Student Voices Apr. 08 2016

Coach Dave's Dreamers: Grassroots Community Health

In Washington Heights, where he grew up playing basketball in the Sunken Playground of Highbridge Park—known to the neighborhood as the "Pit"—Coach Dave Crenshaw is legendary for his energy and optimism. With his Team Dreamers young girls basketball team, he works tirelessly for the children of his neighborhood as a community organizer and role model.

Coach Dave and DreamersI first met Coach Dave last year at a City Life is Bodies Moving (CLIMB) group meeting, where he brought some of his Dreamers. I listened to his ideas and plans and watched him interact with his team. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Dave’s commitment to the underserved and desire to empower girls through sports were essential for the neighborhood.

He's getting help from Mindy Thompson Fullilove’s Urban Space and Health class, which recently held a Girls Sports Night at PS 128. On April 1st, women from the Mailman Shool and community members from Washington Heights participated in team building, self-reflection exercises, yoga, and basketball.

Through basketball, Coach Dave promotes mental and physical health in young girls, and opens up potential scholarships for girls that have special gifts—but are often neglected. He teaches the girls to coach themselves so they can shine brighter in academics, athletics, and attitude. They then become resources for their community, serving as coaches to their peers and regularly engaging in services and projects that help their neighborhood parks.

Many young people in Washington Heights use The Pit as a place to be physically active, socialize with friends, and hold events. For residents, the park becomes an extension of home. When neighbors gather in the park, they are strengthening the bonds between community members and improving the well being of the neighborhood. When a park is clean, beautiful, and well-maintained, it fosters a sense of pride in the community and encourages them to use it.

Angela and DreamersTo support the parks of Washington Heights, Coogan’s (in collaboration with CLIMB) will be hosting a “Pit Party” for Coach Dave and the Dreamers on April 11, from 5-7pm. The $20 entrance fee for Columbia students will include light refreshments and trivia. Separate raffle tickets will be sold, with prizes provided by local establishments. The proceeds from this event will benefit the Dreamers and their mission to “deliver quality coaching to those that are often neglected.”

By using a local venue with locally sourced donations, Columbia can become a positive force in the Washington Heights community. Currently, I feel Columbia is an enclave that has very little engagement with the rest of the Washington Heights community. As Mailman students, we take an oath to seek equity and justice for vulnerable populations and should have a more active role in local life. 

What does it say about our institution when we seem unwilling to interact with vulnerable populations that live in our own neighborhood? In light of the gentrification processes we have been observing—processes that complicate public health solutions—as well as the larger conversations we have opened on racism and diversity, it is important that we be more mindful of the impact we have on the neighborhood we live in.

As an engaged community organizer, Coach Crenshaw’s work is an example of the collaboration needed to advance the collective goals of community health. CLIMB brings fun and energy into Highbridge Park once a year during the Hike The Heights celebration, but Coach Dave does this work every single day.

Coach Dave and Hike the HeightsThe health of people begins with the health of their community. Investing in community health can yield the greatest benefit to the largest amount of people, and help eliminate inequities that often result from disparities in race, income, and other social determinants of health. But, realizing health goals is only possible when the entire diverse community is engaged in changing the conditions that affect their health.

Coach Dave is a community health worker that actively engages residents and is working to improve the social fabric of his neighborhood. He is a positive force in Washington Heights. Let’s collaborate with him to maximize his impact and support the community that has taken us in as privileged students of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.



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By Angela Allard,
Department of Sociomedical Sciences, MPH '16