Tag Archive | "Parkchester"

Bronx Seniors Target Dangerous Intersections

Bronx Seniors Target Dangerous Intersections

AARP New York State Director Lois Aronstein attends the Complete Streets Week event in Parkchester.

AARP New York State Director Lois Aronstein attends the Complete Streets Week event in Parkchester. (AARP)

The corner of Wood Avenue and White Plains Road in the Parkchester section of the Bronx had more than its fair share of stop signs Friday morning. And for a good cause.

The intersection, which has a stop light, is one of the 50 most dangerous in New York City, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT). This prompted a group of about 40 seniors – wearing stop-sign red shirts – to set up camp at the intersection’s four corners to conduct a safety survey. They tracked everything from the timing of stoplights to the upkeep of the area’s asphalt.

The AARP’s grassroots “Create the Good” movement is coordinating the monitoring campaign. Its pedestrian safety surveys received the backing of several local Bronx politicians, including James Vacca, the New York City Council member for District 13.

“It is no longer an exception for people to live into their 80s,” said Vacca, the current chair of the council’s Transportation Committee. “It is the rule. And these folks still want to go out and do things like go out to the supermarket. We’ve got to make sure the streets are safe for them.”

By many standards, the streets are not safe. New York state has more pedestrian fatalities per year than all but two other states. The high incidence can be attributed to heavy traffic in New York City.

In 2008 alone, the area defined by the DOT as “downstate New York” – New York City, Long Island and Westchester, Rockland and Dutchess counties – suffered 232 pedestrian fatalities. Several incidents have highlighted particularly dangerous intersections, such as Broadway and 230th Street in the Bronx.

The intersection, which saw 19 crashes from 1995 to 2005, according to crashstat.org, claimed one more victim on March 22. Four year-old Josh Delarosa was blind-sided when heading to nursery school during Monday rush hour. He was rushed into critical care at the Columbia Presbyterian Children’s Hospital, whose spokesman confirmed to the Bronx Ink that he has since left. Calls to his daycare center – Growing Happy on 238th Street and Broadway – and his family went unanswered.

But Delarosa’s story is in keeping with that of the tri-state area. After a slight decline in overall pedestrian deaths from 2006 to 2008 in Connecticut, New Jersey and “downstate New York – from 443 to 407 – the earliest data from 2009 showed an uptick, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

The fear of a pedestrian death is acutely felt among seniors. Two in five Americans over the age of 50 say their neighborhood sidewalks aren’t safe, a recent AARP study found.

“The light changes before you even get across the street,” 78-year-old Harriet Miller, who uses a walker, said about the corner of Wood and Metropolitan, also located in Parkchester. “What are you supposed to do with that?”

AARP organized the Friday event as part of National Volunteer Week. The initiative is called “Complete Streets Week: Making New York Walkable for All Generations.”

Hundreds of intersections are going to be surveyed by the end of the week. On Friday, the AARP team was conducting similar public events at notorious intersections in Harlem and Rockland County.

Jessica Lappin, the New York City Council Member for the Fifth District in Manhattan, made the trek up to Wood Avenue and White Plains Road to express her solidarity with the “Complete Streets Week” event. Her motivation – the death of an 82-year-old woman a week and a half ago at an intersection in her district, which includes the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island.

“An unsafe corner for seniors is an unsafe corner for me,” Lappin said.

Posted in Bronx NeighborhoodsComments (0)

Major Heroin Bust in Bronx Called a Sign of a Growing Problem

Authorities displayed heroin they said was seized during a raid on an apartment in the Bronx. Photo: Courtesy of NYPD

Authorities displayed heroin they said was seized during a raid on an apartment in the Bronx. Photo: Courtesy of NYPD

On Thursday, four men were arrested and approximately $1 million worth of heroin was seized after an investigation by the New York Police Department’s Bronx Narcotics Major Case Squad and the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office culminated with a raid on an apartment in Parkchester. People with knowledge of the case said the bust was indicative of an increasing number of wholesale heroin operations in the Bronx.

Authorities said Apartment 1L in the building at 2112 Starling Ave. was used as a heroin mill, where the drug was packaged and processed before being distributed to a variety of dealers. Heroin packaged at the apartment was placed in glassine envelopes, which according to a press release issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration, were stamped with the brand names “Almighty,” “Heat Wave,” “Maserati” and “Body Bag.”

The exterior of 2112 Starling Avenue, where police said they seized approximately $1 million worth of heroin. Photo: Courtesy of NYPD

The exterior of 2112 Starling Avenue, where police said they seized approximately $1 million worth of heroin. Photo: Courtesy of NYPD

Arrested in conjunction with the raid were four men, including 28-year-old Luis Lara, who was described by the DEA as, “a manager of the drug trafficking organization.” Lara was observed, according to the press release, “traveling to both JFK Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport on Sunday and then returning to The Bronx.” Law enforcement officials also said they arrested 28-year-old Jose Polo, who was stopped leaving the apartment with a backpack containing 3,000 glassines of heroin, and two other men who worked at the Parkchester mill. In total, the DEA said the search of the apartment uncovered seven kilos of heroin prepackaged in 50,000 envelopes along with “cardboard boxes of empty glassines, scales and coffee grinders used for cutting the heroin” and “other paraphernalia.”

A source with knowledge of this investigation described heroin mills as a growing problem in the Bronx. Officials said this was a large drug operation, but that there have been at least four major raids on heroin mills in the Bronx since last July, including seizures more than twice the size of this latest bust. New York City special narcotics prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan released a statement  that said the bust was “one of many significant heroin seizures in the city over the past nine months.” Brennan’s statement cited  a case last July when police officers found a quarter of a million envelopes of the drug, five times as many as were seized in Thursday’s raid.


Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Southern BronxComments (1)

VIDEO – After Two Year Effort, Street Renamed for Fallen Soldier

Produced and reported by Michael Ratliff, Eno Alfred and Jennifer Brookland.

In Parkchester, a street is dedicated to a soldier killed in Iraq in 2007.

Posted in East Bronx, MultimediaComments (1)

Inside the Only Islamic School in the Bronx

By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Mubina Maricar instructs her students at the Islamic Leadership School. The school has 18 students, from pre-K to ninth grade. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Mubina Maricar instructs her students at the Islamic Leadership School. The school has 18 students, from pre-K to ninth grade. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

On a typical December morning in the Bronx’s only Islamic private school,  Mubina Maricar, a 62-year-old science teacher,  strained to be heard above the students’ voices reciting in unison from the adjacent classroom.

Her eight students in grades six through nine were learning about speed, velocity and acceleration. Five boys in the front rows and three veiled girls in the back seats were busily taking notes and answering the teachers’ questions, unfazed by the Qur’an verses emanating through the thin walls.

“Qul’A’udhu bi-rabbin-nas” (I seek refuge in the Lord of mankind).

“Melikin-Nas, Ilahin-Nas” (The king of mankind, the true God of mankind).

Suddenly, the recitation halted. Al-Aqib Coulibaly, the only 2nd grader in the Parkchester school, raised the light blue curtain covering the door between the classes, and walked into Maricar’s room.

Al-Aqib Coulibaly, the only 2nd grader, attends the Islamic Leadership School with his four brothers. He and his students wore their winter coats because the school's portable heaters were insufficient. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vura

Al-Aqib Coulibaly, the only 2nd grader, attends the Islamic Leadership School with his four brothers. Students wore their winter coats because the portable heaters were not enough to heat the classrooms. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

The 7-year-old looked at the numbers and formulas on the small green board for a moment, then, walked between the boys and girls to grab an extra Qur’an from the shelf.

Al-Aqib then sauntered back to his classroom where three other students, including his older brother Ismail, were waiting.

Al-Aqib was not having his best day. He had forgotten to memorize his Qur’an verses. He couldn’t find his Arabic homework. He neglected to say, “As-salamu aleykum” (peace be upon you), when he entered the room.  Rules were not his favorite thing.

Al-Aqib tightened his black scarf around his head and arranged his black winter coat, as he took his seat in his classroom. Students in both classrooms were wearing their winter coats on Dec. 10 because the small portable heaters were insufficient to heat the classrooms.

Al-Aqib and his brothers are students of the Islamic Leadership School, an private school at 2008 Westchester Ave., founded on September 11, 2001 with 13 students. The school has grown to 18 students over the last eight years, to include children from pre-kindergarten to 9th grade.

The school is a part of an umbrella organization Islamic Cultural Center of North America (ICCNA), a Bronx-based organization that operates both the school and the mosque Masjid Al-Iman.

“My wife and I have one prenuptial agreement,” said Moussa Drammeh, 47, the school’s founder and operations manager.

“It was, if Allah blesses us to have children, they will never go to public school,” said Drammeh, who was born in Gambia, raised in Senegal, and immigrated to the United States in 1986. He is the executive director of ICCNA and the imam of Masjid Al-Iman.

The Drammehs wanted to shield their children from what they believe is the immoral and corrupt behavior of public school children. “In the public schools in the Bronx, children can walk around with their pants hanging down. Thirteen-year-old girls are having sex; they exchange dirty emails,” said Drammeh, who has lived in the Bronx since 1986.

Shireena Drammeh, the school's principal, goes over the course material with Qur'an teacher M. D. Amin ul-Islam. The school's curriculum includes math, biology and the Qur'an. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Shireena Drammeh, the school's principal, goes over the course material with Qur'an teacher M. D. Amin ul-Islam. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

He and his wife began looking for an Islamic school in the Bronx when their first daughter Ameena turned three years old.

They found none in the Bronx, said Shireena Drammeh, 38, who was born in Guyana into a Muslim family of Indian descent immigrated to the United States in 1986.

They checked out Islamic schools in Yonkers, Queens, New Jersey and Brooklyn.

“We went to Long Island, and found a school there. But unfortunately, the taxes there were horrendous,” said Shireena. “Then, we came back and we decided to start our own school.”

Few families resort to creating their own school like the Drammehs, but a growing number of parents are turning to existing private Islamic schools so that their children learn Islamic principles while acquiring basic state-required education.

“Parents are just awakening to the identity issue, and Islamic schools really are very important to establish Muslim identity for kids,” said Karen Keyworth, 52, co-founder of the Islamic Schools League of America, the only non-profit national organization that keeps track of and network full-time Islamic private schools across the U.S.

There were just 50 schools in 1987, said Keyworth referring to the first small-scale research ever done about this subject. Until the founding of the League, there had been no organization keeping track of Islamic schools in the country and doing research about them. According to the League’s research, the school numbers have not changed since the late 1990s. There are 240 full-time Islamic schools in the country with 32,000 students approximately according to the 2006 data.

New York and New Jersey combined have 17 percent of the Islamic school population in the United States, said Keyworth, who is married with four children and lives in Michigan where she manages the League. Keyworth converted to Islam 32 years ago.

The Islamic Leadership School was scheduled to open on what turned out to be a tragic day–September 11, 2001. Drammeh called an emergency meeting the moment he learned that the World Trade Center towers had been attacked by Al-Qaeda extremists.

“Some parents worried about retaliation, saying we should postpone opening,” said Drammeh. But, he refused. “Let the world know the difference between the criminals and peace-loving Muslims,” said Drammeh.  And the school has been open ever since.

Tuition for The Islamic Leadership School, located at 2008 Westchester Avenue in the Bronx, is $3,500 a year. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Tuition for The Islamic Leadership School, located at 2008 Westchester Avenue in the Bronx, is $3,500 a year. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

The school takes up small part of the first floor of two-story 25,000 square-foot building on Westchester Avenue in the Bronx. The building used to be car repair shop, with a warehouse on the first floor and a parking lot on the second floor.

Inside the entrance is a large hall, with two administrative offices on the left that include two computers for students and a big mat spread over the floor where boys learn martial arts. At the end of the hall, two doors open out to a larger room for the mosque, Masjid Al-Imam, a vast space covered with plastic carpets for Muslims in the school and the community to pray.

Drammeh has plans to renovate the building and expand the school through high school and college.

For now, expansion plans are on hold as the school struggles to pay its rent, and finish renovations, which is in its third year.

Parents pay up to $3,500 a year for the school. “The tuition fees can just pay two teachers full salaries,” said Drammeh. The school relies completely on tuition and fundraising dollars, neither of which is substantial.

For the last four months, the school has not been able to pay its monthly $10,000 rent to the landlord, who is a Muslim immigrant from the Balkans.

“If he kills us, he goes to jail,” said Drammeh smiling. “If he exercises patience, Allah rewards him,” he added. “He chose the reward.”

“All the private schools by and large are in financial trouble,” said Keyworth. Islamic schools are not exceptions. Tuition and donations from the local community provide the school’s sole source of income, which barely cover operating costs.

“Our weakest ring is fundraising,” said Drammeh. The donations are almost non-existent.

But Drammeh would rather not talk business. The school for him is not a place of business. Pointing out his heart, he said he began the school with his heart, not with his brain.

The struggling school often admits students whose parents cannot afford to pay the $3500 tuition. Sometimes Drammeh strikes a bargain with the parents.

Al-Aqib’s mother, Berill Barna, 34, works as a cleaning woman and kindergarten aide at the school in exchange for the tuition for her five sons.

“There are 475 kids in our registry that we are in contact with, but could not offer education because of lack of space,” said Drammeh.

The majority of the school’s students come from Africa or Middle Eastern countries, which reflect the demographic changes in the Bronx Muslim population, which has been growing steadily with immigrants from Mali, Ghana, Gambia, and other West African and Middle Eastern countries.

“We are a big family here and it is a protected environment for our kids,” said Barna, who is a Polish immigrant and converted to Islam 11 years ago. Barna is married to a Muslim man from the Ivory Coast.

“We are family,” said Amani Ahmed, a 14-year-old of Yemeni origins, and the school’s only 9th grader, tucking her hair under a black headscarf. “We see everyone almost every day and everywhere.”

This could not be truer for Drammeh’s children, Ameena, a 12-year-old 8th grader; Mohammed, a 10-year-old 6th grader, and Mariam – Drammeh’s 9-year-old epileptic dauther in the 1st grade. They have become used to seeing their father Moussa and mother Shireena Drammeh almost every hour of every day, not just at home but at school since the first day she started the kindergarten.

Uniforms are a casual requirement: navy blue pants and white shirts for boys, and navy blue skirts and white, blue or black headscarves for girls.

Ameena Drammeh wants to be a doctor. Her parents checked out other Islamic schools in Yonkers, Queens, New Jersey and Brooklyn before settling at The Islamic Leadership School. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Ameena Drammeh wants to be a doctor. Her parents checked out other Islamic schools in Yonkers, Queens, New Jersey and Brooklyn before founding The Islamic Leadership School. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

“Actually boys wear uniform,” corrected Ameena and Amani. “The girl’s uniform is just to cover yourself,” added Amani. “No matter what you wear, the important thing is to cover yourself.”

The school starts at 8 a.m. and last until 4 p.m. except Fridays when it ends after “Salaat-ul-Jummah,” Friday prayer. On other weekdays, the students have to pray “dhuhr,” the noon prayer, and “asr,” afternoon prayer with their teachers in the masjid.

They are not allowed to leave the building during breaks, including lunch breaks, except on Fridays when they are allowed to go out with their teachers and even to eat some junk food.

Along with Arabic, Qur’an and Islamic Studies, a school day at the Islamic Leadership School is filled with standard academic subjects like English, Sciences, History, Math, and Geography. The school has seven teachers, all Muslim and women, except for the 28-year-old Qur’an teacher, M. D. Amin ul-Islam from Bangladesh.

Last year, 15 students took the Regents exams and “four of them did 100 percent out of 100 percent of the test, excellent,” said Drammeh while the rest passed the test with Level 4, the second highest score, added his wife Shireena Drammeh.

“When I walked in here, I saw that they needed help,” said Maricar, who had taught in Britain, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.  before she came to the Islamic Leadership School at the beginning of this academic year. She is not highly paid, “not like other schools or like public schools,” said Maricar. “But, I do not want to teach in public schools.”

Maricar teaches math, science and biology, which includes evolution.

“I tell the students that this is what scientists are telling us,” said Maricar, about the theory of evolution.”We do not want to be narrow minded,” added Maricar, who was born in Kenya and raised in Great Britain, graduated from the University of Sheffield in England. “But, this is not what Qur’an is saying.”

There is no music course at the Islamic Leadership School. “I do not oppose music in principle,” said Drammeh, “as long as there is no dancing, no slang and curse in lyrics and no profanity.” The music of  prominent convert Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, is an example of the kind he approves of.

Nor does the school provide physical activities for its students.

“We teach martial arts to the boys,” said Drammeh. But, there was nothing for girls.

The school has been part of an interfaith program with the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, a Jewish school. School founder Moussa Drammeh explains the project as "two holy states in the Holy Land". Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

The school has been part of an interfaith program with the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, a Jewish school. School founder Moussa Drammeh explains another project called "two holy states in the Holy Land" for the peace in the Middle East. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

There will be a play named “Healthy Islamic Relationships,” that the students will be performing later in the academic year. And, there is a character for a female student to play.

The play authored by Moussa Drammeh is about Islamic gender roles and relationships between the sexes. The character called the “Groom” explains to the “Bride” how a healthy relationship works in Islam. Under his protection, the groom expects his wife to take care of the house and to aspire to be a professional, such as a doctor, lawyer, artist or banker.  The bride aggressively bombards the groom with questions, but in the end, happily agrees with him.

For the last five years, the Islamic Leadership School has been part of an interfaith program with the Jewish school, Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan.

“I actually got to learn more about Judaism and their beliefs and studies and we also got to meet lots of friends,” said Amani. “I taught the Jewish children about Islam. I think they know more about Islam than they did before.”

By noon on December 10th, students prepared for lunch by first performing “wuduu,” the Islamic cleansing ritual for “dhuhr,” the noon prayer.

Adel Mohammed recites the call for prayer. He returned to the school three years after he lived in Yemen. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Adel Mohammed recites the call for prayer. He returned to the school three years after he lived in Yemen. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

The seventh grader, Adel Mohammed, 13, knew that day it was his turn to recite “adhan,” the Muslim call to prayer, for “dhuhr.”

He put the palms of his hands over his ears, and started to recite.  Students and teachers flocked to the dark blue plastic carpet of the masjid; men and boys lined up in the front carpet while women and girls lined up at the back.

Al-Aqib straggled in late to the prayer.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, EducationComments (3)

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