Tag Archive | "South Bronx"

PHOTOS: Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

9 September, 2012- Bronx - Reverend Que English (left) holds prayer for Reynaldo Cuevas, the young father from the Dominican Republic accidentally shot by police during a robbery scuffle on Friday morning. (The Bronx Ink/Jika González)

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Further reading: Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

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Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

Clergy works to calm activists as anti-NYPD feelings rage

Rain began falling Saturday night just as Rev. Ruben Austria led a passionate prayer for justice and healing in the aftermath of a botched robbery that left a 20-year-old bodega worker dead from police gunfire.

Huddled in a tight circle at 169th Street and Franklin Avenue, roughly 50 mourners — family members, friends and community activists — turned out Saturday night in honor of Reynaldo Cuevas, the young father from the Dominican Republic accidentally shot by police during a robbery scuffle early Friday morning.

“We want to stand in solidarity with the family and pray that our outrage doesn’t lead to in-rage. That it doesn’t cause us to consume ourselves and tear one each other down,” Austria told the group, with he and fellow clergy starting a chorus of “Hallelujah.”

Rally participants gathered around a makeshift memorial draped with flowers, rosaries and hand-scribbled notes across from Aneurys Daily Grocery in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. Cuevas worked six nights a week at the store, often staying for 16-hour shifts.

Community activists joined cousins of Reynaldo Cuevas in a prayer vigil Saturday night. “We want to stand in solidarity with the family and pray that our outrage doesn’t lead to in-rage,” Rev. Ruben Austria said. (ADAM PEREZ / The Bronx Ink)

The memorial included a few dollar bills, some cigarette butts and a lottery ticket — the type of loot the armed robbers tried to make off with in a backpack before police arrived.

Around 1:50 a.m. Friday, Cuevas, in an “understandable panic to get away from the gunman as fast as possible,” ran outside the bodega to escape the masked robbers and collided with a police officer, according to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and the officer accidentally fired his weapon, striking Cuevas in his left shoulder. He died at St. Barnabas Hospital.

“I want to extend my condolences to the Cuevas family for their loss,” Kelly said in a statement Friday. Kelly emphasized the events had transpired in “split seconds.”

Some came to the Saturday night rally simply to mourn the loss of Cuevas, described by relatives as a kind-hearted young man who’d been saving to send money to his 3-year-old daughter, Jamie, in the Dominican Republic.

“He was hard-working and humorous and caring,” said Ashley Rodriguez, 14, a cousin of Cuevas. She said she last saw Cuevas two days before his death, when he helped her get through some issues she was facing with high school. Cuevas was a good listener, she said, and he urged her to stay focused on her studies.

Reynaldo Cuevas, 20, worked nights at the bodega, saving money for his 3-year-old daughter, Jamie, in the Dominican Republic.

“How many parents got to bury their kids? When is this really going to stop?” said Juanita Young, an activist with Families of Stolen Lives and Parents Against Police Brutality. “I am so angry at what just happened here — that young man just trying to make a life for him and his family … When is enough enough?”

The candlelit vigil, announced via a cardboard sign at the memorial site and on a Facebook page for Cuevas created Saturday, also drew activists from the New York Civil Liberties Union and Stop “Stop and Frisk” Freedom Fighters, who oppose the NYPD’s controversial tactic of searching people on the streets over concerns police disproportionately target people of color.

“People are out here not just for this incident, but because I think what everybody feels and knows and understands is there’s been years of police harassing and targeting young black and Latino men,” Austria said.

Ashley Rodriguez said she’s not sure her cousin’s death represents a bigger problem; she just wants to see an investigation into the officer who shot him. For now, she wants that officer suspended.

“It’s uplifting to know that even people that didn’t know him are supporting us because they know this wasn’t right,” said Mary Rodriguez, 24, another cousin of Cuevas who was wearing an anti-“Stop and Frisk” button.

A downpour dispersed the crowd on Saturday, with some activists announcing plans to reschedule a march for Wednesday, and to attend a funeral for Cuevas on Monday.

Saturday’s event was the second emotional vigil honoring Cuevas this weekend. On Friday night, after the news vans and most reporters had left, the crowd erupted into angry shouting at the police, who stood quietly across the street. Austria was there, too, working to calm the small crowd for several hours and prevent the scene from escalating into a violent confrontation with the officers.

“The police have to be held accountable when they use excessive force, but we have to hold ourselves accountable. The community’s got to hold each other accountable because the violence between us is unacceptable just as well,” Austria said. “Nobody gets a pass for doing wrong.”

Staff writers Sadef Kully, Adam Perez and Jan Hendrik Hinzel contributed to this report.

The makeshift memorial included a few dollars, cigarette butts and used lottery tickets–booty found on the suspects after their arrest, said police. (ADAM PEREZ / The Bronx Ink)

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Not in my borough: two neighborhoods tackle waste

In the Upper East Side on a chilly Sunday morning, every inch of the Asphalt Green Park is bustling with little soccer players wearing colorful knee socks and jerseys. Parents hold steaming cups of coffee and watch from the sidelines. Next door the basketball courts and playground are filled with children playing in the fresh air. But if the mayor’s waste management plan is carried out, up to 500 trucks transporting residential waste will pass directly through the park daily, disrupting this much- needed recreational space.

A 15-minute subway ride away, Barretto Point Park is a peaceful green oasis at the edge of industrial Hunts Point in the Bronx. It sits practically vacant except for a couple of kids skateboarding on the manicured paths and one man exercising on the basketball courts. In contrast to the Upper East Side, at least 15,000 trucks pass by Barretto Point Park every day, and when the air is still, the smell of sewage can become overwhelming.

Hunts Point in the South Bronx has been overburdened by waste for decades. The community has continually fought for green spaces, parks, and safe streets under the constant threat of industrial zoning and prolific waste management sites. The Upper East Side once housed a waste-processing center that eventually became obsolete. Residents there now face the threat of a new station, set to be one of the biggest in New York City.

While neither community wants the waste in their backyard, the city’s waste must go somewhere. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg says it is time for every borough to take on its fair share.

Every day, 33,000 tons of commercial and residential waste is generated in New York City.  That waste is treated and transferred though 63 waste transfer stations and 15 of those stations are in the South Bronx, which handles over 31 percent of the city’s waste. Manhattan handles none.

The New York City Solid Waste Management Plan, presented by the mayor in 2006, aimed to distribute New York’s waste more fairly by introducing two new marine transfer stations in Manhattan.

One station is proposed at East 91st Street and the East River. The station will sit just a block from luxury housing, within 300 feet of a public housing complex, and next to the Asphalt Green in the Yorkville neighborhood of the Upper East Side, part of a congressional district with an annual per capita income of $85,081.

This marine transfer station would take up two acres, jutting 200 feet into the East River, and would handle all of the residential waste generated from 14th Street to 138th Street on the eastern half of Manhattan. Diesel trucks would transfer trash to the station on the river where it would be processed and shipped by barge to disposal sites outside of the city. While the station would help to distribute trash burden in New York City, it is hard to ignore how close this station would be to a very vibrant park.

While the city’s plan was a major victory for environmental justice groups and residents of the South Bronx, people living near the waste transfer site on East 91st Street in Manhattan are strongly opposed to what they see as a major encroachment on their residential neighborhood.

Residents for Sane Trash Solutions is a 12-member group fighting to stop the construction of the marine transfer station. The group says that spending $125 million to build a waste station near a park and public housing makes no sense. “There has to be a better solution,” said Jennifer Ratner, a group member and pediatrician who lives eight blocks from the site. “Our children are playing just an arm’s length away from what would become major truck traffic.”

The Department of Sanitation says that the new facility will be state of the art. Waste will be processed and shipped in new containers and the surrounding community will not be burdened with smell.  But Ratner is skeptical. “Sure the facility might be state of the art,” she said. “But the diesel trucks carrying the waste through our neighborhoods will not be.”

Asphalt Green, which would be cut in half by a commercial truck ramp, is not a typical public park. In fact, 70 percent of park time is available only for those who pay a monthly $99 dollar membership fee, which also includes use of the indoor gym. In a lawsuit filed last summer against the city, residents attempted to halt construction of the waste transfer station by invoking the public trust doctrine that protects parklands.

The court favored New York City, finding that Asphalt Green was not a park and that the construction of the waste transfer would not significantly intrude upon the green space.

But while Asphalt Green is a fee-based non-profit organization, it does allow certain groups, like schools from East Harlem, to use the park daily for free.

And from the looks of it, by most people’s standards, Asphalt Green is a park. “You can bring a 4-year-old here and ask them what they are seeing,” said Ratner. “ I guarantee you, that child will say they are looking at a park.”

With lawyers, lobbying efforts and community-based actions, the group continues its work to halt the mayor’s plan.

It’s also not clear whether the transfer station at East 91st Street would actually provide some relief to the South Bronx, a community with an annual per capita income of $13,959, making it the poorest congressional district in the United States.

“If the efforts of groups on the Upper East Side are successful it would mean, at the very least, the commercial waste that’s generated on the Upper East Side will continue to be trucked to the Bronx,” said Eddie Bautista of the Environmental Justice Alliance.

Sandra Christie, a resident of Yorkville and member of Sane Trash, disagreed. She claimed that that the proposed waste transfer station in the Upper East Side will in no way affect the South Bronx. “Not a speck of the trash that will be processed at the proposed station currently goes to the South Bronx,” she said. “I feel for the people living there, but this station will not solve their problems.”

But mixed messages may be coming from within Residents for Sane Trash Solutions.  A recent article in the Daily News quotes the president of the group, Jed Garfield, suggesting the city “put the facility near the Hunts Point in the South Bronx where it would not actually touch any neighborhoods except the Hunts Point Market.”

The problem is, people actually do live in Hunts Point, and many residents currently live near waste transfer stations.

People that have grown up in Hunts Point consider the smell of sewage and trash a fact of life. Wanda Salaman, of the non-profit organization Mothers on the Move, has been fighting the smell for 10 years.

She knew things had really become unbearable when a reporter covering her fight against trash told her that on the subway back into Manhattan from the South Bronx, people on that train began to hold their noses. “It was then the woman realized,” Salaman said. “The smell was coming from her.”

Mothers on the Move’s first fight against sewage in Hunts Point targeted the New York Organic Fertilizer Company, a company that converted human waste into fertilizer pellets. The smell was so bad that families living near the plant at Barretto Point Park had to keep their windows closed during the summer.

After a decade of fighting, they succeeded when the city cut its contracts with the sewage treatment plant, and the company was shut down. But the Hunts Point Sewage Treatment Facility, another sewage processing company, still remains.

“The smell has gotten better in the last few years,” said Jahira Rodriguez, who grew up in Hunts Point. “But in the summer, it is still really bad.” Rodriquez thinks it is unfair that the Upper East Side is refusing to process their fair share of garbage.

In addition to the thick smell of sewage in the South Bronx, waste transfer through the neighborhood also contributes to high asthma rates. According to the Department of Public Health, Hunts Point has one of the city’s highest asthma rates for youth ages 0-14 at 11.5 percent while The Upper East Side has on of the lowest at 1.2 percent.

In 2006, researchers from the New York University Graduate School of Public Service found that high asthma rates in the South Bronx are directly related to the multitude of trucks that pass through the neighborhood daily. Many of those trucks are carrying commercial waste from other boroughs to the waste transfer stations in the Bronx. The mayor’s plan aims to alleviate truck traffic allowing the majority of waste to be transported by barge.

Truck ramp next to the Asphalt Green in the Upper East Side where trucks will carry waste to the proposed marine transfer station. (JANET UPADHYE/Bronk Ink)

Mouloukou Diakite, 48, exercises at Barretto Point Park, the closest green space to his apartment in Longwood. His daily routine includes running laps around the basketball court, breathing through push-ups against a steel fence and jogging backward in the grass. Unfortunately his son Mory, 13, is unable to exercise with the same intensity because he has asthma.

Mory had trouble breathing at a very young age but was lucky to have never been hospitalized because of his asthma. He was also lucky to spend some time in his father’s home country of Mauritania where his asthma cleared up enough for him to now play basketball on his school’s team and sometimes join his father at Barretto Point Park. In order to get to the park from their Longwood apartment, the Diakites must pass through streets zoned for industry.

The city’s zoning policies are another example of the burden placed on Hunts Point.   A large portion of the neighborhood, 41.3 percent, is zoned for industry and commercial use while only 3.1 percent of the Upper East Side has been zoned for the same use. The proposed waste transfer station will be built on that land. In a small geographic area where there is a high concentration of residents, such as New York City, people are forced to live and play near industrial zones.

The Tri-State Transfer Station in Hunts Point, which handles 84,836 tons of material annually, sits just three blocks from a tree-lined street of single-family homes and a Head Start program. Two blocks from the station is the first of several six-story apartment buildings, each with a minimum of 60 apartments. One block from the plant is Dancers Dreamzzz dance studio where local youth can take salsa, hip-hop or ballet classes. As kids break from class, they step outside to breathe fresh air and can see a waste transfer station.

Sharon De La Cruz, 25, grew up in Hunts Point. She is used to the smell, air pollution, and high asthma rates that accompany heavy industry and waste processing. For her, it is a normal way of life, but that doesn’t make it fair.

“I am sorry that a waste transfer station is proposed near a park in the Upper East Side,” she said. “But in my neighborhood, we have the opposite problem. We have to propose parks in the middle of several waste transfer stations because that is the only land we have.”

De La Cruz loves Barretto Point Park but says that it is difficult to walk past waste treatment plants and a line of diesel trucks to get there. She thinks that the trucks and the odor keep people out of the park.  “Don’t we deserve accessible green spaces too?” she asked.

Bautista believes that they do. Industrial or not, people live their lives in Hunts Point. “Residents for Sane Trash Solutions justify suggesting the Bronx and our other communities of color because they’re industrial,” said Bautista. “They ignore the fact that we have a few hundred thousand residents living in these communities as well.”

While the Upper East Side fights the mayor’s plan, residents of the South Bronx wait and wonder when the burdens of air pollution and smell will lessen in their small community. “We don’t want to be the community that takes on everyone else’s trash anymore,” said De La Cruz. “It makes us feel like we are trash.”

 

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The Bronx’s own project runway

Runway students listen to coach Tyra A. Ross at the Bronx Community Pride Center.

“Learning how to strut down a runway gives young people confidence that translates into other areas of their lives,” said Tyra Ross, as she stood before her runway class at the Bronx Community Pride Center.

For the last three years,  Ross has taught these professional modeling skills to gay, lesbian and transgender youth in the only class of its kind in New York City.

“Here they can learn with someone who truly understands where they are coming from,” said Ross, who has trained up to 50 Bronx teens in the art of runway since her first class at the center in 2008.

Ross was born and raised in Tobago, in a family and a culture that did not support her emerging transgender identity. After surviving sexual assault by an elder in her community, Ross began dreaming of making a life for herself, far away from her birthplace. As soon as she was old enough to travel, she emigrated to New York City, where members of her extended family lived.

In the Bronx, as a 18-year-old aspiring model, Ross found a supportive community and success in the fashion industry. She walked the runways for designers Darius Wobil and B Michael couture in Brooklyn and in the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Pictures from her modeling days show her slender 6-foot-2-inch frame draped with elegance in designer dresses. She hopes to teach that elegance to her students, some of who dream of being professional models one day.

Ross is a fashion inspiration. “She is a role model,” said one of her students, 26-year-old Thai. “She has lived life and that shows through her teaching.”

 

 

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Cycling renaissance pedals slowly to the Bronx

Cycling renaissance pedals slowly to the Bronx

A cyclist rides on the Grand Concourse ahead of traffic

A cyclist shares the road with traffic on the Grand Concourse. (Nigel Chiwaya |THE BRONX INK)

Every morning Shardy Nieves rides his bicycle 11 miles from his home in Crotona to his job at Champion Courier on 37th Street and 7th Avenue in Manhattan.  The 31-year-old Nieves said that he makes the ride, which takes almost an hour by subway, in 35 minutes.

“Faster than a train, less congestion,” said Nieves, who works in customer service at Champion Courier. “You can’t beat it.”

Still, he noted, cycling in Manhattan is far easier than in the Bronx. “Manhattan is more bike friendly,” Nieves said. “In the Bronx you have to fend for yourself.”

The Bronx has been pushed to the slow lanes in New York City’s current cycling renaissance.  Not only does it have fewer miles of bike lanes than Brooklyn and Manhattan, and it is not yet included in the city’s ambitious bike sharing program.

The result is a cycling community that is smaller than the ones in Brooklyn and Manhattan, something that was on full display during the Oct. 23 Tour de Bronx.

The tour, an annual non-competitive bike ride through the borough, drew cyclists from all five boroughs. At the Yankee Stadium Number 4 station, riders from Manhattan and Brooklyn poured out of uptown trains in droves. Across the platform, a single cyclist came from the north Bronx, a symptom likely caused by the tip of the borough’s lack of bike lanes.

There are 88.5 miles of bike lanes in the Bronx, 56.5 of which have been added since 2006. Of the five boroughs, only Staten Island has fewer miles of bike lanes.

Lanes in the outer boroughs were placed in areas that provide easy access to midtown Manhattan. In Brooklyn and Queens, this means lanes in the waterfront communities of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Long Island City and Astoria, respectively.

A graphic showing the miles of bike lanes in each borough

The Bronx trails Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan in miles of bike lanes. (Click to Enlarge)

Similarly, most of the Bronx’s bike lanes have been placed in the South Bronx, in close proximity to the Harlem River bridges on streets like the Grand Concourse, Third, Walton and Jerome Avenues. The placement of the lanes on major streets has been a blessing and a curse for riders, who now have dedicated travel paths to Manhattan. But they have to be willing to weave through busy side streets in order to reach them.

Some cyclists choose not to deal with the threats of traffic, opting instead to take their bicycles on the subway. Jennie Heslin, who runs the New York City social bicycle club, had to get from her apartment in Morris Heights down to 161st Street for the Tour de Bronx. “I ended up taking my bike on the train,” Heslin said. “I wanted to avoid riding in the streets.”

It’s not uncommon to see cars parked in bike lanes, said Sebita Lekhraj, one of Heslin’s club members. “People don’t have any respect for bikers,” said Lekhraj, who also lives in Morris Park.

Dedicated bike lanes are not the only area where the Bronx rides behind Manhattan and Brooklyn. In September, the city debuted plans for an ambitious public bike-sharing program. The system, which calls for 600 stations and 10,000 bikes, will launch in September 2012 in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Alta Bicycle Share, the company that will run the program, excluded the Bronx from the trial after conducting feasibility studies, but has indicated the possibility of establishing a smaller, disconnected satellite system in the borough at a later date.

Cycling has been a contentious issue in New York. The city began a push to increase the number of riding paths in 1997 with the release of the bike master plan. However bike lane construction didn’t begin in earnest until Mayor Michael Bloomberg arrived in 2001 and began championing the issue. In fact, Bloomberg made so much progress that disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner, a mayoral frontrunner before a lewd photo scandal forced his resignation, once told the mayor that if elected, he’d spend his first year in office “tearing out your [expletive] bike lanes.”

In Brooklyn, Park Slope residents banded together to sue the city over a lane on Prospect Park West. The case was dismissed in August.

The Bronx hasn’t seen any similar uprisings, said Ben Fried, author of the alternative transportation website Streetsblog.org. “I’d be shocked if we heard a story like that,” Fried said.

While Brooklyn residents fume over bike lanes, Bronx residents seem to be rolling with the idea. A June 2011 poll showed that 63 percent of Bronx residents support bike lanes, a rate that tied with Manhattan for highest in the city. Some expect those numbers will grow.

“In terms of the number of people cycling, it’s not quite up there, but I think there’s a lot of people that don’t have cars, said Fried.”

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City locks out Morning Glory gardeners

Elliott Liu holds a rake outside the garden he helped create as city workers tear down the fence.

Volunteer gardeners in the South Bronx looked on helplessly Monday morning as city workers yanked up their kale by the roots and threw it into garbage bags.

In a few hours, the city had destroyed their carefully tended garden beds, hauled away tables and chairs, and mowed under foliage in Morning Glory Community Garden on Union Avenue and Southern Boulevard.

Two years of grassroots work was destroyed in a few hours. “What we are seeing,” said Rafael Mutis, adjunct professor at Hostos Community College, “is just another threatened community garden in a low-income community where fresh food is already so scarce.”

The city hopes to develop the area and needs the garden cleaned out to prepare the  land for sale. A Bronx housing official, Ted Weinstein, said developers have expressed interest in bidding on the site, but first need to test it to see if construction is feasible.

“We are on orders to clear out the lot today,” Carol Allen, a department of housing representative, said to the stunned gardeners, holding petitions they’d hoped would save the garden from destruction “If you attempt to stop us, we will call the police.”

Until recently, the Morning Glory community garden was nothing more than an empty lot, owned by the city, and neglected for 30 years. Two years ago, a group of community members decided to convert the space into something useful.

Residents have since used the soil to grow corn, tomatoes, carrots, collards, kale, garlic and squash. Students learned how to grow their own food. The space hosts community barbeques, open mic events and organic farming opportunities.

On November 7, community gardeners Elliott Liu and Rafael Mutis stood outside of the fence with plans to gather signatures to take to City Hall, hoping community support could stall their eviction. Their plans were scrapped when the Department of Housing representatives arrived to clear it out.

Liu and Mutis frantically made calls for urgent support as the contract workers from Innovative Construction tore down a section of the fence and backed a blue van into the lot, running over small potted plants stopping to unload garbage cans, lawn mowers, and pickaxes.

“I don’t know why the city needs to clear out this garden today,” said neighbor Elizabeth Lynch as she signed the petition to save the garden. “If they have a plan to build something here, they should let the community know.”

Meanwhile community reinforcements gradually began to arrive on the sidewalk outside the garden. Anistala Rugama, of the Harm Reduction Coalition was disappointed that the high school students, who have the most stake in the garden, could not be there to protect it.

“The city came to destroy their garden while they are in school,” she said. “They were planning to come after school, but it might be too late.”

According to James Edgar of the Department of Housing, it is too late. “We have put up No Trespassing signs,” he told gardeners. “This is city property and they will do what they want with it.”

Attorney Kafhani Nkrumah believes the garden might still have a fighting chance. “The next step is to contact Community Board District Manager, Cedric Loftin,” he said. “He should represent you.”

Gardeners planned to host a rally Monday afternoon outside of the garden, hoping to gather community support. But for now, all they could do was watch from behind the fence, as their hard work and hope for a greener South Bronx was demolished.

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Evacuation expert fights to rescue Morrisania

Two days before Hurricane Irene slammed into New York City, evacuation expert Maria Forbes was told by city’s emergency coordinators to prepare for a possible disaster.

The next day, the Bronx mother of three raced around her neighborhood of Morrisania in the Bronx recruiting last-minute volunteers and making sure the emergency shelter at Toscanini Junior High School on Teller Street was stocked with nonperishable foods, flashlights, and batteries.

It was the emergency work that Forbes, 48, trained herself for after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans. But evacuation training is only part of Forbes’ long list of volunteer duties. She’s a natural rescuer. She’s been sticking her neck out to rescue others since she was a young child, even when she was in need of help herself.

In 2002, a power outage left an entire block near 169th Street in Morrisania, where Forbes lives, without lights. The community’s lack of preparedness during the blackout became a catalyst for her to seek solutions. “I became real, real hungry and real, real thirsty to find something that could address the need for emergency disaster,” said Forbes, jumping from phone call to phone call days after Irene pummeled the East Coast. Her black curls bounced as she hollered to a reluctant vendor over the phone from her tenant organizer office on 168th Street.

But initial attempts to set up a disaster response team were met with refusal from the city’s emergency management office. Forbes kept calling various organizations to ask for grants. “I called back the Office of Emergency Management again and said, ‘I really want to have this program’,” Forbes recalled. “They said no.” Eventually, the intrepid organizer won an initial $500 community grant from Citizens Committee for New York City, a non-profit organization that supports grassroots initiatives. The grant helped her assemble the first batch of 40 volunteers for the 11 weeks of training required for certification.

In the course, Forbes learned how to jump start a generator, bandage wounds, and find “go bags” with clothes, flashlights, and medicine. She learned about hygiene and mental health issues. She finally earned her certificate to become Bronx Chief for the Community Emergency Response Team in 2006.

Forbes was born on Oct. 29, 1962 in Manhattan. Her father, William Smith, had immigrated to New York from Belize 15 years earlier and worked as a merchant seaman. Her mother, Velma Thomas, was a great-granddaughter of slaves from North Carolina. The family moved to Highbridge in the Bronx before Maria was born, and she has always called the Bronx her home. She is the youngest of seven.

Forbes’ older sister, Eileen Avery, who owns a medical billing business in Queens, sees a lot of their mother in Forbes. Their mother, Thomas, was a mental health therapist and foster mother to 28 children while she organized a play street along Plimpton and 172nd Avenues, planned block parties, and managed a private housing development. Following in her mother’s footsteps, the ever-busy Forbes has done it all except she is not a foster mother.

“I’m really proud of her, she took what our mother left and ran with it,” said Avery. “She’s overcome difficult obstacles to be where she is today and she is always helping people in the community and fighting for their entitlement.”

Forbes’s schedule leaves little room for family outings. But the sisters spend Thanksgiving together every year with few visits in between. “Every time I visit, I sit her down, tell her no phone, and close the door,” said Every.

Forbes acknowledges her demanding schedule. But she’s always considered helping others — a life mission even at a young age when her life was precarious. At 13, in 1976, she gave birth to her first son, Lenny Jones, and still had the wherewithal to speak at a mayoral event about resource entitlement and the plight of young mothers. Later, Mayor Abe Beame’s aide wrote to her saying, “It was beautiful to see the poise with which you addressed the audience. We hope you will stay in touch to let us know of your future triumphs.”

The road to future triumphs was strewn with roadblocks. Forbes dropped out of 10th grade, because there was no support for mothers at the overcrowded Walton High School. She then took a paid internship at the city’s medical examiner’s office where she identified dead bodies. In 1981, after a traumatic encounter with the body of someone she knew, Forbes left her job and started going full-time to Westside High School in Manhattan. The school took her on college tours and gave her instruction on career options. Forbes, who by then was battling addiction to cocaine, couldn’t pass the GED test required to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma. She beat addiction to cocaine in 1988 with the help of a support group called Narcotics Anonymous.

By 22, she was a single mother of three.

Her election as the president of Clay Avenue Tenants Association in 1990 brought some tranquility to her life until she lost her mother in 1995. Forbes’ mother was the caretaker of her kids.

The responsibility of tending to the children’s needs fell solely on Forbes’s shoulders. In 1990, her unsteady marriage to Timothy Forbes, father of two of her sons, fell apart six months after the wedding. Then her apartment caught fire and she lost almost all of her belongings. She kept cool and took a job first as a methadone addiction counselor at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital and later as intervention specialist at the Police Athletic League.

The struggles Forbes has had to overcome inform her advocacy. She now devotes much of her time to the emergency preparedness program. At her corner office, pamphlets and flyers about the program lie everywhere. Emergency tool kits, cleaning supplies, and boxes take up most of the space. Two generators can boost power up in case of a blackout. Once a year, she organizes an emergency disaster day event that brings various community service agencies to the neighborhood where residents sign up for programs and services.

On a recent Wednesday, as she walked down to her office, children and neighbors stopped to greet her. “Maria has been a passionate and strong advocate for this community,” said Laura Brown, a long-time tenant at one of the buildings that Forbes manages. “I can’t speak for everyone but most people here love her.”

Hurricane Irene was not as damaging as predicted but Forbes believes you can never over prepare. Since becoming chief of her community emergency response team, she’s seen two blackouts.

“It pays to be prepared,” she said. And that’s what she’s been teaching her tenants and neighbors – how to prepare for an unforeseen disaster.

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Yemenis in South Bronx can’t forget the turmoil they left behind

“Papa, take me with you,” Abu Hamad recalled his five-year-old son pleading with him on the phone from Sana’a last Oct. 10. The Hunts Point shopkeeper’s half smile could not hide the worry in his dark round eyes. His three young children and wife are still living in the capital of Yemen, he said. And not even his American citizenship could help them out of the mountain city that is reeling from an increasingly violent civil uprising.

On Sept. 24, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s president for the past 33 years, returned to his homeland after a brief medical exile in neighboring Saudi Arabia. He was forced out of the country after an assassination attempt. The departure raised hopes for reform in the Arabian Peninsula nation of 24 million people. But his abrupt return has sparked fresh violence, which has already claimed close to 2,500 causalities since February. On Oct. 16, 18 more people were killed and 30 others were wounded in clashes between Saleh’s troops and his rivals, according to news reports from the region.

It was mid-afternoon Monday in South Bronx. Save for the periodic chugging overhead of the No. 2 train and the occasional ringing of the cash register, it was quiet inside the 37-year-old cellphone dealer’s shop. But Abu Hamad’s restrained outrage was bubbling up time and time again. Two hours earlier, he was on the phone with his family and he learned that the neighborhood where they live is only getting an hour of electricity every day. It was especially upsetting because they live less than five minutes away from Saleh’s presidential palace, Abu Hamad said.

“What kind of life is that?” said Abu Hamad. “It’s a shame. We need to change the President.”

For now, Abu Hamad remains helpless. It has been four years since his last visit to Sana’a. Months ago, he had to meet secretly with his family in Egypt. But with their immigration documents pending and the U.S. embassy in Yemen shuttered, he could not fly them back to America.

Abdul Karim, former president of the Yemeni Immigrant Association in New York, warned that the situation in Yemen could get worse. The 52-year-old South Bronx businessman said Saleh cannot be trusted despite his pledge to resign before the next presidential election in 2013.

“President Saleh has been known to be a big liar,” said Karim, a Columbia University graduate and member of a lobby group asking for the U.S. government to pressure Saleh to resign. “That’s his tactics for the past 33 years. He’s been governing on such a premise. That’s basically his foundation for ruling the country.”

Karim, who has an international affairs degree from Columbia, said Saleh’s cooperation in hunting down top Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki and other suspected terrorists within Yemen, has complicated the U.S. government’s effort to force him out of office. The U.S.-born Awlaki and another American, Samir Khan, were killed on Sept. 30, just six days after Saleh’s return to Yemen. Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman was also killed Oct. 14.

“The U.S. has been kind of looking the other way as long as it serves the American interest in eliminating radical elements,” said Karim, noting that many innocent civilians have also been killed. The former legislative candidate in Yemen’s highland city of Ta’izz said the U.S. has “no leverage” in its diplomatic run-in with Saleh.

Still, Karim said even if Saleh stays in power, his government is already “totally crippled.” “He can’t rule. It might turn to be ugly,” he said.

At this Yemeni-owned Hunts Point deli shop, talk of President Saleh's ouster is framed on the condition that it is done in an election. (TED REGENCIA/The Bronx Ink)

Aqel Allahabi, 22, manager and part owner of the Hunts Point Deli,  said he shares the sentiments of Karim and Abu Hamad. But he is not in favor of an armed rebellion against Saleh.

“If the people don’t like him, why did they vote for him?” Allahabi said, referring to the 2006 presidential election, when Saleh received more than three quarters of the vote. He said any change of leadership should be done in a “democratic way.”

Standing outside the door of Clinton Deli along East Tremont Avenue one weekday afternoon, Antar Al-Suhaidi said he could not be bothered by the political and armed conflict in his country of birth, which he left when he was only 14.

“It’s a deadlock,” said Al-Suhaidi. “We know nothing will change, so we stick to the main reason for our immigration, doing business here.”

The 20-year-old deli cashier said he works 12 to 13 hours a day, mostly seven days a week. “I work hard now, to enjoy a better life later in my home town,” said Al-Suhaidi, a native of Ibb in southwest Yemen. At the end of the day, he was too overworked to even think about politics, he said.

Abdul Karim said it is not that New York City’s Yemeni community, many of them in the grocery and deli business, are apathetic to their home country’s situation. But many are just caught up trying to survive and deal with their lives as new American immigrants.

“Life is very consuming here in America,” Karim said. “But are they aware of what’s going on in Yemen? Yes, they are aware of what’s going on.”

Back at the cell phone shop, Abu Hamad said his primary concern is the safety of his family. Abu Hamad, who came to the United States at 17, said he wants his children to enjoy what he went through when he first arrived in New York.

“I love it here,” Abu Hamad said. “When I am here, I’m in heaven. So if there’s a way, I would like them to have a good life, have a good education and to eat healthy.”

As he talked about reuniting with his family, Abu Hamad cocked a worried smile showing his perfectly aligned teeth, his tall and lanky frame sagging as if he was carrying the weight of the world. “God knows when that’s going to happen.”

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