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With his new school, a Bronx pediatrician looks for another way to keep kids healthy

There are two Richard Izquierdos that Bronx locals recognize. One man, Richard Izquierdo Arroyo, made headlines last year when he was charged with embezzling more than $100,000 from a non-profit low-income housing organization. The other, Richard Izquierdo, known as the “Doc,” is a man who walks with a cane and often plays with his iPhone. He is a pediatrician who founded two health centers in the borough and is now hoping to heal a new generation with The Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health & Science Charter School that opened this fall.

With that resume, Izquierdo–the doctor–doesn’t worry that Bronx residents will confuse him with the other Izquierdo.

Richard Izquierdo was nicknamed Doc because he’s been a pediatrician in the Bronx since 1962, with now-famous patients like U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Trained at the University of Madrid Medical School and the University of Lausanne Medical School in Switzerland, Izquierdo founded a Hunts Point-based bilingual public health center, Urban Health Plan (UHP), now run by his daughter, Paloma Hernandez, and his private clinic, Multi Medic Physician Services, run by his son, Richard. He has chaired the local Community Board and has won many recognition awards from Bronx organizations.

He recently turned 81 and still goes to friends’ homes to perform minor procedures like applying butterfly closures or giving injections, but what he’s most excited about is his new job as chairman of the Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health & Science Charter School in Morrisania. “I live from dream to dream, mountaintop to mountaintop,” said Izquierdo. “I’m a salesman. I sell dreams and then make them come true.”

After the Board of Education denied two requests to open the school because the health and science theme had to be more integrated into the curriculum, Izquierdo teamed up with John Xavier, who wanted to start his own health care school. Xavier gave up that plan and is now the principal of the school, which received a start-up grant from the Walton Family Foundation.

“The school wouldn’t be what it is without him,” said Xavier. “It’s a long, complicated name for a school but every word in that name is essential to what we’re doing. The more I know Izquierdo, the more important it is to me that this school becomes his legacy.”

The 100 sixth grade students (according to Izquierdo, there were a few more enrolled at the beginning that ended up not showing up or moved out) are each given an iPad (which they keep at the school), chess and fencing classes, and instruction on capoeira, the Brazilian no-contact martial art. Starting in January, the students will have to build a science project of vertical plants to study how photosynthesis works, which Izquierdo hopes will help educate them to care about their environment. In keeping with the medical theme, students must wear scrubs (“I don’t do things in a small way,” said Izquierdo). Their science classes run for 90 minutes as opposed to the typical 45 so the students can have an accelerated science instruction that will more readily prepare them to pursue further education or find employment. They will be certified as Emergency Medical Technicians by the time they graduate and, if the school is successful in its mission, their chances of landing a job will be higher than most in the Bronx, which has a daunting 12.5 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the New York metropolitan area.

Not long after school started, Izquierdo chatted with 11-year old Shailoh Cervantes, a student who addressed the school at orientation and who hopes to become a doctor one day. Izquierdo reminded Cervantes of what he said during orientation:

“There are three important things: One, that we were going to give you an education so that you could make a living,” said Izquierdo. ”The second was to be proud of who you are, of your name; and the last one was to make this place a better world to live in and to help other people. Do you remember that?”

“Yeah, I remember that,” said Cervantes. “I think that what you said should help us throughout our lives so that we can have a better life. My dream is to become a famous doctor, that people would remember my name for helping a lot of other people.”

The school received a grant from the Charter School Center, a non-profit organization that helps start charter schools, to hire an award-winning documentary filmmaker, Antonio Ferrera, to record the students as they develop throughout the year. The administration’s hope is that the school can then look back and observe their work objectively and learn from their mistakes. “Nobody’s paying attention to the South Bronx but Izquierdo is making sure there’s a new generation of children that are paying attention to it,” said Ferrera.

Izquierdo wants to develop programs in first aid and health literacy, and try out different curricula to see if an increase in exercise classes will result in higher performance and weight loss. He wants to battle the Bronx’s obesity problem (47 percent of kids are overweight) starting with these students.

“We let the students know what’s expected of them and what they can expect from us,” said Izquierdo. “I call it the CPR of relationships: Consistent, Predictable and Reliable. Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation. CPR.”

Izquierdo has a strip of white mustache cut in a way that appears to pay homage to his Puerto Rican heritage–a perfectly straight and trimmed line. Though his family is Puerto Rican, Izquierdo was raised in New York City. At 14, he used to sneak into the city’s hottest night clubs because he already had a little bit of this mustache–just enough that he would get away with it–and so he got to know many Latin legends like Noro Morales and Machito. His phrases are interspersed with Spanish sayings like, “Dios los cría y ellos se juntan” (“God creates them and they unite”) and he loves typical Puerto Rican dishes such as rice and beans and plantains. He claims that his salsa moves are still so good that a couple of months before the Urban Health Plan’s annual Christmas party, “The young ladies would say, ‘I want to be on your card.’ ”

“He’s not just always been a medical doctor,” said Jessie Harris, a Bronx Community Board member and book distributor who has known him for 25 years. “He’s also a community doctor. He’s been one man I’ve known whose had goals and reached them–medically, socially and academically.”

Izquierdo’s medical legacy lives on: his daughter and son have taken over the management of the health care businesses he started and he hopes the Health & Science Charter School will help young Bronxites follow in his steps. But Izquierdo is already working on his next dream as a “community doctor.” He’s planning to buy what used to be his father’s bodega and convert it into a green grocery store with health education classes and a salad bar offering hearty meals.

It’s all part of his longevity strategy, he said: “I’m bribing God because if I’m busy with projects, he can’t take me away.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Education, Front Page, Southern Bronx0 Comments

The Art of Lyrics

The Art of Lyrics is a monthly free styling event
at The Point, a non-profit cultural organization based in Hunts Point.
Watch this video to see how it’s keeping hip-hop alive in the Bronx, where it all began.

Video by Elettra Fiumi and David Alexander

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Culture, Multimedia, Southern Bronx1 Comment

Hunts Point voters speak

Election Day in Hunts Point from David Patrick Alexander on Vimeo.

Voices from the South Bronx on election day. See and hear some of the issues people are passionate about in the community.

Posted in Multimedia, Politics0 Comments

Haiti through dance

Audio slideshow by Elettra Fiumi and David Patrick Alexander.

As part of the BlakTino Festival at the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, the KaNu Dance Theater troupe performed a show based on Haiti’s struggle for independence from France in 1804. Dance movements with chains represented the fight against slavery by the French and songs about significant leaders of the Haitian Revolution, like Toussaint L’Ouverture, celebrated the freedom attained through this rebellion.

Posted in Bronx Blog, Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Culture, Multimedia, Southern Bronx1 Comment

Fame Spotting

Three tag crews from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx joined artistic forces on September 18 to paint graffiti murals along a once vandalized facade that spans four buildings on Whitlock Avenue.

Hunts Point community organizers invited the local Tats Cru (also known as The Mural Kings), Brooklyn-based D.Y.M. and Queens-based G.F.R. to bring new life to the deserted strip that is populated by random chop shops. The crews painted colorful images of Mexican-inspired characters and an historical recreation of the Whitlock-stop train tracks.

The “live art” block party was organized by the 41st Police Precinct, promoters Bronx Vibe and Bronx Community Solutions, a non-profit organization that provides alternatives to incarceration.

For more about the culture behind Fame Spots like these, take a look at this slideshow.

Fame Spotting from Elettra Fiumi on Vimeo.

Posted in Bronx Blog, Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Multimedia0 Comments

Hip It and Hop It

Antonio Williams had never performed on stage in all his eight years, until he danced at Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night on September 7th.  He came in second.

His inexperience didn’t show as he break-danced alongside a professional at the “I Am The Bronx” live graffiti block party in Hunts Point on September 18th. That’s because Williams dances anywhere—Bryant Park, Central Park, or in the living room at home after he makes his mother move the furniture to the side.

“He’ll just dance, dance, dance for two or three hours until he wears himself out,” said his mother, Denicia Sutton.

Williams dancer-home

After he saw a video of his idol, Michael Jackson, just a year ago, he begged his mother to buy him tap shoes.

“He said, ‘It’s cool. You can play drums with your feet.’ So I got them and he’s been dancing ever since,” said Sutton.

Williams is completely self-taught, mostly via YouTube videos.

“I wanna be a dancer,” said Williams. “American idol’s greatest dancer. And I want to be a singer. I’m a great singer.”

Williams attends PS75 in Hunts Point and plans to audition for the Harlem Performing Arts School this January. In the meantime, he’s practicing a signature move he invented and named a Hip Hop Lock-it.

“It’s a move where you hip it and you hop it,” said Williams. “At first you just snap straight up and then you hop or jump and then you do a robot thing to finish it off. You push your chest inside your body, you put your hands out on the side of you, and then you move your arms every way. And my best part of it is the lock it: It’s when I do it and get out of control and spin around on my tippy toes and hit the ground. It’s a great move. I can show you.”

By Elettra Fiumi

Posted in Bronx Blog, Bronx Life3 Comments

Skulls and Rosaries

Audio slideshow by Elettra Fiumi and David Patrick Alexander.

A local Soundview botanica owner counts on days like Saint Michael’s Day on September 29th to boost his flagging business.

“People aren’t going to the saints as much as before,” said John Santiago, owner of the Botanica store, which manages to maintain a steady revenue of approximately $53,000 per year. His is one of the last standing local botanicas. Three others closed down in the last year.

In a city still trying to recover from high jobless rates and a global economic collapse, this Botanica maintains a faithful clientele by offering religious tidbits of advice and a little generosity alongside wooden crucifixes, or bath soap that wards off evil. When someone in need can’t afford to buy something, he might give them a candle for free.

Santiago said sales of merchandise that includes skulls, rosaries and candles have gone down since the 1980s except for a brief surge around 9/11.

“People were getting scared and thinking they were going to die so they should clean their souls,” he said. “People only believe when something tragic happens.”

Sales increase drastically mostly around religious days like the day after Halloween, Christmas day and New Year’s Eve. Most clients don’t remember other saint days throughout the year, but when Santiago reminds them, he recalls them thanking him by giving him “muchos blessings.”

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Multimedia0 Comments

The story behind the sprinkles

Audio slideshow by Elettra Fiumi and David Patrick Alexander.

Christian Escobar, 32, sells ice-cream and other frozen snacks from his rented Mister Softee truck seven days a week in the Hunts Point and Longwood neighborhoods of the Bronx. The Ecuadorian has been serving this area for the past three years. On a good, hot summer day he can make $900–but on a bad, rainy day he makes as little as $50. He often works 12-hour days to make enough money to help support his 8-year old daughter, Christy, who lives in Texas, where he lives on his time off, from November through February.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Food, Southern Bronx0 Comments

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