Erol Pierre has not been a Fordham student since 2005, but over the years he has felt more connected to the university – and more enthusiastic about promoting change in the Bronx – than ever before. As senior vice president of government programs for Healthfirst, New York City’s largest nonprofit health insurance company, he works daily with his Bronx neighbors to help break down barriers to health justice in the area.
“There are so many problems affecting people’s ability to be healthy in low-income neighborhoods like the Bronx,” Pierre said, such as high unemployment, low alumni and limited access to available fresh fruits and vegetables. .
Pierre said the Bronx County, where he has lived for more than 15 years, ranks last out of 62 New York counties when it comes to health outcomes. He fulfills a mission to improve these statistics not only through his work at Healthfirst, but also by mentoring Fordham students as a member of the Presidential Council and teaching health economics as an adjunct professor at Columbia University and other schools across the city. He said a comprehensive approach was needed.
“There are so many consequences of absence [good]health [outcomes], but decisions are beyond simply providing people with health insurance cards; it has to do with the general environment, ”he said.
The importance of Fordham’s education
Born in New York to a family of Haitian immigrants, Pierre said he and his older brother “throughout their maturity” shared the value of education. He watched as each of his parents worked at multiple jobs to provide for his family and make higher education much more accessible to him and his brother.
“My dad actually started cleaning offices, and the only goal was for his kids to go to school, get an education, work hard,” Pierre said.
Pierre said that in high school Fordham was on his radar as one of the best schools in the city. He liked that he could live on campus, but often visited family. He also enjoyed the university’s proximity to countless internship opportunities and the reputation of its business school. Add to that the fact that he could keep running, which he did throughout high school, and Pierre said he was sold.
“I knew I wanted to be a business specialist somewhere that would give me the opportunity to do an internship. I remember once I got permission from Fordham and the opportunity to join the athletics team, it was my decision; that’s all. “
The beginning of a lifelong commitment
However, Pierre’s beginnings as a Fordham student are reflected in his mind more than opportunities and change: September 11 occurred at the beginning of his first semester.
“I remember going to the roof of Dealy Hall with other classmates and looking at the city skyline,” he said. “I remember every part of that moment. There were so many connections for this cohort. ”
Pierre said that those moments, as well as the time spent in the athletics team and in the classroom, were decisive for him. «[You] find out who you want to be when you grow up, find out what type of man you will be for the rest of your life, ”he said. And that’s why he’s still so committed to the university.
“After I graduated, there was always a goal to stay in touch with Fordham – you just want to pay back for what you were given as a student,” he said.
Offering current and future students a “hand up”
One of the ways he is trying to achieve this goal is to be part of the Presidential Council, a group of successful professionals and philanthropists who seek to mentor future Fordham leaders.
Last September, he joined two other board members on a panel called “Born, Raised and Doing It in New York City”. He told Fordham students that the series of internships really helped push him to a career and passion: equal access to health care for all.
After graduating from the Gobelli School of Business in 2005, he received a master’s degree in health policy and financial management from New York University, and now he is receiving a doctorate in health economics from Zicklin Baruch College School of Business – all to be better equipped to find both solutions to public health crises and teach students to be able to do the same.
As a member of the Presidential Council, Pierre also contributed to the Fordham Founder Scholarship Fund. He recalled one incident when he was able to help clear barriers to entry for one colored student who intended to enroll in the Ailey / Fordham BFA dance program. She is now in her sophomore year, he said.
In the past, he has also had the opportunity to reach out to students prior to their admission by offering advice and sharing his experiences with black student-athletes through his participation in Fordham Gents, a teaching group made up of black male graduates.
“I was sitting at a table with 10-12 kids and we were literally just talking about life in college, school, about how to write a resume, how to look for scholarships, what to think about when thinking about school, about my experience at Fordham as a black a student, ”he said. “Such a comeback has been very influential for me and I just felt it needed to be done because I wanted to have that kind of impact, training and leadership. I wanted to meet the colored alumni who said, “Hey, I went through this.”
Since December, Pierre, who recently graduated from the President’s Advisory Board on Athletics, is also a member of the Steering Committee on Athletics and hopes to foster a partnership between Healthfirst and the University. He said recruiting from the communities she serves is a priority for Healthfirst, so the organization is looking at Fordham and other New York schools for interns and recent graduates.
“Once COVID-19 dies and we can return to the community and be safe, where there are opportunities for Healthfirst to conduct community engagement activities in partnership with Fordham, we will definitely get involved.” Pierre said the partnership will be not only a set of students, but also something that can be done to help the community as a whole.
“My passion was trying to work with anyone … because we don’t have to be in a society where we have so much money, but there are so many people who need a helping hand to help them live and prosper better.”
What do you enjoy the most?
I am most passionate about mentoring and helping people on their way to becoming a better version of themselves.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Sweet is not so sweet without bitter.
What is your favorite place in New York? In the world?
I fell in love forever with Harlem, New York. After that, Johannesburg, South Africa, is my second favorite place.
Name a book that has had a lasting impact on you.
About beauty, author Zadi Smith. In fact, any book by Zady Smith!
Who are the graduates or professors of Fordham that you admire the most?
I admire Anthony Carter, FCRH ’76 [a Fordham trustee and former member of the President’s Council]. He was a high-level leader and leader in his industry. He sets a high bar and an amazing example of how to give back to the Fordham community. Finally, it has created unique opportunities for other graduates, such as me, to give back as well. He’s a Fordham titan!
What are you optimistic about?
I am optimistic about the recovery from COVID-19 in New York. As we return to normal life, vaccination is fast becoming the gateway to our new post-pandemic economy. This means that New York’s unvaccinated working class could potentially be shut down due to lower levels of vaccination. This happens at a time when the need cannot be greater. But I hope New York and the new administration at City Hall will find light at the end of this tunnel.
Interview conducted, edited and compressed by Sierra McCleary-Harris.