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DIGITAL BRONX: For many Bronx teens, the world is on their phone

By Shlomo Sprung

Terrel Bailey walked out of a red painted apartment building on E. 163rd St. in Morissania and asked if anyone had a cell phone he could borrow. The 16-year-old student at Harry S. Truman high school was tired of the Samsung Seek phone and decided he wanted a BlackBerry. He planned to pick it up in two days.

“The Seek had Web, email, IM, AIM, and unlimited everything,” he said. “I had the phone for two months and got bored of it.”

Bailey’s friend Malcom Hemmingway, 15, sold the Seek on his eBay account and is getting a new BlackBerry himself to keep up with his friends online. Hemmingway, also a student at Truman, sells candy on the streets to make some extra money and helps his brother to market and publicize a photography company. What seems like an overly active, entrepreneurial lifestyle for a young high school student is made possible by web-enabled phones like the BlackBerry.

Bailey and Hemmingway are just a small part of a growing reality, specifically among black and Hispanic youth, teens who use their cell phones for accessing the Web. A 2010 Pew Research report found that 44 percent of African American and 35 percent of Hispanic teens use their cell phones to go online, compared to 21 percent of white teens.

In addition, the BlackBerry has become an increasingly prevalent part of teenage life, including minorities. In a random sampling of 10 African American and Hispanic students interviewed at Bronx Regional High School, eight of them had smart phones with Internet access and five of them had BlackBerry devices.

Stephany Colon, 18, said her BlackBerry is her best friend. She even has a name for it, Amiyah. Colon, like every one of the students with smart phones, said she mainly uses her phone to connect with friends on Facebook even though she sees many of her friends during the day in school.

Danny Peralta, director of arts and education for The Point, a youth activities and culture center in Hunts Point, said that while he used to see cell phone usage “in waves,” for a couple of months at a time, “now all of them have something.” About 18 months ago, Peralta said he began posting invitations to activities, trips and events for The Point on Facebook and now “they’re all responding through their smart phones.”

Watch this video of how another group, Rocking The Boat, operates similarly.

“The majority of kids these days [at The Point] have smart phones today,” Peralta said and now the kids can just go on Facebook and see everything going on rather than having to log onto computers at home or in school. “It became a tool they can access,” he added.

Some worry that the availability of Facebook is being wielded as a weapon. Read the BronxInk’s story on cyberbullying.

Hemmingway and Bailey both said they send text messages far more often than they make actual phone calls. Their habits are typical. The Pew study found that two-thirds of teens who text said they were likely to use their cell phone to text their friends instead of calling them. Of teens aged 12-17, 54 percent of those surveyed sent text messages, compared with 38 percent that make phone calls.

Eight of the 10 Bronx Regional students interviewed said they use their phone for texting a lot more than calling. One student, 18-year-old John Cain, said he sends and receives at least 300 text messages each day. More than half the students said they send and receive at least 100 text messages per day.

Those numbers explain why Hemmingway said he plans to get a Virgin Mobile plan for his BlackBerry with fewer minutes for actual calls and unlimited text messaging because he never used all the minutes on his previous plan.

Though Hemmingway has Internet access at home via a laptop computer, 30 percent of low income teens, whose families earn less than $30,000 a year, do not have a computer at home, compared with eight percent who do in households that earn more, according to the Pew report. Even some who do have computers at home have slow dial-up service and prefer to use their phones to get online. Some Bronx Regional students who have desktops instead of laptops, like 17-year-old Isatow Sillah, said they used their phone because of the portability the smart phones afford them.

But there are still a quarter of American teens, according to the Pew report, who do not have cell phones at all. What do they do to communicate and keep in touch in the modern world?

Aaron Ortega, a 16-year-old Kennedy high school student, said his family can’t afford to get him a cell phone; he uses the old fashioned land line to talk to his friends. Ortega said he does not feel the social pressure to get a phone but still has an active social life despite his inability to be contacted away from home.

“My friends know I don’t have a phone and they deal with it,” he said. “So it’s really not so bad for me.”

Click here for more stories on the Digital Bronx.

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Yankees Opening Day Live Blog

Yankees Opening Day Live Blog

Fans look on during the playing of the national anthem before the Detroit Tigers play the New York Yankees in an opening day baseball game. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Bloggers: Shlomo Sprung, Alex Eriksen and Camilo Smith

4:16 p.m. EDT And the Yankees win

3:46 p.m. EDT Groups of people are going to the heated bathrooms between innings to stay warm.

3:36 p.m. EDT The rain has turned frozen as the Yankees take the lead. Only the brave — and the crazy — remain

3:20 p.m EDT End of the 6th inning. That can only mean the grounds crew rendition of the YMCA

2:41 p.m EDT It is worth repeating that beer is $11 a cup,  if only to quote a man speaking to his wife: “Sorry honey, but we’re not going out to dinner this weekend.”

2:19 p.m. EDT A catcher got the first hit and stolen base for the Yankees. When was the last time that happened?

2:12 p.m. EDT Homerun… The crowd goes wild!

2:10 p.m. EDT Every time Jeter is up, they play that song from STar Wars, the one that plays every time Darth Vader’s around. Pyschological warfare?

2:00 p.m. EDT A light mist is coming down on the field and the crowd..

1:53 p.m. EDT Curtis Granderson‘s batting song is “Friday”  by Rebecca Black

1:50 p.m. EDT A souvenir popcorn bucket is 10 bucks.

1:40 p.m. EDT J

Brothers Ruben Rivera (left) and Jimmy Rivera and friend Victor Ojeda drove from Connecticut. (Camilo Smith)

“Its just common sense,” said Ruben who spent about $5 on a couple hotdogs and a softdrink from a hotdog cart just across the street from the stadium.
“Its expensive,” says Ojeda, the lifelong Yankees fan of the bunch who comes to 20 games a year, communting from Stamford.
This was the first Opening Day outing for the Rivera brothers. Despite the concession prices being out of their price range, they came to enjoy the ball game as the temperature started to dip in the afternoon. “It’s worth it,” said Jimmy.
There was one concession item Ruben jokingly said couldn’t have a price too high for him to pay: alcohol.
“I’ll pay $10 for a beer,” he said with a grin.

1:09 pm. EDT Yankees taking the field. Parking is $35, Beer is $11.

CC Sabathia pitches and the bleachers are already in full throat.

1:05 p.m. EDT Mike Mussina throwing out the first pitch, and we’re just about ready to go.

Crowds enter the stadium (Camilo Smith)

12:47 p.m. EDT – Mostly cloudy and cool as fans file in en masse reports Shlomo Sprung

11:35 a. m. EDT- Lineups for each team. For the Yankees: Brett Gardner leads off in left field followed by Derek Jeter at shortstop, Mark Teixeira at first base, Alex Rodriguez at third base, Robinson Cano at second base, Nick Swisher in right field, the designated hitter Jorge Posada, Curtis Granderson in center field and Russell Martin catching. For the Tigers: Austin Jackson leads off in center field followed by Will Rhymes at second base, Magglio Ordonez in right field, Miguel Cabrera at first base, the designated hitter Victor Martinez, Ryan Raburn in left field, Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, Brandon Inge at third base and Al Avila catching. The starting pitchers will be C.C. Sabathia for the Yankees and Justin Verlander for Detroit.
11:10 a. m. EDT- The rain has all but stopped at Yankee Stadium for now, but precipitation is expected throughout the day, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney.
10:32 a. m. EDT- Forecasters predict that there will be steady light rain throughout the game with the game time temperature hovering around 40 degrees so bring an umbrella and wear lots of layers if you’re going to the game. If you’re driving to the game, we certainly won’t be doing that at The Bronx Ink, and want to park in one of the city-owned lots near the stadium, you’ll be in for a rude surprise. Parking prices are up from $23 to $35 which will certainly cause an uproar among the spectators coming in from New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island.

One pleasant surprise will be the inclusion of outfielder Curtis Granderson in the starting lineup after quickly recovering from a mild oblique strain. He felt good Wednesday in Tampa and will be in the order today. Center
Fielder Brett Gardner is expected to lead off for the team with Derek Jeter batting second. With uncertainty in the starting rotation, 21-game winner C.C. Sabathia is even more important to the team’s success and will take the hill today against Detroit ace Justin Verlander.


Picture 1 of 12

Alex Eriksen, Bronx Ink

Posted in Former Featured, Multimedia, Slideshows, Sports0 Comments

It’s Opening Day!

Check out our Twitter feed live from Yankee Stadium for updates all day as the Yankees open the 2011 season against the Detroit Tigers at 1:05 p. m. The weather may not be optimal for baseball but the atmosphere should be great as C.C. Sabathia throws out the first pitch.

Posted in Newswire, Sports0 Comments

An interview with hoops impresario Randy Cruz

Hoops enthusiasts know that they can catch the best summer basketball action in the Bronx at Orchard Beach. Since it first started in 2000, the Hoops in the Sun (HITS) summer league has grown to 10 men’s teams and 26 youth teams and has become one of the premier summer leagues in the city. Randy Cruz, the man behind the league who hosts a weekly online radio show discussing the local and national hoops scene, discussed his hopes and vision for the future this week with Bronx Ink’s Shlomo Sprung.

Could you tell us about the Hoops In the Sun summer league and your specific involvement?
The Hoops in the Sun summer league was created by my father, my brother and I back in June of 2000. My father was a regional salesman for the Jennifer Convertibles and he had a trip to Venice Beach, California in the summer of 1999. He loved the atmosphere of people playing basketball on the beach right next to the water. Since Orchard Beach in the Bronx was his favorite summer venue, he came back to New York and told us his idea of starting a basketball league the following summer.

Thousands of people head to Orchard Beach each summer to watch Cruz's basketball league. (Photo courtesy of Randy Cruz)

What does HITS mean to Orchard Beach and the Bronx community at large?
It means plenty to the Orchard Beach and the Bronx community. It’s always been known as the summer hotspot of the Bronx and annually draws over 100,000 people throughout the season. But now it has also become one of the greatest summer basketball venues since we’re the only summer-long league to operate on a beach venue. The people and fans of the Bronx and Orchard Beach continually show us love and support even on those really hot days. They dedicate their time for HITS during the summer when they can be vacationing somewhere else but they choose HITS for the simple fact that they know they’re in a safe, family oriented basketball environment and one day they can see their favorite NBA or street-ball player playing live and for free.

What does the Bronx mean to you and how does running HITS every year make you feel?
The Bronx is like our second home. Sometimes we go to the beach even when it’s not summer time. People think we’re from the Bronx but we’re actually from Manhattan! Running HITS every year is great. My brother and I are always adding something new, improving the league, improving the beautification of the venue, implementing things that aren’t anywhere else. We’re very big on being different and unique in the things we do. We look at every year and find out how we can be better than the previous summer. Whether it‘s sponsors or teams or how the court looks or adding something digital and always including the fans. It’s the grind that we look forward to. Every year is a challenge.

Have there been HITS alumni that have gone on to successful college and pro careers?
We’ve had former NBA players like Smush Parker, Kenny Satterfield, Ron Artest, Marcus Williams, Andre Barrett, Joakim Noah and Tracy McGrady. Current college stars include BYU’s Jimmer Fredette and UConn’s Kemba Walker along with a lot of other current high-level college players.

The HITS season is only played during the summer so you wanted to keep your brand visible in the offseason. Tell us about HITS Radio and how that accomplishes your brand extension?
The HITS Radio initiative came about last year around February. A couple of our friends were doing this thing called BlogTalk Radio and my brother and I thought it’d be a cool idea to keep fans and players engaged during the off-season by doing this online radio show since we felt we knew enough people that could come on as guests and guest hosts. It helps our brand extension because it gives fans an opportunity to talk to their favorite NBA and streetball players on the air and discuss topics that they wouldn’t normally discuss. It also helps because it shows HITS is keeping up with the times in a social network dominated world where everything is Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Most importantly, it extends the brand and our outreach to not only to people in NY or the U.S. but also to people across the world. Whether people have attended our league, seen our videos on YouTube or have heard us on HITS Radio, HITS is being more notarized outside the United States and in the world of basketball and business If people know your product or know of your product in more than one country, then you’re obviously doing something right.

I know you have a large Twitter presence, but what other methods are you using to promote the HITS brand?
Well the main one is our website, which is currently down due to renovation to update it. has been our engine since 2002. Facebook, Twitter, HITS Radio, Vimeo, Tumblr, word of mouth of course and promoting through magazine and newspaper outlets.

What’s next for you and your company and can you give us your best pitch on why we should all head to Orchard Beach to watch basketball in just a few short months?
We’re looking at different things as it comes to expansion—a women’s league, expanding the Men’s league, continue marketing ourselves within the country and out the country and looking to have HITS become more of a household brand than just a summer basketball league in NY. People should head to Orchard Beach and HITS this summer because we’re celebrating our 12th season at the “Bronx Riviera” and it’s the best competitive summer basketball you’ll see and like the US Tennis Open, it’s one of the city’s majors.  Ever see Roger Federer skip or not want to play in Wimbledon? Streetballers yearn to play for a championship in the city’s Wimbledon- Hoops in the Sun.

Posted in Bronx Life, Sports, The Bronx Beat1 Comment

Robberies reported in Morrisania

By Shlomo Sprung

Two months ago, 41-year-old Morrisania resident Rosanna Ortega walked down Prospect Ave. to the Pay-O-Matic financial services store to cash a check. Almost immediately after she walked outside into the Bronx night, she said, two men walked beside her and one came behind her and asked her for some change.  The muggers likely thought she was reaching for change.

“I went into my pocket and pulled out my box cutter and my pepper spray,” Ortega said. “At night around here, you can’t come outside without people wanting to take your money.”
Ortega is not exaggerating. In the 42nd NYPD Precinct, 10 robberies occurred in just a one-week period between Jan. 10 and Jan. 17, according to police CompStat figures. While some local residents and store owners say they now feel safer than they did even a few years ago, others like Ortega are fearful to walk the streets without some sort of protection.

Rosanna Ortega, 41, wants police to make Morrisania streets safer.

Some Morrisania residents are too afraid to even shop for basic needs. Ortega said her 69-year-old father, for example, is too scared to shop at local stores anymore, fearing what he believes, according to Ortega, as aggressive and sometimes violent youngsters who appear to be under the influence of drugs.

“Crack-heads and drug fiends like to harass old people and ask for their money,” Ortega said.

The robberies in Morrisania don’t seem to be confined to the streets, stores and delis, however. Ortega was with her 13-year-old niece Tamyra Chappel when she had her iPod stolen just two weeks ago while waiting on the elevated subway platform for the No. 2 train on Prospect and Westchester Avenues in the middle of the day.

Chappel said she was caught by surprise. “You know, how you’re listening to loud music and you’re in your own little world,” she said. Suddenly these two girls came up to her, she said, and asked for her iPod. One of the girls had a hand in her jacket pocket like she was armed. “Then they just snatched it and ran,” Chappel said.

“There definitely has to be more police around here,” her aunt added. “I want this neighborhood to be better than it is now.”

Shop keepers are on guard too. One store manager, 38-year-old Mohammed Ali of Super 3 King Deli on 3rd Ave. and 162nd St, has not had any robberies at his 24-hour store, but he is worried one will happen because of the lack of police presence on his block.

“We need police around outside all the time to watch out for people,” Ali said. “I don’t think there are enough police in this precinct.”

Calls to the 42nd precinct for comment and requests via email and phone to police headquarters for more information about the investigation went unanswered at press time.

Not everyone in the neighborhood is worried, however. Sacher Lalharbi, 23, manages the 3rd Gourmet Deli on 3rd Avenue and 163rd Street, which closes every night at 11. As a result, he is not concerned about robberies at his own store, but the deli-owner did acknowledge. that groups of people walking the streets of Morrisania late at night stirred fears among residents.

“The crowd that comes in late at night makes the difference,” he said. “You always get a feeling that people in packs act more aggressive late at night. You could tell by their demeanor.”

Yet, Lalharbi said he believes the police presence is a lot greater than it used to be and he feels safe in the neighborhood. Another plus for Lalharbi: his deli is only a few blocks away from the 42nd police precinct. The 42nd Precinct is on a three-sided corner that connects 3rd and Washington Avenues at 159th Sreet.

But many businesses in the neighborhood, like the Dunkin’ Donuts down the block from Lalharbi’s deli, are not taking any chances. Two years ago, the Dunkin’ Donuts was robbed, according to Manager Tahmina Aktar. Since, the actual storefront closes at 10 each night and opts to sell donuts and coffees after that from a late night window facing 163rd Street. The window looks like a booth where movie tickets are sold. Orders are only taken from that window after 10 p. m. to prevent robberies from occurring again. So far it has worked.

Despite the latest string of robberies in early January, things may actually be improving on the streets of Morrisania. A week later, from Jan 17 to the 23rd, only two robberies took place and there was even one less robbery so far in 2011 than there was at this time last year.

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