Photo by Lynn Edmonds
McCray, second from left, read to children from her book “Love Is” to raise awareness for her “Talk to Your Baby” campaign.
BY LYNN EDMONDS
By talking and reading to their babies, parents can help their child’s brain development, New York City’s First Lady Chirlane McCray told an audience of mostly Korean mothers and toddlers at the Queens Library Flushing Branch on Tuesday.
McCray was accompanied by Korea’s Consul General, H.E. Gheewhan Kim, who drove home the same message in English and Korean, and Richard Buery, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives.
The event was part of the “Talk to Your Baby” campaign, which encourages parents to talk, sing and read to their babies from the critical ages of zero to three years old, when the human brain develops most rapidly.
The initiative was jointly launched by McCray and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in April 2015.
In service to the campaign, McCray released a cardboard picture book, “Love Is” that parents can read to their infants and toddlers. Her office is giving out 200,000 copies of the book to New York families.
McCray read from the book, which shows racially diverse sets of parents and children smiling and making eye contact with each other as they go about everyday activities like riding the train, eating and taking a bath.
The book has been released in English, Spanish and five other languages, including Korean.
“Because New York is a city of immigrants, we want families who usually speak another language at home to have access to this resource,” McCray said.
About 20 children, alongside with their parents, sat on the carpeted floor of the children’s room while McCray read in a clear, calm voice. Some watched her face as she read, while others pointed at the pictures in their own copies of the book, which were handed out before the reading. One little boy chewed on the corner of his copy while a girl grabbed another copy away from her companion. Most of them were in a constant state of motion, scooching, standing, grabbing their mother’s hair and making noises.
That wasn’t a problem, according to the campaign.
“It’s okay if your baby grows restless while reading. Try again later,” reads one of the tips at www1.nyc.gov/site/talktoyourbaby.
But if the children weren’t always completely attentive, the event was targetted just as much toward the parents. McCray spoke to parents about what reading to her children meant to her.
“I remember very well how much I loved reading to them, singing to them, telling them how much I loved them,” McCray told the audience from the wooden chair where she was perched.
After the reading, McCray walked from the children’s room into the auditorium to speak to an older Koran American audience about her signature mental health initiative, Thrive NYC. Many of the audience members, whom McCray called community leaders, could have been the grandparents of the toddlers in the other room.
With the Korean Consul General by her side, as well as the commissioner for International Affairs Penny Abeywardena and the Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal, McCray urged the leaders to help connect their social networks with mental health services and to sign up for the mental health first aid training offered under THRIVE NYC.
“The stigma of mental illness can be especially strong in communities which owe so much of their success to being tough and not letting anyone see their pain. But when it comes to mental illness keeping quiet is one of the worse things you can do,” McCray said.
Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than whites, according to the National Latino and Asian American Study, and outreach to leaders in New York’s ethnic communities is part of a strategy to create more culturally competent mental health services.
Citywide, one in five New Yorkers will struggle with mentally illness each year.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana