Reader’s Forum–Harriet Hoffman, Doug Balder and Carl Farmer

As part of our viewing and savoring The Notion of Family Together, several Politics for the People members are selecting a favorite photo and sharing their thoughts about that image.  This is our last installment on our way to our conference call with LaToya Ruby Frazier this evening at 7 pm EST (call in details at the end of this post). We will hear from Harriet Hoffman, Doug Balder and Carl Farmer.


Unless you’re from Braddock

The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 104: UPMC Life-Changing Medicine, 2012
The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 104: UPMC Life-Changing Medicine, 2012

I was a photographer in New York City from 1978-1988, during a period of budget deficits, high crime, boarded up buildings and poor city services.  What interested me a lot as a photographer was the solitariness of so many people I saw juxtaposed in various ways against the lonely streets of the communities in decline.  So I was immediately drawn to LaToya Ruby Frazier’s beautiful, emotional book chronicling her family’s three-generational relationship to the ultimate destruction of their city of Braddock, PA.

In 1980 I became the photo editor for the New York Alliance newspaper, covering the development of the New Alliance Party (the earliest forerunner of the NYC Independence Party) and a host of other community and cultural organizations, so I was on the scene photographing both the grassroots organizing activities and the many protests of that period.

When I saw this photograph of the sign, “UPMC Life Changing Medicine UNLESS YOU’RE FROM BRADDOCK” and the lone gentleman standing beside it, I thought immediately of the 1980 closing of Harlem’s Sydenham Hospital by then Mayor Ed Koch, and the huge protests that followed.  Mayor Koch ordered the hospital closed to fill a deficit in the city budget.  Sydenham was the first municipal hospital to allow African American doctors to bring in their own patients, and it had tremendous practical, political and emotional significance to the community and the Black doctors and nurses who worked there.

In response, the New Alliance Party started the Dump Koch movement, Dump Koch Buttonwith hundreds of people selling thousands of black and white Dump Koch buttons for $1 on the streets and subway cars all over the City.  Those little buttons became a symbol of a callous administration that put its self-interest ahead of the needs of poor people.  Institutions like UPMC in Braddock and Sydenham Hospital in Harlem can’t ever be replaced.

PS – Years later Ed Koch admitted that he was wrong to close Sydenham Hospital.

hoffman solo

Harriet Hoffman is a community organizer with the New York City Independence Clubs. She is the producer of the popular Talkin’ Independence series of monthly volunteer events.




The Notion Of Family by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Pg 102-103: UPMC Braddock Hospital and Holland Avenue Parking Lot, 2011

Working, poor, destitute
Steel, layoff, outsourced
Home, rundown, shell
Groceries, package store, food stamps
Hospital, clinic, disease
Job, unemployment, drugs
Three, two, one

IMG_0777Douglas Balder is an architect and on the Board of Directors of the All Stars Project.







‘River Water Valley

They built the mill

The people came

We built the houses shops churches

They built a Library

We built a community

They closed the mill

And We did nothing

The houses shops and churches were boarded up

And We did nothing

They closed the hospital and tore it down

We now have….

Rust Pollution Desolation

When will we ever learn’

My great grandfather emigrated from Germany and worked with the Scot Carnegie translating English to German for the German-speaking immigrant workers. None of my family lives in Western Pennsylvania now…..the cousins that worked the mills became steel erectors; the last spinster lived on an island in the Allegheny. Western Pennsylvania is tough and mountainous. Industry has depleted the natural resources. The coal has been mined and stripped. The people have been thrown away. LaToya Ruby Frazier’s monograph The Notion of Family shows life in a de-industrialized steel town populated by community characterized by colorblindness and structural racism. I have looked at the photographs of Family in three different ways: People, Buildings and Organizations.


Frazier Family – Grandma Ruby, Mom, La Toya and Pee Wee. Braddock Community The intimate family photos are of the Frazier women while the community photos are of people demonstrating against the hospital closure. 15: Grandma Ruby Smoking Pall Malls 24-25: Mom and Me in the Alleyway 26: Grandma Ruby Holding Her Babies 81: Sergeant Frazier 120: Grandma Ruby, Mom and Me 100: Grandma Ruby and UPMC Braddock Hospital on Braddock Avenue 101: Rally to Protest UPMC East ‘Grandma Ruby Holding Her Babies’ reinforces the importance of the Grandma in holding the family together and raising the grandchildren. Grandparents are usually more important than parents in defining social responsibility in us.


Domestic: housing and shops Institutional: mill and hospital 6: United States Steel Mon Valley Works Edgar Thomson Plant 21: Home on Braddock Avenue 38: Islay’s on Braddock Avenue 39: Bell’s Market on Braddock Avenue 51: Homes on Halket Street 71: Stamboli’s Poultry Market on Braddock Avenue 89: 1908 Eight Street Market on Talbot Avenue 102: UPMC Braddock Hospital and Holland Avenue Parking Lot 108: Fifth Street Tavern and UPMC Hospital on Braddock Avenue 118: Former Braddock Hospital Site 126: Home on Sixth Street and Washington Avenue The buildings form another family. Unfortunately, it is a family falling apart. Houses range from ivy covered partial shells to outdated quality stock in need of repair and maintenance.

The commercial sector is all boarded up. The demolition of the hospital is criminal. It is very depressing for me as I have spent the majority of my career designing and building hospitals and housing including repurposing existing buildings for both the private and public sectors.


Industrial – USS and BOC Healthcare – Braddock Hills Medicine Shoppe and Braddock Hospital 36: The Bottom 111: Detox Braddock UPMC BOC manufactures and supplies industrial gasses; both these processes cause pollution of the air and soil. USS manufactures steel; both these processes cause pollution of the air and soil. However, the medical services needed to treat the resultant medical conditions have been removed from the Braddock community. My great Uncle was required to wear a white shirt to the office every day; by the time he returned home in the evening his shirt was dark grey. That was the pollution we could see. Now the pollution is less visible, but it is still there. The photos showing air being polluted and the results of the ionic foot detox procedure are frightening. The procedure may have its skeptics; but the results show a significant quantity of pollutants in the body. As a society we need to do more to provide a healthy environment.


John Fetterman was raised in York, Pennsylvania and moved to Braddock in 2001 with AmeriCorps. He was elected mayor in 2005 and has instigated youth and arts programs. This has led to various artists and small green businesses moving to Braddock (also sometimes spelled with two c’s instead of ck – Braddocc). However, colorblindness and structural racism still seem to exist. Ten years of progress?     

IMG_5967Carl Farmer is a designer and political activist now living in Rhode Island




Politics for the People Conference Call

With LaToya Ruby Frazier

Sunday, December 6th at 7 pm EST


641 715-3605

Code 767775#

Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

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