“You can’t treat humans like dogs in a kennel.
There is no place where you can mass produce care, compassion, and concern for people.
It is impossible. It is fundamentally unsound.
The assembly line works for cars – it does not work for people.
People need humanity.”
– Geraldo Rivera, from the 1997 documentary Unforgotten: 25 Years After Willowbrook
On Wednesday, September 14, 2016, guests of various offices of OPWDD, (the Staten Island Developmental Disabilities Services Offices, Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities), community members, including representatives from AHRC New York City and other service providing agencies, (Lifestyles for the Disabled the Elizabeth Connelly Resource Center,) joined together to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Willowbrook Mile, in a ceremony held on the campus of the College of Staten Island, (CSI). The event was the result of a common purpose, with a long history.
About the Willowbrook School
Located in Staten Island, NY, the Willowbrook State School was a state-supported institution for children with intellectual disabilities, and was in operation from 1947 to 1987. The American population at large first began to understand the deplorable conditions that could be found within the school in 1965, when Senator Robert Kennedy toured the facility and compared it to a “snake pit” where children lived in filth.
In January, 1972, Geraldo Rivera, who was then a local reporter for WABC-TV News, scaled the fence of the Willowbrook State School, equipped with a film camera and a key to one of the buildings that housed people with disabilities, provided to him by Dr. Michael Wilkins, who had previously worked in the facility, but had been fired after he attempted to speak out about the need to improve the conditions of the facility. The resulting television report, Willowbrook: The Last Disgrace, further exposed the appalling living situation presented within Willowbrook, where disease transmissions were commonplace, (primarily hepatitis A,) and overcrowding had led to outright neglect of the school’s occupants. Film captured during Mr. Rivera’s visit revealed that many of the children were not being properly cared for, in some cases they were not clothed and were unattended, left alone in dark, unsanitary conditions. The report also exposed similar conditions at a facility located just north of New York City called,