When Clay Ferguson was jumped in a New York City coffee shop, his attackers stole his phone, his ID and his money. Then, they broke his glasses.
Two weeks later, Clay is still jittery, blinking frantically as he looks anywhere but at me. As he recounts the night, he visibly winces at the sting of the memory.
“Horrible,” the 23-year-old whispers. “It’s been horrible.”
Alongside the trauma are the logistics: replacing his valuables and getting new glasses. It would be a tough situation for anyone, but the process is even more complicated for Clay.
Clay is homeless.
For homeless populations, improving eyesight is rarely a priority, mainly due to cost. More pressing necessities — like a place to stay, food and personal hygiene — often push frames and lenses to the backburner. But the right to sight is essential for those with unstable housing and income, especially youth trying to pull themselves out of hardship.
ChildSight, a program of Helen Keller International, provides free glasses to underserved youth in need. Though the program has historically served children from low-income public schools, the initiative branched out in July 2015 to work with the Ali Forney Center, a Harlem-based LGBTQ youth homeless shelter. With housing options scattered throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, the center served 1,200 young people last year and directly housed 440 of them — including Clay.
The New York Times asked residents in community districts that were highly divided along racial and ethnic lines to describe what they liked and didn’t like about their neighborhoods.
Washington Heights, Manhattan
Community District 12; 70 percent Latino
Jennifer Celadilla, 27
A middle school teacher
“In the ’80s and ’90s it was really dangerous to live here. Shootouts were a normal thing. I remember my mom used to tell me, ‘Don’t stand in front of windows’ after a certain time.”
“Now it’s fine for the most part. There is high poverty. It’s very common to have two or three families inside one apartment.”
“If you go on 181st, you notice there’s a lot of bigger businesses coming in. We started first getting the Starbucks. It’s a good thing and a bad thing. It brings jobs into the community. At the same time, we do feel the effects of gentrification. Rising prices, rent. We have people who had to move out from here. It’s not so much segregation that I’m worried about. It’s really the livability of the area. Can I stay here?”
Hundreds of firefighters came out to honor Lowery, who joined the department when there were only 50 African-Americans representing the city’s 10,000 members.
When Robert Lowery joined the FDNY in 1941, there were only 50 African-American firefighters out of the department’s more than 10,000 members.
A quarter of a century later, Lowery became the first black fire commissioner of a major U.S. city.
On Saturday, hundreds of firefighters of all races joined Lowery’s nephew, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, a slew of politicians, including former mayor David Dinkins, and activists at 155th St. and Riverside Drive in Washington Heights to rename the corner Robert O. Lowery Way.
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