Born and raised in Brooklyn, Cheryl Westbrook never imagined herself leaving, yet today she serves on Community Board 5 and is hoping to bring change to the Bronx.
Westbrook, 64, divorced, retired and an empty nester saw the rising rents in Brooklyn 10 years ago and relocated to Morris Heights.
Her whole life had always revolved around Brooklyn, but it was time for a new chapter.
“I just took it (moving) as an adventure and what an adventure I got into,” she said.
What bothered her was the crime, specifically the drugs and prostitution that were done out in the open.
It dawned on Westbrook one day that maybe she was brought there for a reason. She felt many in the west Bronx lacked hope.
“I remember saying to my neighbors you don’t have to live with rats,” she said.
Westbrook, who battled and beat lung cancer in 2013, gained the values to help people, not to be naïve, compassionate and care about where one lives from her parents John and Carrie.
She recalled how she went to community board meetings in Brooklyn, but never felt the need to join. It wasn’t until she came to the Boogie Down that everything changed.
The disparities in the borough cried out to her for help, she explained. So, in 2013 she joined Community Board 5.
“I want to help improve the quality of life,” she said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to do that.”
With so many people struggling before COVID-19, Westbrook feels the west Bronx needs more affordable housing, shelters, job opportunities and safer and cleaner streets.
She noted that too often she sees trash in the streets and finds it utterly disgusting that people would treat where they live like that.
According to Westbrook, the city and elected officials can put in cameras for security and other measures, but really it comes down to the people.
“What does it mean to be a concerned citizen?” she said. “What does it mean to be a concerned neighbor? If it doesn’t affect them personally they don’t want to be bothered. It’s not like that in Brooklyn.”
Today, Westbrook is the co-chair of the land use committee and sits on the housing, Jerome Ave. oversight, veterans, social services and youth committees. Last year she was chair of the youth committee and worked with BRAG to help reduce the violence in the neighborhood.
Westbrook stressed the need for not only the community board, but residents to work with the police, not against them. She also praised Councilman Fernando Cabrera for having cameras put in on Burnside, Jerome and Fordham.
With two adult daughters, Carrie and Taylor, and Westbrook is focused on family and improving lives for those in the Bronx. The pandemic has impacted many people, but she is confident Bronxites will pull through it.
“My heart is in Brooklyn, but my passion is in the Bronx,” she said. “I just want to get things done. They see me as a fighter.”