Dr. Barbara Barlow

In 1975 I came to Harlem as Chief of Pediatric Surgery. I wanted to work in a public hospital, because I didn’t want to do private practice. I wanted to offer medical care to children who perhaps would not get it because they couldn’t afford to pay, or because they had poor insurance, and so I looked at the public hospitals in New York City, and I chose Harlem. As Director of the Service, of course, I knew every child who came into the hospital and so I saw children falling out windows, being hit by cars, being injured in playgrounds. And in those days, we had a lot of children being shot and assaulted. And I felt that there must be some way we can make this community safer for children because this is not an appropriate thing to happen to anyone’s child. When children came in severely injured, dying from injuries, permanently disabled from injuries—it broke my heart. Really. I used to cry with the parents, and I couldn’t bear anymore to see this happening without trying to do something to make things better. So I constantly wrote grants to find funding to make an Injury Prevention Program that would involve the community and would make it a safer place for children. Basically, what the staff did, is they went block to block and mapped the community. We didn’t find any commercial maps of Harlem in those days. The maps of Manhattan cut off at 110th Street, so that we had to make our own maps. So we knew where the playgrounds were, where the schools were, where the churches were, so we would understand the community block by block, and we did that. And we also used consumer product safety standards, and evaluated every playground in Harlem, and we took pictures. And of course, they all violated consumer product safety standards. And while we did that, we involved the community in the process. We all have a responsibility to people in the community. Everybody has a responsibility for building good communities, good places to raise children. Everybody has a responsibility to see that every child has a chance in this life, has a good education, has good after-school things to do, good sports, good recreation— that’s all our responsibilities. Not just the doctors’. Harlem is a very special community. It’s like a small town. And they said maybe it was so successful because it was Harlem. My career as a pediatric surgeon and as a surgeon has been so enriched by my work in the community, with the community, for children. I would have never been able to predict this when I was a student. But it came naturally, in the course of what I was doing and what I was seeing.