Manhattan Network.
HHC’s odds in the growing competition for medicaid recipients–and their revenue–may be improved by the loyalties of such patients. Austin Iles, who’s waiting at Ron Brown for a rheumatology appointment, could go elsewhere for care. He’s covered by medicaid and has traveled to Presbyterian on occasion. But he says he’s felt more at home in the public hospitals for years, ever since he went to a private doctor who wouldn’t accept medicaid and referred him back to Harlem Hospital for help. ”I’m happier here,” says Iles.
Like every patient at Ron Brown, Iles has been assigned a regular physician. And all the doctors at the center, many of whom live in the neighborhood, have admitting privileges to Harlem Hospital. ”Patients get to see their own doctors in both the hospitals and the clinics, so the care isn’t fragmented,” says Renaissance’s chief operating officer, Gayle Lewis, who was also closely involved in launching Ron Brown.
No doubt Lewis was chosen to get the Ron Brown center off the ground because of her long history with Renaissance, which she has guided through its growth and struggles. She may have similar success with her latest project. Clearly the doctors, nurses, and patients who greet her warmly as she passes through various waiting rooms are on her side. Unfortunately, stiff competition in health care and the city’s fiscal austerity are not.
This is the last of three articles on the status of public health care in the city.
Mayor Giuliani recently complained that public hospitals have become ”job centers.” But as he–and the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation–complain of the bloat in the system, vital statistics may speak louder than empty hospital beds when it comes to the health needs of a community.
Pointing to the police department, which hasn’t been asked to ”rightsize” due to the drop in crime, public-health advocates argue that any excess in the city’s health budget could be well spent on prevention. Harlem, a federally designated ”medically needy” area, will no doubt benefit from the preventive services at the new Ron Brown center, including nutrition, family planning, and sickle-cell treatment. But, as the following look at some of the community’s vital signs shows, Harlemites still have a long way to go for health equity.Infant mortality: The number of babies who live through birth is seen as one of the best gauges of a community’s overall health. Central Harlem has had the highest infant-mortality rate in the city since the health department began keeping statistics in 1950. While most infant deaths are thought to be avoidable with appropriate prenatal care, more than 15 of every 1000 infants die, making Harlem’s infant mortality rate almost twice that of the city as a whole.
Cancer: The death rate from cancer in Central Harlem is also the highest in the city. Cancer, much of which is associated with diet, smoking, and toxins in the environment, causes almost 300 of every 100,000 deaths in the community, compared to less than 200 citywide and 129 across the country. HIV/AIDS: AIDS is now the number one cause of death for both men and women between 25 and 44 in Harlem. With more than 179 of every 100,000 people dying of AIDS in Central Harlem in 1996 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), the neighborhood’s AIDS mortality rate is almost 15 times the national average and more than two and a half times the city average.
Overall life expectancy: Considering the collective effects of Harlem’s many epidemics, researchers in 1990 figured that a man in Bangladesh had a better chance of making it to 65 than his counterpart in Harlem. A more recent study came to the grim conclusion that a 15-year-old boy in Harlem has a 37 per cent chance of living until age 65. For girls, the chance is 65 per cent.