May 29, 2024

Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul recognized Choose Healthy Life for its work during the pandemic for offering COVID-19 testing and vaccinations through its Black churches across the five boroughs of New York. At an event held at Choose Healthy Life Church First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, the Governor announced that the FY 2023 New York State Budget includes an allocation of $3.38 million for Choose Healthy Life to address health inequities and administer preventative wellness programs run by 20 churches. This announcement by the Governor kicks off a Choose Healthy Life weekend of “Hope and Healing” that includes New York City Mayor Eric Adams offering remarks at a church service on Sunday, June 5th at Choose Healthy Life’s Cornerstone Baptist Church in Brooklyn.

VIDEO of the event is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.  

AUDIO of the event is available here.  

PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor’s Flickr page.  

A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is available below:  

Thank you. Thank you, Reverend DeGraff. Thank you. I remember the day like it was yesterday when the entourage of my fellow members of the Justice League descended into my office and I looked at them and said, “I cannot say no to this group.” These are the most powerful voices of a community that has endured so much injustice throughout life, and Debra, I am not going back to normal. There is no more normal, normal is dead for this community because there is a better life that awaits all of us. Our babies, our seniors, the moms who are so stressed out, just trying to keep it all together. So you have my undying commitment to continue what I learned at the kitchen table. And I talked to Reverend Al and so many other leaders about why I’m so passionate about this.

And I was one of those children of the Sixties, that might be around the same age as Reverend Al, we have to check on that, maybe I’m a little older, I don’t know. But my parents taught us, being raised in a social justice Catholic household. We didn’t have much, my parents lived in a trailer park, but you know, we used to get our clothes at used clothing stores. We didn’t know. We just loved each other. We were a big family.

But my parents taught us about Dr. Martin Luther King, while he was still alive. He made sure we understood that when he came to Buffalo and he talked about the history of integration and what that has done, and my parents, in their twenties, they married very young, became leaders of a movement called HOME, Housing Opportunities Made Equal. And in this white working-class neighborhood, they worked to make sure that Black and Brown residents also had an opportunity. So, we’ve been at the forefront even in a place called Buffalo. So, this is personal to me, but it’s also living the word of Christ that I was taught.

And I know that if I do something for the least of my brothers and sisters, I’m honoring God in the process. I’m doing for Him. That’s why we take care of people who are hungry and sick and incarcerated and living in fear, because this is what we do. This is our motivation. We serve God through our work, and that is why I believe in the intersection of public service, but also the power of the clergy and the private sector who step up, we come together, we are unstoppable.

Because there is so much injustice in this world that needs to be righted. But I thank people like Deborah who, way before it was a popular thing to do, to talk about AIDS, and I know you did it, my friend Hazel Dukes as well, because she told me the stories, Hazel Dukes out there? I can’t see, I got a lot of light going on.

Hazel Dukes, stand up. Mama Dukes, right there. Mama Dukes. Thank you, my friend.

And to have Quest Diagnostics, Jim Davis, this means a lot to us. And I, and I thank you for this engagement. Everybody knows Quest, but I’m going to continue to talk about Quest as being on the frontline of righting the wrongs of the past. And you want to be with us on that. And to have United Way represented, and all the work that you’re doing there. And Columbia University, and Reverend English, I mean, this, this is a powerful group. Even bringing in the political world. Former Assemblymember Keith Wright, I believe, has joined as the County Chair. Senator Cordell Cleare. And this is the intersection, but what are we going to do? We have the power. Okay. I feel the power here, but what does it really mean to change people’s lives?

It means to say, and I’ll declare it right here at First Corinthian Baptist Church, I will say, that there is no justice as long as kids are growing up in substandard housing, where their own environment may be contaminating their little lives. Lead paint on the wall is an injustice. Going to a school where there’s not enough teachers, and the classrooms are crowded, and the paint is chipping off the walls, and the linoleum is as crappy as it’s been since the 1950s, that is not justice. That’s not the same environment those kids deserve. That’s injustice.

And then our young males, are we giving them the hope they need to make the right decision, when they’re 12, 13, 14? When they see their older brother involved in a gang, and he feels like that’s a family that gives him respect? How do we pull that young person and say, “We want to lead you on a path of justice as well,” because justice for this community means you’re going to end up in a different place and know that there is support for you, and we will get you an education, and ultimately, an education and jobs behind that. And not just a job for this young person, a career where they can make a difference. We have to show them the path. That’s why I’m investing in violence disruptors, former gang members, who are my friends. I have worked with them in Buffalo for years.

My husband was Barack Obama’s United States Attorney. We’ve been engaged in this battle a long time. This is personal. But they are the ones who are the validators as well. They can say, “Listen, I made the wrong decision, follow me, and I’ll take you on a different path.” And to help our senior citizens who deserve the dignity of good healthcare when they’re older or the moms who just had a baby. I have a one-month-old grandbaby. My children are blessed. They will not worry about healthcare. And they know they are blessed. They know that this is an advantage that too many do not have and we do not take it for granted.

I will not rest, as now a grandmother, until I know that every baby born has a good, healthy start in life, and that the mother does not die during childbirth because of the color of her skin. That is injustice. That is intolerable. And we talk about our immigrant community, people living among us. They don’t have the documentation, they’re still New Yorkers. And I realized that healthcare covered by the federal government took care of a pregnant mom, but the second the baby was born, the Medicaid services stopped, and the mom was on her own, and she went back into the shadows and who knows what happened to her.

In my budget just a couple months ago, I said, no, we’re going to have the State of New York step up where the federal government won’t. I will pay for those services for the first year of life, so that mother does not slip into postpartum depression. Someone needs help. Someone helps her become a good mom and give that baby a better chance. Our senior citizens over 65, if you have documentation, you have Medicare, you’re all set, right? We’re proud of that. You’re undocumented? You don’t have it. No one is taking care of you. I said, why don’t we show what kind of people we are here in the State of New York? Over the age of 65, we’ll pick up that tab regardless of your status.

So, we’re going to take care of them as well. I believe in this. This is in my DNA, as it is in all of yours. You’ve all been called to serve, but when we can support a program like this, Choose Healthy Life, and yes, it is derived from the Bible, I was asked to be supportive. I said, “What do you need?” They said about three and a half million dollars. I said, “How about [3.38]? $[3.38] million dollars to support your services.” And I want this to be a model for the rest of the nation. 20 churches will be supported financially by the State of New York. So, you can continue God’s work here on Earth. That’s what this is about, my friends. I’m so proud of all of you who stepped up and answered the call from all walks of life.

And I believe that we will continue to address the systemic racism that reared its ugly head during this pandemic. And if you cannot see it for what it is, just look at the numbers. Black and Brown members of our community, fellow New Yorkers, contracted COVID, were hospitalized with COVID, and died at a rate two to three times higher than white New Yorkers? You cannot bury your head anymore to that fact.

And the fact that vaccines, did we get them out enough to the churches, and the test kits? I’ve taken this on with a vengeance. I have Dr. Mary Bassett, I brought her on as our Health Commissioner. She is heading up a Health Equity Task Force, and I said, “You find out why.” Because when I find out why we’re going to fix it, we’re going to take care of this.

And you, through this program, are going to be embedded with us as well, with the data I need, the facts I need, but also the boots on the ground. And that’s why these churches are opening up, not just to talk about the word of God on a Sunday, but to live the teachings of God every day of the week through this program.

So I thank you. I am so grateful for what you are doing. And lastly, I’m wearing orange today, because it is the color to call out gun violence. And Reverend Al, Hazel, and I were in Buffalo. That massacre of people shopping at Tops Friendly Markets, it’s called Tops Friendly Markets, were my neighbors. I live 10 minutes from there.  

I live in downtown Buffalo. My husband lives there. I don’t see him as much, but he’s good with that. We’re okay. We’re okay. It’s been 38 years we’ve been together a long time. But he dedicated his life to protecting the people in those communities.  And this was painful for him as well.

So we left there and I said, “I will do everything in my power.” We have just a few days left of Session. And I know Andrea Stewart-Cousins is the leader of the Senate, and Carl Heastie is the leader of Assembly, we will march together, hand in hand and make sure that we change the laws that resulted in an 18 year old going into a store and buying an AR-15, the same kind of gun bought by another white 18 year old in Texas that slaughtered a group of children just simply sitting in their classrooms and two brave teachers.

So we’re saying, here in New York, we will lead, but the rest of the states, shame on you if you don’t. This is a moment of reckoning. History and, ultimately, God, will judge all of us by how we responded to this crisis, to take the guns off the streets. And lastly, I’ll say, this is not just about the shootings that are going to get all the attention, and all the reporters go there, and there’s a tension for a couple of days until the next one and the next one, there’s been 230 mass shootings since this year started. That’s more than four people killed at a time.

I will not take my eyes off the fact that New Yorkers are dying every single day in our streets. It may not be one crazy mass murderer, but they’re being slaughtered in their streets, innocent children, people caught in crossfire. And that is why the blood pressure and stress levels of Black women are 60 percent higher than white women, because this is a stress they live with everyday, and blood pressure is high, and diabetes, and all these other health effects of living in an environment of fear.

Justice means you don’t live in fear any longer. So I’m going to continue working. I’m going to sign those bills in a matter of days, make sure that the rest of the nation sees what we do, and as Reverend Al has done with his voice, calling out the Republicans in Congress and saying, “Start going to the funerals of these babies if you have no heart, and then you walk out of there and say, I will not make the changes to protect Americans.” You’ve done an amazing job, Reverend Al, but I want to back you up here in the State of New York, and I will continue to call them out. So I am energized, I’m motivated, and I do have my Justice League standing by beside me. Thank you everybody. Thank you very much.