Mexican journalist Jose Healey always dreamed of working for the Wall Street Journal. So when he reached his goal, it seemed that things couldn’t get better. And yet, when an opportunity arose in the Bronx, Healey found himself answering a more deeply rooted dream: that of helping young people to turn their lives around.
Thus, Healey turned his own life upside down, with the goal of making an impact on the “future of society.”
He now directs the Crotona Achievement Center, which endeavors to rescue kids from the street and propose a new lifestyle to them.
Healey gave Aleteia a tour of the center and a look at his work with these vulnerable youth.
Why did you leave the WSJ and go to the Bronx?
Honestly, I’ve always had a great desire to help youth, because they are the future of society. To tell you the truth, my dream as a journalist and an aspiring reporter had always been to work for the Wall Street Journal. And I landed a job there. I almost couldn’t believe it, that I was working for the Wall Street Journal, a very good newspaper, where it’s not easy to get in. Things fell into place and I was able to work there. Yet, I was interested in having a more direct impact on youth. Sure, journalism has an impressive social impact, but this opportunity arose, to have a much more direct impact with youth, and to be able to instruct kids in a place, the Bronx, where they have a lot of disadvantages.
Do you hope that one of these kids from the Bronx will one day work for the Wall Street Journal?
I would love it, truly. And that’s what is beautiful about this type of work. Sometimes I could think that I lost an opportunity to be a great journalist, to be a reporter or a correspondent. But a person can educate many journalists through the years, and with God’s help and the effort that we make, they can reach great heights, even getting into the best newspapers of the United States and the world.
Can you not be a good person working in media?
My decision wasn’t really a way to have a clear conscience or to say, “Well, I’m here in the media world, which is ugly, full of vice and fighting, and now I need to purge myself of that and do something for the community.” No. In fact, journalism is also a vehicle to do good and to make a positive impact on society. To work in the Bronx with kids is something that has always seemed exciting to me.
What happens here in the Bronx is that both parents work, or sometimes the father is not present or the father is not in the home — he was deported or he had to leave. Many are from the Dominican Republic.
Are the gangs just a myth you see in the movies?
There are bad influences from the gangs, or people who sell drugs, who you can see walking around the neighborhood. You see it. It’s not hidden.
There is another option. We can teach them that they can have a much happier life following the straight road of virtues and values, the road of goodness. We don’t refuse any religion. We accept kids of any religious belief; we’re not limited only to Catholic students.
Is it the same to pray in Manhattan as to pray in the Bronx?
God is the same. I pray in the same way in Manhattan or in the Bronx. Perhaps in the Bronx, I pray more because I realize that I need to be closer to God so as to help the people I’m seeing. In Manhattan, I also help people, but here things are more difficult.
Does the “pope of the peripheries” inspire you?
He is a pope who has given a lot of emphasis to going out to help the poor, going out to people, to the peripheries … and then, on top of all of this, the Year of Mercy.
For me, it is sort of a confirmation of my decision, that I’m in the right place. I love this idea and I feel that in someway I’m more motivated to be here, supported by the pope and knowing that he is praying for us.
What is mercy, in a context like that of the Bronx?
When I think of mercy, I like thinking of the goodness of God.
No matter how miserable we are, no matter how small we are, no matter our limitations and defects, we have a father who loves us more than all the mothers of the world.
For me, mercy is to think that God is there to help me, to do what He wants, and whenever I am trying to give the best of myself, in this case to help others and live a Christian life, there God is, my father, to support me in everything.
This interview is a translation from the original Spanish version.