Thursday, March 31, 2016

Joyce Davis – Giving the Bronx Community an Opportunity to be Heard

Bronx Health REACH continues it’s series of individuals that have made a significant contribution to not only the Institute for Family Health's Bronx Health REACH, but have been strong activists for needed change in the Black and Latino communities in the Bronx. A notable member of this group of change agents is Joyce Davis. After a successful thirty year career in marketing and sales for AT&T, Joyce found her passion working with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, and Mount Hope Housing Company. Joyce recently completed her Masters of Divinity from New York Theological Seminary.

Growing up in Harlem as a pastor’s daughter, Joyce Davis was just nine years old when her father passed away while giving a sermon. Her mother would emerge as a strong and lasting influence for resilience. "My mother had been the first lady at my father's church, but when he suddenly passed away she now had four children to raise on her own. She had not been working, and there was no daycare in those days, so she transformed the house my father had purchased into a boarding house, and did all the work needed to be done including loading the coal to heat the house," says Joyce.

Her mother was a living example that by having faith and confidence in yourself, you can move forward to overcome any obstacle. “We decided to move to the Bronx and I went with my mother to see a house. After seeing the house she wanted, my mother and gave the owner $50 as a down payment. As we walked away I asked my mother how she was going to pay make the payments for the house. My mother replied, ‘the Lord will provide,’ and she never missed a payment!”

Even though Joyce had spent a successful sales and marketing career at AT&T, she faced challenges of gender discrimination, and felt it may be time to leave the corporate environment. After thirty years of service Joyce accepted a retirement package, but she was uncertain what would be the next journey in her career. Her sister had written a play, “Mama I Want to Sing” (LINK) and was going to embark on a European tour, and asked Joyce if she would be interested in being the tour manager. Joyce accepted and was able to see Europe and Japan with the touring group.

Joyce joined the Northwest Bronx Community and ClergyCoalition (later becoming the first African-American president), a grassroots social justice organization that organized residents to fight for long-term solutions to problems in their communities. “You could see the Bronx was changing as drug dealers took over corners of the neighborhood, and my neighbors were asking for my help in dealing with these drug dealers. The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition had organizers in each of those Bronx neighborhoods that had been fighting against the drugs and redlining. We rallied with the people, since we had a lot of clergy, priests and rabbis that would do marches, chanting, ‘No drugs here!”

From working with the Northwest Bronx Community Coalition Joyce found her new path. “I began to understand what building community was about when working with the Northwest Bronx Community Coalition, and it became my passion. I credit them with focusing me away from what had been my corporate environment, and into a place where I now could make a difference, where my voice mattered, people valued my opinion, and I was heard.”

Joyce joined the board of the Mount Hope Housing Company (eventually becoming Executive Director) and began collaborating with other organizations such as the Institute for Family Health to transform spaces for community use. The Institute for Family Health asked if the Mount Hope Housing Company would like to have a family practice in the neighborhood, and since Joyce did not know the Institute for Family Health that well at the time she had stipulations, the most important being: if you want to come into our community, we have to be a part of it. “We wanted to be an equal part of designing the building, hiring the staff, setting the hours the facility would be open, etc., and the Institute for Family Health was awesome in that regard where they asked and received input from the community. When we opened that health care center, the community trusted the Institute, and the Institute trusted us,” says Joyce.

Eventually she left the Mount Hope Housing Company and began to work with other organizations doing similar things building community revitalization. At the time the Institute for Family Health was putting together a grant that would address health disparities in the Bronx, and asked Joyce if she would be interested in working on that project. Joyce accepted and also suggested bringing in Rev. Robert Lewis Foley Sr. from Cosmopolitan Church and Rev. Dr. J. Albert Bush Sr. from Walker Memorial Baptist Church to partner with the Institute for Family Health on this issue. She added, “It was great to see the clergy focusing on health disparities since it was difficult for people to speak about this issue since they did not want to ruffle any feathers. When something from the pulpit is said, everyone listens, so let’s use the pulpit. That is the mission of the church,” she said.

Joyce believes the work to end health disparities has improved, but much needs to be done. “Many years ago there used to be a sign indicating a colored door and white door, now even though there is no physical sign on the door, people still get that selective treatment. The hope is that someday people can walk into a medical center or hospital and be treated like a human being, and get the care they need to get healthy. At the end of the day, people in the community want to be heard. They want a safe community with decent housing, jobs, education and health care.”

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