Category Archives: Awards

Acceptance of Honorary Degree from Hunter College

On November 19, 2014, Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab presented an honorary doctorate in humane letters to Jonathan F. Fanton. His remarks upon receiving the honor follow.

It is wonderful for me and Cynthia to be home again at Roosevelt House with so many friends from the Hunter family and other dear friends that reach back to our time at The New School.

Thank you, Jennifer, for this honor—and even more for the opportunity to make common cause with you and the Hunter faculty in building the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. You are one of the best university presidents of this generation, and Hunter benefits immensely from your vision, energy, determination, and courage. You challenge us all to do our best, to stretch our capacities, and to set high goals and exceed them. It has been a pleasure to work with you and learn from you.

We share a belief that universities have a role to play in strengthening our democracy, educating students to be engaged citizens, and producing research that improves public policy to embody the values upon which our country was founded.

Franklin Roosevelt understood the importance of higher education to the future of the nation then enduring the pain of the Great Depression. He gave the commencement address at Temple University, where he received an honorary degree, on February 22, 1936—Washington’s birthday. Hear his words:

“Suffice it to say this: What President Washington pointed out on many occasions and in many practical ways was that a broad and cosmopolitan education in every stratum of society is a necessary factor in any free Nation governed through a democratic system.”

Roosevelt elaborated on that theme in a message for American Education Week in September 1938:

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. It has been well said that no system of government gives so much to the individual or exacts so much as a democracy. Upon our educational system must largely depend the perpetuity of those institutions upon which our freedom and our security rest.”

I think Franklin and Eleanor would be pleased with what happens every day in their home. Hunter students from every background and from all over the world study human rights and public policy—how to make the world more just humane and peaceful. And students, Hunter faculty, policy-makers, and the general public—all of us—come together to discuss and debate the critical issues of our time through candid, spirited, deep conversations informed by evidence, not ideology.

I leave Hunter full of hope and faith in the future. I loved my years at Hunter, one of my happiest times of my life. What a privilege to work with its extraordinary faculty, leaders in their disciplines, caring teachers, and wonderful colleagues, all optimistic that research can inform public policy and strengthen our democracy.

We were a great team in creating this new institution, only five years old but already recognized as a leading public policy center. Professor Jon Rosenberg led our strategic planning process. John Wallach and Manu Bhagavan chair the Human Rights Faculty Committee. Joe Viteritti and Pam Stone gave leadership to our public policy committee. Lawrence Moss and Shyama Venkateswar proved to be strong choices to direct our undergraduate programs. And I owe a special debt to Judith Friedlander, who proposed to Jennifer that I become the first Franklin Roosevelt Visiting Fellow and who was later my wise and generous mentor in learning the culture of Hunter and helping me to connect with its faculty and students. And thank you to Vita Rabinowitz for her steadfast support. You are all great colleagues who have become dear friends.

But we could not have turned our dreams for Roosevelt House into reality without Fay Rosenfeld and her talented team. Our partnership means a great deal to me. How fortunate we are to have one of the most able, hard-working, decent, caring, and politically savvy people I know as the real leader of Roosevelt House. Fay not only supports other people’s good ideas but she is also the source of some of our most creative and effective programs, reaching high to ensure a continuous flow of interesting people through our institute. And what a team to make it all happen: Sindy, Dylan, Amyrose, and so many others.

We could not have built Roosevelt House so quickly without the support—both substantive and financial—of our Board, chaired by my friend Mike Gellert, whose steady flow of good advice and flexible resources were my bedrock. Romano and Ada Peluso provided the critical financial and moral support for every facet of Roosevelt House. Joe Califano made our landmark LBJ conference happen, Bob Katzmann educated us about justice for immigrants, Rita Hauser lifted our sites for the human rights program she generously supported, Ira Katznelson is helping us explore “The Anxieties of Democracy,” and Stan Litow introduced us to IBM’s Watson and P-Tech. David Rockefeller, Elbrun Kimmelman, Adam Wolfensohn, and Richard Menschel were sources of great ideas for Roosevelt House programs. We are grateful to Richard and his family for providing support for those thought-provoking public events. And Bill Vanden Heuvel was my indispensable teacher in all things Roosevelt.

So I accept this honor on behalf of all of you who have made common cause to create an institution of which Franklin and Eleanor would be proud. A passage in our strategic plans says it well:

“Roosevelt House has developed a personality in its early years. Rather than becoming an independent academic center, it seeks to serve the faculty and students of Hunter, supporting their interests and research. When a request is made of Roosevelt House the disposition is to say ‘yes, we will help.’ Words that describe the character of this new institution are nimble, flexible, nonpartisan, creative, connected, and modern. Its undergraduate and public programs are high-quality, interesting, and innovative. All points of view are welcome in the search for objective evidence to inform public policy. Roosevelt House is a meeting place for faculty and students from all across Hunter wishing to transcend disciplinary boundaries and to focus on serious challenges and opportunities that face New York, the U.S., and the wider world.”

I am honored to remain on the Roosevelt House Board, I am pleased with how Jack Rosenthal is moving forward on our plans, and I look forward to doing a few more of my conversations next year. Indeed, I hope the American Academy might partner with Roosevelt House in the future.

You can count on my steadfast commitment to Roosevelt House in the years ahead. You are friends for a lifetime.

Presentation of Nigerian Higher Education Foundation’s Integrity Award

On September 30, 2015, Jonathan Fanton attended the Nigeria Higher Education Foundation (NHEF) Awards Gala, where he awarded the NHEF Integrity Award to Professor Attahiru Jega. Professor Jega is the former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria. He received the NHEF Integrity Award for his role in preserving the integrity of Nigeria’s democratic process.

 I am delighted to be here with you today as we celebrate the past and future accomplishments of NHEF and recognize its generous supporters who have contributed to the progress of Nigeria. It is indeed a special honor and pleasure this evening to present the NHEF Integrity Award to Professor Attahiru Jega, former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC).

Fifteen years ago, as President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, I chose Nigeria as the country to focus on as part of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa. It was an initiative by the MacArthur Foundation in partnership with three other foundations—Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie—based on the fact that we all believed that education was critical for Africa’s renaissance.

Universities are the bellwether for democracy and development. Can we think of any vibrant democracy and developing economy that has not been nurtured by free and dynamic universities? The reverse is also true, as we know all too well. Authoritarian regimes and closed economies are by their nature insecure and dare not tolerate either intellectual liberty or academic independence.

Democracy is not an event, but a process that takes years, even decades. It requires patience, as progress is measured little by little, day by day. There are many building blocks, but none more central to the process of strengthening democracy than education. This seems to be undeniable. For individuals, education is the ladder of opportunity; for communities, it is the base of common values that holds diverse people together; for nations, it is the engine of economic growth; and for all who believe in freedom, education provides the moral foundation for democracy guided by respect for individual dignity and the rule of law.

MacArthur selected four Nigerian universities upon which to focus our work: Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Ahmadu Bello, and Bayero University. We stayed with these universities based on three qualities of their Vice-Chancellors: vison, leadership, and integrity. Our awardee tonight, Professor Attahiru Jega, was the Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University. I got to know him and work closely with him during his tenure. He demonstrated all three qualities then and, subsequently, in his role as the overseer of Nigeria’s freest and fairest elections.

Two years ago when NHEF was kind enough to honor me, I said in my acceptance speech:

Nigeria’s journey to democracy is being watched the world over. Because of its size, cultural complexity and economic prospects, this country is seen as a leader throughout Africa and as a key actor on the global stage. A Nigeria who fully meets its obligations to its own citizens can provide a beacon of hope to people everywhere.

Let me say here how proud I am of my friend, Vice Chancellor Jega of Bayero, who has taken on the challenge of leading the Independent National Election Commission. Next year’s elections are critical to Nigeria’s future: they must be—and be seen to be—fair and clean. Ordinary citizens will engage more vigorously in building their country if they have faith that the government is of, by, and for the people.

As all of you in the audience know, Nigeria went through a remarkable democratic transition earlier this year, with the election of President Buhari and the peaceful transition of power from President Jonathan. The underpinning of this transition was a robust and transparent electoral process, one that was widely accepted as open and fair.

The key architect of this electoral process is today’s awardee, Professor Attahiru Jega. In his role as Chairman of INEC, Professor Jega laid out the roadmap for the elections as early as 2010, put in place an enormous infrastructure of biometric and polling stations, and oversaw vote counting and tallying. Professor Jega showed outstanding integrity in the face of tremendous political pressure to make sure there was no interference in the process, and to ensure that votes were tallied correctly. Most importantly, his calm leadership under pressure when votes were being announced ensured peace and stability.

For these reasons and more, I am delighted to present the NHEF Integrity Award to a dear friend and a remarkable individual, Professor Attahiru Jega.

Tisch Prize Award Ceremony

On June 18, 2012 Jonathan Fanton announced the recipients of the 2011 Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize. Awarded by the Hunter Foundation, the prize recognizes an individual or nonprofit organization in the New York metropolitan area for outstanding accomplishment in the field of urban public health.

Tisch Prize Award Ceremony
June 18, 2012

Good evening. As Chair of the Selection Committee of the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize let me begin by saying what a pleasure and honor it has been to serve in this capacity again this year.

From my time at The MacArthur Foundation, I have a special appreciation for how awards can elevate the importance of a field by honoring outstanding people and organizations.  The field of Community Health deserves our recognition and respect.

Before I announce the recipients, let me tell you about the selection process and criteria.

The 10-member Selection Committee, most of whom are here this evening, was comprised of Hunter faculty from the Schools of Public Health, Social Work and Nursing, and the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning—Neal Cohen, Lynn Roberts, Judith Rosenberger, Judith Aponte and John Chin—as well as external health policy experts—Dennis Rivera, John McDonough, Georges Benjamin and Sue Kaplan. Both John and Georges are former Tisch Public Health Fellows. Again, thank you all for your service.

We received 40 outstanding nominations. Thank you to all of the nominators and references for introducing us to such worthy candidates. The quality and range of their work is breathtaking, representing all parts of our city and many approaches to improving urban public health.  For example, the nominees included: a health expert in East Harlem battling the environmental causes of asthma; a breast cancer screening program in Manhattan tailored specifically to women with physical disabilities; a Queens program to provide free care and screenings to the uninsured and new immigrants; and an organization providing housing, health and social services to mentally ill homeless populations throughout the city.

All of the nominees are working on health problems associated with poverty and reducing health inequities. And all are deserving. It was difficult to choose only one individual and one organization.

We used three main criteria in our review. The first was outstanding Achievement in the development of an urban health initiative. The second was Imagination in tackling a public health problem and the third was Impact—lasting improvement in health and well-being, and potential for replication.

Today’s recipients are emblematic of many heroic individuals and organizations who work to make New York a more just, humane and  healthier place to live. There will be more moving stories to recognize in future years.

I speak for all members of the Selection Committee when I say that this was a very uplifting assignment. Thank you President Raab for giving us the opportunity, and thanks to Joan Tisch for inspiring this award and to her children for honoring her in this way.

And now to announce the recipients of the second annual Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize—

The 2012 “organization” recipient is the LegalHealth unit of New York Legal Assistance Group. LegalHealth unites legal and health care professionals who work collaboratively to improve the lives of low-income people with serious health problems by: addressing the legal needs associated with poverty that undermine recovery; eliminating legal barriers to services; and educating health care professionals about their patients’ legal needs.

Nominator Joe Baker, President of the Medicare Rights Center, noted that LegalHealth has taken the medical-legal partnership model “to a new level, maximizing its impact while expanding new arenas for implementation.”  In fact LegalHealth is now the largest such partnership in the nation and has served over 17,000 clients and trained over 5,000 health care professionals. It further extends its mission through legislative advocacy. Last fall it was instrumental in getting state legislation passed and signed by Governor Cuomo to expand medical-legal partnerships throughout New York State.

Let me provide some examples of LegalHealth’s work. In representing an asthma patient, it might take action against a landlord to force repairs to housing conditions triggering the disease, such as mold and vermin. To help a cancer patient avoid additional stresses that might compromise her condition, LegalHealth makes plans for care of dependents, or resolves debt and credit issues. Another client service is helping patients apply for government benefits, like food stamps.

In his letter of reference, Dr. Howard Minkoff, Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center explained, “My fellow physicians and I are painfully aware that even when we can readily diagnose illness and when there are highly efficacious therapies, if patients cannot access their medication because of homelessness, problems with health insurance, or threat of deportation, our ability to treat them and manage their illnesses will remain illusory. It is the … staff at LegalHealth who translate “hypothetical” benefits into actual cures through their focus on the non-medical barriers to care.”

LegalHealth tells a broader story about community health—that health outcomes are often dependent on myriad “non-medical” factors that left unchecked lead to health inequities. LegalHealth inspires others to seek innovative ways to tackle these social determinants of health, making it eminently worthy of the second annual Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize.

The “individual” recipient is Mark Hannay, Executive Director of the Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign.  In the words of his nominator, Dr. Terry Mizrahi  [Miz-RAH-hee] of Hunter’s Social Work faculty, “Mark is a truly exceptional health advocate whose leadership as a coalition-builder, spokesperson and tireless organizer has galvanized New Yorkers to join successful community-based campaigns to expand access to health care, particularly for those with serious illnesses and disabilities, the uninsured and the voiceless.”

Mark has built Metro NY Health Care into a vibrant coalition of community, labor, professional and faith-based groups, to fight for fundamental reform leading to universal health care. Among the campaigns he has mobilized and helped lead are those:
enacting New York’s Managed Care Consumers’ Bill of Rights;
creating New York’s Family Health Plus program;
stopping harmful budget cuts to New York’s Medicaid program;
enacting financial aid programs to assist uninsured and underinsured patients in all New York hospitals;

And he has been on the front lines of advocacy for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Richard Gottfried, Chair of the New York State Assembly Health Committee, said of Mark: “[he] … is one of those rare advocates who is not only committed, but also thoughtful and understands the complexities of policy issues and political processes and the balance that often must be struck along the way.”

And Elisabeth Benjamin, Vice President at the Community Services Society, praised Mark’s “imagination, unwavering patience, and ability to build enthusiasm often seemingly from thin air.”

In addition to his advocacy work, Mark also educates thousands of New Yorkers on key health issues through a radio interview program and cable TV show.

For his principled passion and reasoned eloquence in the fight for health care as a basic human right, for his vision of a just society, and for the impact he has had on countless New Yorkers in need, Mark Hannay has earned the second annual Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize.

I now have the pleasure of introducing John McDonough who will moderate a conversation with Mark Hannay and Randye Retkin, Director of LegalHealth.

John is a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of its new Center for Public Health Leadership. In 2010, he was the inaugural Joan H. Tisch Distinguished Fellow in Public Health at Hunter College, and between 2008 and 2010 he served as Senior Advisor on National Health Reform to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Prior to that, he was Executive Director of Health Care For All, Massachusetts’ leading consumer health advocacy organization, where he played a key role in the 2006 Massachusetts health reform law. His book, Inside National Health Reform, is a compelling insider’s account of the passage of the landmark Affordable Care Act.

We are delighted that he has returned to Roosevelt House this evening to engage our two distinguished Tisch Prize recipients in a conversation about their important work.
John…..

Tisch Prize Reception Remarks

On June 22, 2011 Jonathan Fanton announced the recipients of the 2011 Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize. Awarded by the Hunter Foundation, the prize recognizes an individual or nonprofit organization in the New York metropolitan area for outstanding accomplishment in the field of urban public health.
As Chair of the Selection Committee of the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize let me begin by saying what a pleasure and honor it has been to serve in this capacity.

From my time at The MacArthur Foundation, I have a special appreciation for how awards can elevate the importance of a field by honoring outstanding people and organizations.  The field of Community Health deserves our recognition and respect.

Before I announce the recipients, let me tell you about the process and criteria for selecting these two outstanding awardees.

The 8-member Selection Committee was comprised of Hunter faculty from the Schools of Public Health, Social Work and Nursing, and the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning as well as external health policy experts. The Committee did not have an easy task. We received 55 nominations in total—23 individuals and 32 organizations.

Thank you to all of the nominators and references for engaging in the process and introducing us to such worthy candidates.  The quality and range of work was breathtaking, representing all parts of our city and many approaches to improving community health.  For example:  a substance abuse program for the homeless in lower Manhattan, a Bronx HIV/AIDS prevention initiative for LGBT youth, a social services organization in Downtown Brooklyn working to decrease health disparities for at-risk children and their families, and an environmental health coalition in Harlem.

We used three main evaluation criteria in reviewing the nominees. The first was Achievement, defined as outstanding accomplishment in the development and implementation of a community-based public health initiative in an urban setting. The second was Imagination, or demonstrated originality, creativity and innovation in tackling an urban public health problem.  And the third was Impact—positive and lasting improvement in health, well-being and community life for a significant proportion of the target population, and potential for replication in other communities.

We found it difficult to compare individuals to organizations so we asked whether we could make an award in each category.  We are grateful to the Tisch family for making this possible.

While we struggled to select one winner in each category,  we want to acknowledge that there are many other highly qualified people and organizations doing great work.  So there are more inspiring stories to cover in future years.  Today’s recipients are emblematic of many heroic individuals and organizations that work to make New York more just, humane and a healthy place to live.

I know I speak for all members of the Selection Committee when I say that this was a very enjoyable—and uplifting—assignment.  Thank you President Raab for giving us the opportunity and the responsibility to help define this new prize and set the standards.  Thank you to Joan Tisch for inspiring this award and to your children for honoring you in this way.

And now I am pleased to announce the inaugural recipients of the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize—

The “organization” recipient is Union Settlement Association.

The reach and broad impact of Union Settlement Association in addressing the health and social service needs of a vulnerable East Harlem population make it an exemplary inaugural recipient of the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize.  In the words of Union Settlement’s nominator, Dr. Sebastian Bonner, a research investigator for the New York Academy of Medicine,  “With its range of programs from childcare and Head Start to senior services, from after-school programs to mental health services, and through its leadership in improving services for people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS—Union Settlement is a lifeline to one of the city’s poorest communities and is a leader among local agencies in its efforts to reduce the crippling health disparities faced by East Harlem families, who suffer from disproportionally high rates of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and HIV/AIDS.”

Of it’s pioneering work in pediatric asthma surveillance and coordination of care, Jacqueline Fox-Pascal of the New York City Health Department said in her letter of reference that, “Union Settlement’s leadership and staff represent everything we seek in a community partner: creativity, ingenuity and dedication among both its leadership and its ground-level staff, which is essential for bringing about real change in asthma management, awareness and prevention.” Another reference, Johnny Rivera, formerly of Mount Sinai and now with Harlem RBI noted, “Their programs foster healthy lifestyles, independence and leadership, and most importantly they help urban residents envision and take steps towards bright futures for themselves.”

Union Settlement Association represents an organization with deep roots in the community, a “can do” attitude, and a stellar record of leadership and achievement in improving health for at-risk populations, making it eminently worthy of the inaugural Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize. I now ask David Nocenti, Executive Director, to come forward to accept the award on behalf of Union Settlement Association.

The first “individual” recipient of the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize is Dr. Melony Samuels, Founder and Executive Director of Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger.  Dr. Samuels stood out immediately for her grassroots efforts to address hunger, poverty, and health in the Brooklyn communities of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Ocean Hill and Brownsville, an area that constitutes a “food desert” where access to healthy and nutritious food is limited.  As a result, many residents suffer from obesity and related chronic diseases.  Kathy Armstrong, Board member and Vice President at Banco Popular who nominated Dr. Samuels, noted that she and the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger “…led the early response to these troubling poverty and nutrition-related health problems with a wide range of successful initiatives, particularly a community garden program that attacks these issues from all angles.”

References Joel Berg from the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and Carlos Rodriguez from the Food Bank for New York City said that,  “Dr. Samuels’ work has made dramatic strides in helping eliminate hunger and food insecurity in Central Brooklyn”, and she “provides some of our neediest citizens with good nutrition, improving their health and overall well-being.  New York City is one of the richest cities in the world but food poverty and nutrition–related poor health is around every corner.”

While Dr. Samuels helps to alleviate the problems of hunger and malnutrition, we were most impressed by the extent to which her organization has gone beyond the traditional role of a food pantry—offering education on health-conscious food choices, food preparation techniques, exercise and healthy lifestyles to a client base that is nearly a quarter diabetic. Her vision, resourcefulness and grassroots activism make her an ideal recipient of the inaugural Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize.  I now ask Dr. Melony Samuels to come forward to receive her award.