Bronx President Carrion, Former Teacher, on Education

Adapted and expanded here is a story from a new second-season edition of CUNY-TV’s “Study With the Best” which airs Sundays at 8 p.m.

Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion
In November of 2001, Adolfo Carrion was elected Bronx Borough President. It seemed like the perfect result of a natural progression. He had grown up in the borough and had taught school there. He also worked as a city planner and as a district manager of Bronx Community Board 5. Eventually, he served as a city councilman from the Bronx.

Carrion has dedicated his career of public service to the Bronx, but he did leave the Bronx at least once—to attend Hunter College on the Upper East Side.

“I went to Public School 111, Junior High School 142,” Carrion recalls, “and I was in the second graduating class from Harry Truman High School in Co-op City. Being here in the city, being a ‘city kid,’ has been the most enriching life that you could have. I’m the father of four kids, and they are in public school.” Carrion points out that his mother “was a student of Bronx Community College, and my dad is a minister… was a minister for about 50 years until he retired recently. So I grew up in the shadow of his public service.”

Carrion first set out to study world religions and philosophy, thinking he, too, would enter the ministry. “There was a sense of a calling, a sense of serving people, building a better society, giving people an opportunity for a better life.” But Carrion soon found himself pursuing those goals not in a pulpit but in a classroom. “I was working with kids right here in the inner city, on 184th Street between Morris and Walton Avenues.”

Feeling constrained by the curriculum, however, Carrion went to his principal and urged a teaching plan that involved city planning and architecture. “I said, if we allow these kids to approach their environment from a completely different angle, I think they will discover the place where they live. They will begin to understand how local government works.”

Carrion recalls with a laugh, “It was kind of humorous. My seventh graders got the giggles when they found their first common denominator in their bathrooms. What happens when you flush the toilet? Answering that question took us to the water supply, to the history of growth in the Bronx, to water pressure and how a toilet tank refills. Then we addressed the issue of waste management. Where does the waste go? Who pays for it? How are the pipes maintained? Who decides? How are these people elected?”

“ That experience was for me the trigger to want to affect more than just 30 kids in a classroom,” Carrion remembers. Soon he was a student of urban planning at Hunter College, eventually earning a Master’s in the discipline there. “It was one of the most exciting chapters of my life. This launched me into politics, because I now started to understand how decisions were made and who was making them. And I said, ‘You know what— I can do that! I can represent people.’”

Carrion never thought at that time he would one day be president of the Bronx, but then he adds, “Any of us can achieve anything—anything we put our minds to. Look at the people who have graduated from City University. We have Nobel Laureates; we have prizewinning authors and scientists; we have former mayors; we have graduates who have accomplished great things.”

“The purpose of democratic government is to enfranchise people by educating them so that they can be further enfranchised both politically and economically. We must break up the culture of poverty, and the only way we’re going to do that is to educate people,” Carrion says.

“I am on a mission to allow people to be enfranchised and to achieve the American dream. It may sound corny, but it’s what wakes me up in the morning.”

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