Music teacher Melissa Salguero teaching fifth graders a holiday song at P.S. 48 in Hunts Point. (STEVEN GRABOSKI / The Bronx Ink)
A two-minute video showing Hunts Point elementary students singing and rapping in and around Public School 48 won one of three $50,000 grand prizes in the national “Glee Give a Note” contest on December 15. The school competed with 396 other schools around the country.
“I cannot believe it,” said music teacher Melissa Salguero, who created the video in September in order to save the school’s chorus and instrumental music program from what looked like an inevitable budget cut. “It’s awesome. We went in with no expectations of how we were going to do.”
Salguero hoped to spend the prize money on repairing instruments and purchasing more resources. First on the agenda would be choral risers so that parents could see their children as they perform in the upcoming winter chorus.
“If we use the money towards the kids, the school will notice the quality of the program,” Salguero said. “If we do that, there’s a better chance of not being seen as a luxury but as a necessity.”
The Hunts Point School lost around $300,000 in the last round of mandatory Department of Education budget cuts, according to Principal Roxanne Cardona. The music program, which includes two music teachers supplied by the nonprofit Education Through Music, costs $97,000 a year. The principal worried that she would have to lose the music program when the school took another 3.3 percent cut this year.
The Glee Give a Note video competition gives the school a reason to hope otherwise. Sponsored by the creator and the company behind “Glee,” the competition offered prize money for videos showcasing musical talent in underfunded schools. Visitors of gleegiveanote.com voted on their favorites up until Nov. 8. Contest judges began choosing the victors soon after.
Creative Asylum, a marketing and design agency from Hollywood, California, came up with the idea for the contest. The agency combined the efforts of a nonprofit music association with Glee creator Ryan Murphy and 20th Century Fox, the company that owns the television show. Together, they offered $1 million to schools with underfunded music programs.
Though relatively new to the school, Salguero and Fox proved to be valuable assets to P.S. 48, located on Spofford Avenue between Faile and Coster Streets. The two teach reading music, chorus, band, and lessons for instruments such as the clarinet and the saxophone. “We have to fight to keep music here, not only to show the kids that it’s important,” Salguero said, “but so whoever learns about P.S. 48, they’ll see that music is important here.”
Some of the students said they understand how important music lessons have been. “I felt happy when we got to experience music in school,” said fourth grader Gianeé Martinez. “It was a little boring when we didn’t have something to hear or couldn’t play instruments.”
The winning video showed the fourth and fifth graders forming themselves into a “48” in their playground. They danced on the auditorium stage and performed a drum routine on its seats. At the end of the film, the camera showed one of the school’s music teachers holding a violin with a broken bridge. It then panned over a crate of old and worn out tambourines and maracas before it landed on a chipped piano and broken sound system.
In the middle of November, Bronx Borough Present Ruben Diaz Jr. sent a technician to fix the broken sound system. “I sent him the video and said he should vote for us,” Cardona said. “Hey, I have no shame,” she added with laugh.
Watch the video that earned P.S. 48 $50,000.
NOTE: This article was updated at around 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 15 after P.S. 48’s win became official. It now reflects the school’s victory.
Steven Graboski writes political and cultural stories from New York City. For future stories, you can follow him at @SJGraboskior subscribe to his Facebook page.
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito of Manhattan calls for attendees at a rally in her borough (STEVEN GRABOSKI / The Bronx Ink)
Many Americans believe that the Occupy Wall Street movement has fizzled out. Police officers emptied Zuccotti Park in the middle of November, putting an end to a rally lasting months. Some people think that the movement never really had a purpose aside from providing a forum for young adults to get together and voice their opinions.
But now some politicians may have found a purpose for the movement: putting new energy behind their efforts to raise the minimum wage at retail developments.
Evoking the spirit of the Occupy protests, City Council members pushed a year-and-a-half old bill with origins in the Bronx for a second hearing last month. The bill, called the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, is backed by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “This fight started because in the Bronx for the last eight to 10 years, we’ve seen billions and billions of dollars in private and public investment, and yet we are still number one in poverty in every county of the city of New York,” said Diaz Jr. at a Manhattan rally for the bill. “How do we reconcile?” Though the bill never reached a vote after a first hearing in 2010, supporters hope the current economic climate and the attention of the Occupy movement will increase public support.
The current minimum wage in the city is $7.25. If the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act passes, tenants at retail developments subsidized by the city government would be forced to pay a new minimum wage: either $10 with benefits or $11.50 without. These include businesses in the Gateway Center in Mott Haven and the new Yankee Stadium.
As the prime sponsor, Councilman G. Oliver Koppell of the Bronx drafted much of the act. He evoked the nationwide protests at a community board meeting in Williamsbridge on Nov. 17. He asked the audience of around 50 north Bronx residents to attend a rally in Manhattan to support the bill while suggesting that the fight for a new wage had something in common with the Occupy movement.
Other politicians made the same comparisons but went further with their rhetoric. On Nov. 21, the night before the second hearing, supporters gathered at a rally for the bill in Manhattan’s Riverside Church. “Obviously, we’ve been quite impressed with the Occupy movement, and the spirit of Occupy Wall Street is alive and well in this room tonight,” said Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito of Manhattan during her presentation. The crowd of thousands, including Occupy activists, Riverside churchgoers and other New Yorkers from throughout the city, shouted with applause.
“So having said that, I want to do a mic check,” Mark-Viverito added, signaling the human microphone technique used by many of the Occupy protesters in the past. As she spoke, the crowd chanted with her to spread the message together. “I demand dignity and respect,” they said. “I demand justice and equity. And tomorrow, I will occupy City Hall to demand the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act.”
The comparisons to the Occupy movement may play out in the favor of the bill’s supporters. Koppell’s counsel, Jamin Sewell, said the current political and economic climate could give the bill a better shot. He said the Occupy movement made people throughout the country aware of the income inequality issue. “That makes it an environment where people will look favorably on the bill,” Sewell said.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn has yet to bring the bill to a vote or to disclose her opinion on the bill. Opponents, like the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, argue that the bill removes the desire to work toward a higher wage and deters companies from opening stores in subsidized developments. “It scares businesses,” said Lenny Caro, chief executive officer of the chamber.
Occupy protesters supported the act as one they feel will help people struggling during the rough economic times. “These corporations get millions in subsidies,” said David Suker, a member of Occupy the Bronx and a teacher at the Bronx Regional High School. “Why can’t we subsidize New Yorkers with a living wage?”
Ephraim Cruz, a facilitator for Occupy the Bronx, also stood behind the bill because of the difficulties of raising a family in the current economy. “A minimum wage job, even two minimum wage jobs, full-time, doesn’t cut it,” Cruz said. “I’m not saying that’s what people strive for, but with the amount of jobs available right now, people are really struggling.”
Still, the Occupy activists also felt that politicians using the movement’s cause to further their agendas should be careful with their rhetoric. Cruz recognized that anyone can take up the Occupy mantle, since the movement has no real leaders or defined causes. He suggested that there was a difference between pursuing a political agenda and protesting corporate greed. “The people know to look for the Occupy label,” Cruz said with a laugh. “I think it’s offensive, but they have the right to deploy it,” he added. “I think they should have a bit more originality and integrity in their politics, but if something works, keep it up.”
Suker attended the rally at Riverside Church and heard the Occupy rhetoric. “It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “I’m glad to have supporters, but if their agenda isn’t aligned with ours—totally reshaping how this country works—it could be problematic. We’re happy to have them for now, but they better stick with the program.”
Steven Graboski writes political and cultural stories from New York City. For future stories, you can follow him at @SJGraboskior subscribe to his Facebook page.
A less confident artist would have considered it a horror scene. The room was packed with more than 100 people watching him. He looked ready to roll with his Mohawk and shades. But the night of Nov. 10 did not play out well for K’Coneil Barron, 27, as he performed covers of R&B hits from the last decade and one of his own tracks during a friend’s fashion show at a Lehman College. The disc jockey started on the wrong song after the performer already introduced himself. He felt uncomfortable interacting with the models that walked on stage in elaborate but revealing clothing because he hadn’t met with them before the show. He just could not find his groove that night.
Only a few people applauded after the show, but he was not discouraged. “You know, it’s work,” he said after the performance. “You do what you got to do.”
Barron, who prefers to be called by his stage name K’Coneil, still hopes to make it in the music world. He recently signed a deal with a recording studio in his neighborhood, Wackies in Williamsbridge, to help him pursue that dream. Wackies’ history inspires him. Started by Lloyd “Bullwackie” Barnes in the 70’s, the studio has produced music with strong Jamaican vibes. Like K’Coneil, Wackies is still dreaming of hitting it big. The label has sold thousands of records, but never reached its goal of a mainstream hit. K’Coneil and the Wackies crew hope they can break out together.
K'Coneil Barron waits in the sound booth at the Wackies studio on Nov. 20 while Steadly "Meddz" Reid perfects the vocals using music engineering software. (STEVEN GRABOSKI / The Bronx Ink)
One night late last month, K’Coneil performed multiple takes of an opening verse inside the studio while his engineer, Meddz, aka Steadly Reid, gave directions for each new recording. Meddz, 26, set up his software on two flat-screen computer monitors stacked on top of each other with synthesizers to his left and two large speakers set on his desk. K’Coneil stood in the sound booth, which was padded with form and lit dark-red like a womb. As the speakers in the recording suite blasted the instrumentals, K’Coneil crooned his tune “Cloud Nine” into the microphone: “This gonna be the weekend song / fresh wannabe with a V-neck on / Gucci shades and my Yankee on / DJ play my fucking song.”
Meddz split each take into different sections on his monitors after he made enough recordings. He selected the best parts of each vocal layer and combined them to create a perfected version of the verse. “Surgery, man, surgery,” Meddz said in an accent with a slight Caribbean lilt while playing the tune back, getting some laughter from K’Coneil.
Both musicians had much in common, besides their business partnership. They wore the shades and Mohawk combo, wrote pop music and hoped to gain large-scale success. A resident of Mt. Vernon, N.Y., who grew up on Boston Road in the Bronx, Meddz has produced and engineered tracks for different projects at Wackies. As a perk, he has access to the studio to work on his own material outside of the Wackies label.
In April, he finished “Pick Up the Phone,” a song about a man trying to get his girlfriend to speak to him: “Don’t text me back, pick up your phone / leaving voice mails ‘cause I can’t leave you alone, no.” The message is that people rely too much on new technology to communicate. “Everybody’s tweeting and texting,” Meddz said. “The song is straight to the point: pick up the phone.” Under the management of GaurdFather Productions, “Pick Up the Phone” reached SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s 20 on 20 station, but has yet to break out into mainstream radio.
The pop style of their recordings differed from much of the work done in Wackies during the 70’s and 80’s. A week before K’Coneil’s vocal session, Milton Henry, 61, played his guitar in the studio’s lounge. His fedora cast a pitch-black shadow over his face, save for the white fuzz reaching below his chin. He reminisced about his earlier days. “I have two albums released on Wackies, plus quite a few singles,” Henry said.
Though he worked on some recordings in Jamaica, Henry created his first solo album with Wackies: “Who Do You Think I Am.” “It’s one of Wackies’s best albums,” Henry said. The style of reggae in the title track differed from the Meddz’s and K’Coneil’s, with horns and organ playing over a repeated melody created by piano chords and bass strumming. Henry sang about leaving oppression behind and trusting in the figure of a spiritual chosen one: “Who do you think I am? / I am only, only a living man / and a man, a man got to take a stand / and praise, and praise the living jam.”
Henry also oversaw the sales side of the studio’s business. The company, run by Barnes, always hoped for a breakout, but large-scale success never came. Typically, their records would sell 500 to 1,000 copies. “Sometimes, you don’t know if a record’s going to go off,” Henry said.
Still, there would be times when they would make more copies. Some of their bigger reggae artists, like Sugar Minott and Horace Andy, could get 5,000 to 10,000 records out into the public. “We were still a small label,” Henry said. “An independent selling 10,000 records was a lot back in those days. For big record companies, that’s not even a drop in the bucket.”
After recording and editing vocals, Meddz, left, and K'Coneil, right, chill with producer Antonio "Banga" Paul, center, and Wackies musician Greg "Jahlaw" McClean, rear. (STEVEN GRABOSKI / The Bronx Ink)
While Henry spoke about his past, K’Coneil and Meddz stepped out of the studio after talking about their latest track. They shook Henry’s hand before leaving the apartment. “He’s gonna make a lot of changes. He’s got the new sound,” Henry said, referring to Meddz’s pop-style. “In other words, Wackies is going to have the old sound as well as the new sound.”
K’Coneil wants to take part in that new style: reggae with modern pop vibes like the music played on mainstream pop stations. Though he has an accounting director position at an insurance firm and a bachelor’s degree in business management from Nyack College, he hopes to make a career as an artist. He may enroll in graduate school in the future, but his focus is now on a more creative pursuit. “My plan’s to get the music going,” he said. “But getting a master’s in finance is something I would love to pursue at some point.”
While looking for a way to break out near the end of this summer, K’Coneil listened to Meddz’s debut single. “I realized I needed to reach out to him as soon as possible,” K’Coneil said.
K’Coneil felt that the style of the song might work for him. The singer currently has a deal with Wackies, with Meddz as an engineer and producer. According to K’Coneil, clients can expect to pay around $50 per hour at the studio, but he pays much less due to the friendly chemistry between him and Meddz. K’Coneil hoped to create a seven-song extended play with vocals he wrote and beats the Wackies crew composed. He planned to shop the songs to different labels by next April.
Just before midnight on Nov. 20, Meddz and K’Coneil had finished the vocal track for the song. Meddz let the song play after he left the studio for a quick break. K’Coneil sat in a computer chair, listening to his voice accompanied by the bongo drums and the synthesized melodies of the track. He scratched his goatee, pumped his fist in the air to the bass kicks, and harmonized his own vocals. On that night, K’Coneil found his groove.
Dyan Kerr deals with a wall of mold in her Williamsbridge apartment. (STEVEN GRABOSKI/The Bronx Ink)
With a single tap of the finger, mailboxes open at 1585 East 172nd Street in Soundview. It’s a trick anyone can pull off.
“Social Security and Section 8 checks have gone missing,” said Andres Rios, the leader of the building’s tenant’s association.
Broken mailboxes are just one problem facing Rios’ building, one of six notoriously distressed buildings in Highbridge, Morris Heights and Soundview. The buildings have been in disrepair since 2006, bouncing from owner to owner, each either without a plan to fix them or the money to carry the plans out.
The buildings were sold again in September, this time to Bronx real estate agent Anthony Gazivoda, for $21.4 million. Gazivoda paid almost $7 million more than the previous owner, a surprisingly high purchase price that has tenants and housing advocates afraid that the new owner will find himself just as cash-strapped as the previous ones.
“There is no financial story that justifies that sale,” said Dina Levy, executive director of the Urban Housing Assistance Board, the advocacy group that has been following the plight of the buildings. “You can twist it but you still can’t justify it. There’s no amount of rationalization that gets you to $21 million. That’s troubling.”
Anthony Gazivoda did not respond to numerous interview requests.
From the outside, Gazivoda appears to have very few options for turning a profit on the buildings, which house low-income families who cannot afford to pay high rents. Gazivoda is also limited by city regulations, which prevent him from raising many of his tenants’ rents above a small percentage every year.
With no clear profit prospects, tenants and housing advocates are worried that Gazivoda will not have the financial means to make the repairs that are desperately needed. Even worse, they fear that he will stop maintaining the buildings altogether, just like the previous owners.
“I cannot believe we’re here again,” said Levy. “Except this time it’s more money, more money than has ever been put on these buildings.”
The buildings, which sold for $13.5 million in 2010 to previous owner BXP 1 LLC, had 379 violations of the city’s housing code on Dec. 6. The violations range from broken windows and leaky ceilings to padlocked fire exits, entrances that do not lock, and exposed electrical wiring. Four of the buildings have lead-based paint violations.
History of Neglect Anthony Gazivoda is the fourth landlord in the past five years for the six Bronx buildings. The previous three have not been able to improve the dilapidated conditions in the buildings.
The problems are nothing new in the buildings, which have been poorly maintained since the now-defunct Ocelot group purchased them in 2006. After a bitter power struggle left Ocelot without the money to carry out repairs, the group became an absentee landlord, neglecting maintenance until things were so bad that the city took the group to court and ordered them to repair nearly 3,000 violations and pay a $60,000 fine. They were then sold in 2009 to Queens realtor Sam Suzuki of BXP 1 LLC.
Suzuki ended up being no better than Ocelot; under his ownership the buildings racked up over 2,500 housing code violations and two of the Morris Heights buildings made the city’s most distressed list. Angered, the tenants of the Soundview buildings took Suzuki to court where a judge ordered that he make emergency repairs and sentenced him to jail when he failed to do so.
The Manhattan-based Bluestone Group took control of the buildings in June of 2010, promising to make repairs and take a long-term interest in the buildings. Yet Bluestone orchestrated BXP 1’s sale of the buildings to Gazivoda a little over a year later, and angry tenants accused the company of doing just enough to sell the buildings for a profit.
Tenants were initially weary when Gazivoda took over and reported that, like Bluestone before him, Gazivoda asked for a month to begin carrying out repairs. But since then, tenants in the Highbridge and Morris Heights buildings say that security has improved.
“Most of these owners, when they first come here they promise one thing, but then it changes,” tenant Wilfreda Gonzalez said back in September. Gonzalez had high hopes when Gazivoda purchased her building at 1640 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. “This owner, at least I can say that he put in the cameras and intercoms.”
But more than a month later, the 11-year resident felt differently about ownership. A leak from the apartment above damaged her bathroom walls last summer, and the tiles have yet to be replaced.
“They’re giving me the runaround,” said Gonzalez, who has called the landlord repeatedly. “He bought the apartment and he has to fix it.”
Gazivoda is both an important and mysterious figure in the Bronx real estate market. The 51-year-old Albanian realtor, who sits on the business development board at Hudson Valley Bank, has been in the real estate business since 1978. Since then, city records show that over 40 real estate companies tied to the Gazivoda family have come share the same 3200 Cruger Ave. address. Altogether, Gazivoda and his family own almost 40 buildings in the Bronx.
Bronx Albanians move into real estate
Albanians first migrated to America in 1876, according to Constantine Demo, author of The Albanians in America. But they began to move to New York City in big numbers in the 1960s, settling in the Bronx around Morris Park, Arthur Avenue and Pelham Parkway, said Ismer Mjeku, the publisher of the Albanian Yellow Pages, an annual guide for Albanian personal and commercial contacts all across the country. As Albanian immigrants were settling in these Italian enclaves of the Bronx, they concentrated in the food and restaurant industry, which until then had been mainly run by Italian families. Gradually Albanians took over the business and, in the 1980s, displaced many Italian owners from those restaurants.In their pursuit of business diversification, Albanians got into real estate and started amassing properties. According to Mjeku, today the Albanian community owns almost a third of all the apartment buildings in the Bronx, although he said there is no official data to support his claim.The 2011 edition of the Albanian Yellow Pages shows at least 26 Albanian-owned real estate companies operating in the Bronx and Mt. Vernon.
Despite owning so much land, very little is known about Gazivoda himself, and the lack of information is worrying to housing advocates. “Who these people are is not clear to us,” said Levy, who has worked at the Urban Housing Assistance Board for seven years. Levy added that Gazivoda “has a very insular network.”
Gazivoda has a mixed record as a landlord. Some of his buildings have no violations, others have as many as 98. And though none of the buildings are as bad as his latest purchases, tenants in his more troubled buildings paint a negative picture of the landlord.
Dyan Kerr lives in one of Gazivoda’s older properties with her family at 678 East 225th St. in Williamsbridge, where violations decreased from 58 to 26 from October to December. Despite the drop in violations, Kerr said she has been dealing with mice and mold for over a year.
“I’m tired of this place,” said Kerr, who has inch-long mold dots clearly visible in her bathroom. Kerr said that management has cleaned the mold in the past, but it kept growing back. In addition, Kerr revealed brown filth in her kitchen cabinet that she said were mice droppings.
“This is how we’re living now because people don’t want to fix nothing,” Kerr said.
Bathroom mold is also a problem a few miles away in Belmont, where Shantelle Guzman lives in another of Gazivoda’s older properties.
“They paint over the mold and the super doesn’t fix anything, he doesn’t live here,” said Guzman, who lives at 611 East 182nd St.
Guzman’s apartment also has holes in the walls, where she said mice enter her one-bedroom apartment. She is also upset about shoddy heating that forces her and other residents to use their ovens for heat and an irregular flow of hot water in the building and would like to leave.
Back in Soundview, moving has never been an option for Rios, who has led his tenant’s association through five different landlords in 14 years. If necessary, Rios is gearing up for the next battle.
“I like to bark and bite,” said Rios, who showed Gazivoda the faulty mailboxes in front of a group of tenants at a meeting on Nov. 9. Before exiting, Gazivoda assured his tenants that the mailbox problem, as well as the dysfunctional fire alarms, would be addressed.
“He said it would be taken care of but that it’s not going to be done quick,” he added, discouraged. “I guess to them it wasn’t a priority.”
A 15-year-old student in a Longwood high school allegedly pepper sprayed 13 students and her principal, according to a report by the New York Daily News.
Police said they charged the girl with reckless endangerment after she attacked those inside Banana Kelley High School. They did not reveal her name. Students and faculty evacuated the school an hour after the 12:45 episode, according to Education Department officials.
Principal Antonio Arocho and four students were treated at the school. According to the Fire Department of New York, nine were sent to Lincoln Hospital for minor injuries.
The jury effectively delayed the judgment of Councilman Larry B. Seabrook through their indecision. On Friday, Seabrook told the press that he felt optimistic after the initial impasse. His trial continues in the Federal District Court in Manhattan.
Books in the Hood provided readers in the South Bronx with a wide selection of works, from poetry to picture books. They will have to go to another area of the city for their textual needs–Books in the Hood was the only bookstore in the South Bronx and the only independent one in the borough.
LaVerne Harris started her business in February of 2007. “The kids loved it,” said Harris. “The kids were like, ‘You have a bookstore?’ Here I was in a poor neighborhood, a female African American, with a bookstore. I thought that was important.” She recently completed a teaching career at P.S. 130 on Prospect Avenue, and retired from the store in June 2010. Unfortunately, the business did not bring in enough money to pay the $2,500 monthly rent. She tried using her retirement funds to keep the store afloat, but eventually decided it was time to close up shop.
An unknown man standing on the sidewalk of White Plains Road fired a gun at a Soundview nightclub, according to a report by the New York Daily News. The shot left a bouncer inside with a fatal gunshot wound.
The victim, currently unknown, succumbed to his injury after arriving at the Jacobi Medical Center, cops said. The 26 year-old bouncer is survived by two children, according to his friends at the bar.
Those who saw the victim as he laid dying attempted to help him, but to no avail. “He fell back onto the floor,” one patron said. “We jumped on him, put pressure on his neck. Two girls that worked there were pumping his chest, doing CPR. But we could hear him gurgling.”