Eric Leroy Adams was born in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn on September 1, 1960, the fourth of six children for his mother Dorothy, a house cleaner and cook, and his father Leroy, a butcher. Growing up in a working-class household in South Jamaica, Queens, Eric showed an early interest in computers, but was drawn to public service at the early age of 15 after he and his brother were beaten badly by police officers; the violent encounter would later motivate him to pursue a career in law enforcement, a decision reinforced by mentors like Reverend Herbert Daughtry and Jitu Weusi.
Following a public school journey capped by his graduation from Bayside High School, Eric went on to earn an Associate in Arts degree in data processing from the New York City College of Technology, a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and a Master of Public Administration degree from Marist College. Eric paid his way through his collegiate studies through a number of jobs, including work in the mailroom of an accounting firm, as a mechanic, and as a clerk in the Kings County District Attorney’s Office.
Eric graduated from the New York City Police Academy in 1984 as one of the highest-ranked students in his class. After initially serving with the New York City Transit Police Department, he was transferred to the New York City Police Department (NYPD) with the merging of the city’s police forces. During the course of his 22-year law enforcement career, Eric served in the 94th Precinct (Greenpoint), 88th Precinct (Clinton Hill and Fort Greene), and the 6th Precinct (Greenwich Village and West Village), where he retired at the rank of captain. As a member of New York’s Finest, Eric made the kind of life-and-death decisions that reflect insight, expertise, and poise under fire, earning him a reputation for going above and beyond the call of duty.
Daniel: I have read a lot about habits and how hard it is to motivate or get people to change things they really like to do versus what is good for them. Even with the ultimate reason for change, even when faced with the ultimate reason for change, like if you don't change, you'll die. Many people still continue destructive habits like smoking cigarettes. That's why I'm surprised that my guest today, he did make a change. Eric Adams changed his diet. As a result, the vision he was losing came back within three weeks and he was able to reverse the negative impact that type two diabetes was having on his life. Eric now is also doing incredibly important work in schools regarding healthy eating and I'm glad he is. I'm ashamed at what passes for real food that we serve our children. There has to be a better way, and that's what we'll discuss in today's show. Hey, it's Daniel and welcome to the better leaders, better schools, podcast, a show for Ruckus Makers, those out of the box leaders making change happen in education. We'll be right back after these messages. From our show sponsors. Students have an opportunity to succeed with organized binder who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning. Whether that's in a distance hybrid or traditional educational setting, learn firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Daniel: Hey there Ruckus Makers. I'm joined by Eric Adams, the Brooklyn Borough president, who was previously served three terms in the New York State Senate and 22 years in the New York city police department. After being diagnosed with type two diabetes in 2016, he adopted a plant based diet and successfully reversed his diabetes. Eric, welcome to the show.
Eric: Thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure being on with you
Daniel: I mentioned in our pre chat, our mutual friend, Josh Spodek connected us. I was on a walk and beautiful Glasgow and he was telling me about this leader who's making a dent in education regards to healthy eating and food. So, here we are.
Eric: Yes, yes. I thank him for doing the introduction.
Daniel: Awesome. So, Eric, why are you passionate about healthy food options?
Eric: I think it's a combination of my personal journey and seeing the power of food and how it impacts our everyday life. I don't think we realize how much control we have over it and I had to learn personally, and I'm seeing what it's doing to help others throughout the entire city.
Daniel: Right? If people that are not familiar with your personal journey, do you mind unpacking that a bit for those listening?
Eric: Yes. Back in four years ago, in 2016, I was diagnosed with type two diabetes. Actually it was in the advanced stage of diabetes. It caused me to lose my sight in my left eye and I was losing my right. The doctor actually said that I was legally blind and I had to go turn in my driver's license. I couldn't drive anymore and I was having permanent nerve damage to my hands and feet where it was tingling and it was going to lead eventually to amputation high blood pressure, high cholesterol, just my body was really breaking down and I didn't even know it. I looked okay physically, but I needed to take an internal selfie and it was shown that I was having some serious health issues. The doctor told me that Eric, you've got to be on medicine, the rest of your life. Also, for my blood pressure, cholesterol and three medicines for my diabetes, one of them being insulin. I decided, I like to say to do something scientific, I went to Google and Googled reversing diabetes, and all this information came up on people who were doing great things. One of them was Dr. Esselstyn, and I flew down to see him.
Daniel: Wow. You've seen some tremendous results now, too, regarding that condition and now you're bringing that passion to schools. Can you talk about some of the things that you're doing within schools and healthy eating?
Eric: Yeah. Dr. Esselstyn, shared with me when I saw him that if I change my diet. I can have a major impact on the conditions I was experiencing. It was funny. I remember him saying that and I said, "what's wrong with this guy. I'm going blind and he's telling me to stop eating steak. It doesn't make any sense. Right. I went back to my home and looked in my fridge and in my pantry and realized that he was right, all the food I had was processed. After I got rid of all the processed food and went on what's called the whole food plant based diet. Three weeks later, my eyesight cleared up and my nerve damage went away. In three months my ulcer went away, My blood pressure normalized and I just really became almost a new person, dropped 35 pounds.
Eric: And so we started looking and turning our direction towards the food that we're feeding children in school. A lot of people don't know, but think about this, 70% of 12 year olds have early signs of heart disease. That's unbelievable. That's the number one killer of Americans. We started doing things like meatless, Mondays to show children how to eat meals without meat, we were also successful in getting the schools to stop serving processed meat in the schools a important victory. Processed meat is a type one carcinogen and we know it causes cancer like a cigarette smoke. We started looking at healthy foods in school and we believe it should be part of the entire educational experience of teaching nutrition and being created to do so. We can do mathematical products with apples and nutrients and using the equations, in history courses you can teach with where foods come from and the power of foods, different types of apples. It's about encouraging people to embrace food and our educational system and that's what we're doing.
Daniel: Yeah. The education is critical and we learn so powerfully through stories. Just to remind the Ruckus Maker listening, you said in three weeks, your eyesight began to clear up and you couldn't see at the time out of your left eye and was having trouble in the right eye. If I caught that correctly. And then a statistic you shared, I think you said 70% of kids are showing some form of early heart disease. And if we were able to offer healthy food options within schools, not only would we take care of these health factors, we see childhood obesity. And then of course, every school is going to care about the test scores, but I'd argue with a healthier kid, you're going to be Paying attention in class and retaining more information and doing better in any type of assessment that's out there as well.
Eric: Without a doubt and the joy of this as Dr. Esselstyn has shown in his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, he's showing there are many cases where you can actually reverse the clogging of your arteries in the failure of the walls of your arteries. So it's important that we see that where we are in health is not a death sentence. It's actually an opportunity to turn around the lives that we're living and prevented. And if we get on top of what our children are eating now we can start turning that around. My mother is a perfect example of that. Mom was 80 years old, 15 years diabetic, seven years on insulin when she started the plant based journey a little time after me in two months, she was off her insulin. Really? Yes.
Daniel: That's amazing. Well, good for her. I love hearing that. I didn't know that about your mom. That's wonderful. I'm thinking of school leaders, we gotta meet them where they're at. You talked about steak in the fridge and I don't want to get into a big New York style pizza versus Chicago. I'm from Chicago. We got the deep dish, but when you ordered a sausage in a deep dish pizza, that was literally Eric, right, a layer one inch deep of sausage across the whole pie. We grow up eating in a certain type of way. You got meatless Mondays, that was a success, but how do you start this type of shift and meet leaders where they're at?
Eric: That's so important. That's a great question you're asking. I really had to break down the thought process and say to myself, "okay, what is it that we really like about food? And it's not so much that we like sources of meat. We like the spices. We like to taste that the spice bring and so what I started to do or is that started to explore spices and each week I would learn a different spice and I was amazed to learn that, although we liked taste of the spices, spices are more healthy then we actually eat. The power of turmeric, oregano, garlic, and all of these spices, I have become a so much healing process. I started to say, wait, just teach people to have healthy meals and with the rice spice mixtures, they will enjoy the food that they eat. It's about food must look good. It must be good, but darn it, it has to taste good and I've learned to make sure that my food is tasting good.
Daniel: What's tasty these days? Do you have a favorite that you're making?
Eric: Yeah, I have so many great meals that I enjoy. One of them is a sort of this three bean soup, so I take black Mintos and I liquefy it as a base and put in garlics, onions, kale mushrooms, kidney beans, and surprisingly when it cools, it could be in oatmeal, believe it or not. It gives you this nice texture. And I will put in a few pieces of chopped up fruit to give it this nice, sweet combination that every once in a while, you crunch on a little sweet potatoes and that is one of my favorite go to meals. It's easy to make. You can really handle it rapidly, prepare it when you're on the go. It's just a great feeling meal. High in fiber, high in nutrition, and it's a great meal to have. I have a great frozen dessert I make made out of frozen apples. I mean, frozen bananas, berries, some peanut butter and some corral powder. It's just, it is so filling.
Daniel: Yeah, you got me. I'm getting hungry. I'm going to go to dinner after this. It is almost dinner time here in Scotland. Eric, if I was a school leader and I wanted to bring healthy food options to my students, what advice would you give me? To some extent we're used to how the delivery thuck stops by and they drop off all this processed junk that we've been feeding our kids, so this is also a shift. So not only the mindset of eating healthy, but just the supply of it all and bringing it into the school.
Eric: It's actually quite great question. Our children are extremely smart. If we allow them to be smart, sometimes we get in a way of their natural intelligence. I would encourage the school leader to do a series of courses on food, where it comes from, how it's made, how was processed, show slaughterhouses, a show ways of cooking. I would do a series of things of how to prepare different meals. I never forget being out of school. One day we were handing out food bags and the children were looking at the beets and they said, I don't know what to do with this and my mother don't know how to cook this. So we take it for granted that people know how to cook, help people. So part of the process is to teach children the preparation of food, how to chop up food, how to sautee food and then start introducing that healthy food.
Daniel: I'm really enjoying this conversation and we'll continue talking about healthy food choices in just a sec. After this message from our show sponsors, today's show is brought to you by organized binder, organized, develops the skills and habits. All students need for success. During these uncertain times of distance learning and hybrid education settings, organized binder, equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed. Whether at home or in the classroom, learn email@example.com during COVID. Every teacher is a new teacher. That's why innovative school leaders are turning to Teach FX whose virtual PD is equipping thousands of teachers with the skills they need to create engaging equitable in rigorous virtual or blended classes to learn more about teach FX and get a special offer visit Teachfx.dot com/BLBS that's Teachfx.dot com/BLBS. All right. Well, anything else you want the Ruckus Maker listening to know on this topic?
Eric: I think that really says how to really educate children. Education should be more than just academics. There should be an opportunity to give children skills that will make them successful in life. And there is no better skill in how to take care of yourself and be a healthy person. Your health will make the greatest impact on the quality of your life. And that is why we really focus on that in Brooklyn Borough Hall
Daniel: What would you put on all school marquees across the globe if you could do so for just a day?
Eric: I would say, health is wealth
Daniel: Health is a wealth. Love it. And you're building a school from the ground up. You're not limited by any resources. You're only limitation is your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?
Eric: One, I would build a massive greenhouse on the rooftop that was supplied to the students in the school and also, and the neighboring communities, their little local stores, et cetera. A second, I will focus on communication. I am amazed at it wasn't until I was in college that I had my first real communication course. And if anything is going to impact your ability to succeed is your ability to properly communicate. We don't teach young people how to communicate. They grow up to be adults that don't know how to communicate also. So I would focus on my school to really have at this foundation, the ability to communicate. And then in addition to academics, I will also have a meditation. I would teach self healing. How do we heal ourselves? How do we manage stress? How do we go inward to start the process of shutting out the noise and finding place of peaceful existence within ourselves? I think with those foundations, no matter what we do professionally, or as a human being, we will do it in a respectful manner. To me, those are the core subjects, not reading, writing, and arithmetic that can come. Eric,
Daniel: Thank you so much for being a part of the better leaders, better schools, podcast of all the things we talked about today, what's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember,
Eric: Remember the power of communicating, being able to communicate to our children and our children able to communicate with us. I think with that skill, we can really tear down walls and start building tables that we all can sit at and appreciate each other.
Daniel: Thanks for listening to the better leaders, better schools podcast for Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel, better leaders, better schools.com or hit me up on Twitter at alien earbud. If the better leaders better schools, podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway. From the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at alien earbud and using the hashtag B L P S level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.
In 1995, Eric co-founded 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, an advocacy group that rose to nationwide prominence speaking out against police brutality, racial profiling, and departmental diversity. He also served at one time as president of the Grand Council of Guardians, a statewide fraternal society for African-Americans in law enforcement. Through leadership roles in these organizations, Eric helped raise thousands of dollars for worthy causes across New York City.
Eric was elected to the first of four terms in the New York State Senate in 2006, where he represented a diverse range of neighborhoods across brownstone and central Brooklyn. During his tenure in the State Legislature, he chaired both the Veterans, Homeland Security, and Military Affairs Committee and the Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee. In 2013, Brooklynites elected Eric as the first person of color to serve as their borough president; he is currently serving his second term as Brooklyn’s chief executive.
In 2016, Eric was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Having lost vision in his left eye and suffering from nerve damage in his hands and feet, he went against the initial recommendations of his doctors and pursued a whole-food, plant-based diet. Within three months, Eric reversed his diabetes diagnosis, and he has subsequently been able to impact the health of countless New Yorkers facing chronic diseases, including his own mother.
Eric lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where he has resided for more than 20 years. He enjoys biking through his neighborhood, meditating, and exploring new cultures through travel. Eric is the proud father of Jordan, an aspiring filmmaker and graduate of American University.
- The garbage we use to fuel our children
- 70% of 12 year olds have early signs of heart disease
- The opportunity to get on top of what our children are eating to protect their futures
- Plant based diets can change your life in 2 months
- Bring the “spice” to your lunchroom and start the healing process for children
- Steps to bring healthy eating to your learning community by creating an entire educational experience
“Education should be more than just academics. There should be an opportunity to give children skills that will make them successful in life. There is no better skill in how to take care of yourself and be a healthy person. Your health will make the greatest impact on the quality of your life. And that is why we really focus on that.”
— Eric Adams
Eric Adams Resources & Contact Info:
- Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease:
- Get Involved
- NYC Food Policy Center
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