Members of the College of Staten Island’s Willowbrook Legacy Committee joined Interim President Dr. Timothy G. Lynch, Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella, New York City Council Member David Carr, CUNY Trustee Michael Arvanites, and New York State Assembly Member Michael Cusick, to officially proclaim 2022 as The Year of Willowbrook at the College, in a stirring virtual ceremony held on Tuesday.
The Year of Willowbrook at CSI falls in concert with several key anniversaries tied to the Willowbrook State School, where the College now resides. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Willowbrook State School, the 50th year of Geraldo Rivera’s jarring exposé that brought the horrors of Willowbrook to national attention, and the 35th anniversary of Willowbrook’s closing. After introductory words from Dr. Lynch, CUNY Trustee Michael Arvanites brought greetings from the CUNY Chancellory, and shared his own experiences connected to the Willowbrook State School and the successor agencies, including On Your Mark, that continue to serve the needs of the intellectually and developmentally disabled community on Staten Island.
Assembly Member Cusick then addressed the audience, speaking to the magnitude of Willowbrook on the Borough and the nation, and the rise of advocacy that has existed in its wake. Cusick, who helped underwrite the installation of the Willowbrook Mile memorial walking trail opening in September 2022, then shared the official New York State Assembly Proclamation, read by CSI Interim Vice President for Economic Development, Continuing Studies, and Government Relations, Robert Wallace.
Following the proclamation, members of the Willowbrook Legacy Committee, bookended by Co-Chairs Dr. Catherine Lavender and Nora Santiago, led participants through a narrative chronicling the committee’s collaborative effort in bringing The Year of Willowbrook to life, highlighting its relevance, impact, and place on the College of Staten Island’s campus. Diane Buglioli, former Chair of the Staten Island Developmental Disabilities Council, Co-Founder/Board Member of A Very Special Place, Inc., and a former Willowbrook employee, spoke first-hand of her experiences at Willowbrook and her advocacy since. Parent advocate Laura Kennedy, past President of The Arc New York Board of Governors and Current Treasurer of the Arc of the United States, shared her experiences as a parent-advocate in the post-Willowbrook years and her involvement with the group. Their moving stories led to a spotlight on self-advocates and committee members Timothy Smolka and Eric Goldberg, who spoke of their involvement and their commitment toward ensuring that Willowbrook never happens again.
The group provided ample context for the year of public programming that will take place at the College throughout the year, rolled out through an engaging video. Features of the programming include reflections on the 50th anniversary of Geraldo Rivera’s exposé on February 16, the annual Willowbrook Memorial Lecture on April 6, and the installation of the Willowbrook Mile on September 17. From there, Council Member Carr and Borough President Fossella shined an even brighter light on the efforts made locally and nationally in the social justice movement for the disabled, a cause that they support and pledged to forward through collaboration with the College during the year ahead.
The one-hour ceremony is available for viewing on Willowbrook’s YouTube Page (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzW7zTMmvdQ)
Members of the broader Willowbrook community who wish to become involved in further Willowbrook Legacy Project programs and efforts are encouraged to visit www.csi.cuny.edu/willowbrookmile/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Registration for The Year of Willowbrook’s February event, Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace, reflections on the 50th anniversary of ABC’s television exposé by Geraldo Rivera, is currently open and available at bit.ly/YOW2022Geraldo.
By David Pizzuto