Tag Archive | "South Bronx"

107-year-old Bronx woman remembers hard life, Daily News reports

It’s hard to imagine, but 107-year-old Bronx resident Louise (Big Momma) Mitchell can remember going to pick cotton in Georgia when she was 5, with “not a penny to show for it.” The New York Daily News honored her latest birthday.

Mitchell now lives in Morris Heights with house-call medical care. Instead of completing school past the third grade, Mitchell went to work. After the cotton fields, it was washing clothes for a wealthy landowner, the Daily News reports.

Eventually, she relocated to New Jersey to work as a housekeeper, and then did the same wealthy Jewish households in Manhattan, but lived in Harlem and in the South Bronx.

She said young people “should pray to God their life isn’t hard like mine.”

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The possible closing of post offices in the Bronx feels like government abandonment to some

17 post offices in the Bronx, reports WNYC News, are slated to be closed. Many Bronx residents rely on the post office to pay bills, rent, and keep in contact with family in other countries. The removal of post offices would disrupt the daily workings of the neighborhood, simply making life harder for some. The USPS encourages users to conduct business online, but internet access is a luxury  for many Bronx residents. “It sends the wrong message to this community and others like it,” said Miquela Craytor, Executive Director of Sustainable South Bronx, ‘It says that you don’t matter, that you are not valued.”

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New lawyer set to try Bronx prosecutor, Jennifer Troiano’s DWI Case

Bronx prosecutor, Jennifer Troiano, fired her lawyer in her DWI hearing scheduled to begin later this year. Her now former lawyer, Howard Weiswasser, was preparing to put his own daughter, and close friend of Troiano, on the stand. The Daily News reports that Troiano’s new lawyer, Steven Epstein, is known for winning the acquittal of former Bronx prosecutor Stephen Lopresti, also on a DWI charge.

Surprise appearance at yesterday’s Ferragosto festival

The Bronx hosted its annual Ferragosto festival in Little Italy yesterday. The festival celebrates all things Italian, and yesterday according to The Daily News, that included baseball legend Babe Ruth. His granddaughter paid a surprise visit. “I wish he could be here now,” Linda Ruth Tosetti said of her late grandfather.

Education is the path out of poverty in the Bronx

The South Bronx has a new program for youth. Hunts Point Alliance for Children is poised to begin an early literacy program next month. Maryann Hedaa, Executive Director of the center, talks to the New York Post about their new project.

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Flashback: Bush at Yankee Stadium after 9/11

On October 30, 2001, the Yankees played the Diamondbacks in Game 3 of the World Series. The Boston Herald recaps how, as President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch, everyone was considered a potential terrorist – even George Steinbrenner and Joe Torre.

Bronx has 4 of NYC’s most ‘dangerous’ schools

The New York State Education Department posted a list “persistently dangerous” schools on its website last week. The New York Post reports that of the nine New York City schools on the list for 2011-12, four are in the Bronx – Aspire, Soundview Academy for Culture and Scholarship, PS 11 Highbridge, and IS 190. The Post says that Aspire Prep’s 554 students tallied 88 “violent and disruptive” incidents in 2009-10. These included sex crimes, robbery and assaults.

Bronxites help farm devastated by Irene

Two busloads of Bronx families traveled to Schoharie in upstate New York on Saturday with emergency supplies for a farm devastated by the remnants of Hurricane Irene, says an Associated Press report in the Wall Street Journal. These families from the South Bronx were just a few among the 1,000 and more that Richard Ball’s farm has been feeding since 2009.


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Emotional pleas aside, panel votes to close Bronx Academy

When Angel Sosa transferred to Bronx Academy High School in the South Bronx almost a year and a half ago as a sophomore, he only had 10 credits out of the roughly 44 needed to graduate. “I woke up this morning with three acceptance letters to college,” the 18-year-old senior told  the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, which on Thursday night voted to close the school.

In March, the Department of Education proposed the phase out of Bronx Academy because of its poor performance and its inability to turn its failing record around quickly. The school received two F’s and a C in its last three report cards.

Students and teachers presented data to demonstrate the changes the school has implemented in the past eight months under the leadership of new Principal Gary Eisinger. According to a 43-page document distributed to the panel, the school saw a 25 percent increase in the number of students who passed the Regents exams, and attendance is up to 73 percent from 67 percent.

Senior Snanice Kittel, 16, told the panel members that  her teachers genuinely cared about students and were helping them to succeed. “They will call in the morning to make sure you go to class. And they will even visit your house and talk to your parents if you haven’t come,” she said, explaining that these practices were put in place under the new administration.

Their case was not persuasive enough to convince the panel to vote to save the school.

“We are proud of the work Gary has done in the school,” said Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg. “Even if there has been improvement, it’s well below what we expect to see,” he said, adding that the numbers presented by the school staff was inaccurate and that its own assessment revealed a different story.

Frederick R. Coscia, a statistician and economics teacher at Bronx Academy, insisted the Department of Education was basing its decision to close the school on two-year-old data. “We deserve our own report this year,” he said.

Monica Major, the Bronx representative to the panel, requested a postponement of the vote to phase out of the school. The motion was denied.

“We asked for a miracle, we got it and now we will not see the end of it,” said Major as the audience yelled at the panel to “look at the data.” She reminded her colleagues on the panel that Bronx Academy High School is a transfer school that takes students who  have already failed in other schools. Opened in 2003, this “transfer school” serves an alternative for overage students who have trouble graduating from a regular high school.

Despite acknowledging the work done by transfer schools and what they represent, the newly appointed Chancellor Dennis Walcott said Bronx Academy “has not done the job.” “We base our decisions on facts and not solely on emotions,” he said, citing the school’s poor performance and its inclusion in the New York State’s “persistent lower achieving” schools list.

“We cannot allow more students to go to a school that is not performing at the standards,” Walcott said.

After four and half hours of testimony and amid chorus of “lies, lies” and “shame on you,” the panel approved the phase-out of Bronx Academy by nine votes to five. Only the five borough representatives opposed the closure. Starting in September, the school will not accept new students and will have until June 2013 to graduate those who are currently enrolled. It will be replaced by Bronx Arena High School, a transfer school that will open its door for the 2011-2012 school year.

English teacher Robert MacVicar expressed his disappointment with the chancellor and the panel for not giving the school a one-year reprieve. “I am saddened by Mr. Walcott’s and Mayor Bloomberg’s failure to take reasonable and compassionate account of our students’ deep and abiding goodness, despite their sometimes soul-trying circumstances at home and on the mean streets of South Bronx,” he said.

Visibly upset, Angel Sosa asked why the panel did not take his testimony and others who spoke into consideration. “I had come with hope,” he said.

As students and supporters of the school left, Principal Eisinger said he appreciated the support he received.

“I put a lot of heart into the school,’’ he said, “and it shows.”

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Time to talk about sex in the South Bronx

Time to talk about sex in the South Bronx

By Sana T. Gulzar

It is 4 p.m. in M.S. 218 in the South Bronx and it is time to play Pregnancy Jeopardy. The board in front lists six categories of questions—Myth and Facts, Pregnancy, Conception, Fetal Development, Genetics and Terminology and Definition. Two five-student teams of 7th graders—the Lions and the Tigers—are battling out their knowledge about everything from conception to birth.

High school senior, Audrey Pichardo draws to explain fetal development to middle school students.

Under the category, “Terms and Definitions,” the questioner asks, “What is the term that describes the ability to get pregnant?” One curly-haired 7th grade boy yells, “Sexual intercourse.” The others giggle. The answer is incorrect! “It is called being fertile,” replies one girl from the opposing team.

This is an after-school weekly sex education workshop held in the spring semester for middle school students as part of the “Just Ask Me” (JAM) program organized by WHEDco, a Bronx non-profit women’s development group. It’s been a worthwhile mission. According to New York’s summary of vital statistics released in December 2010, the Bronx has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the city—11.6 percent of live births.

One thing sets this middle school class apart: the educators are high school seniors, who founded the program to teach sex education and reproductive health to middle school students. JAM started six years ago by a group of 7th grade girls who decided that talking about sex is the only way to combat teen pregnancy in their neighborhood.

“When they saw a lot of kids leaving high school and coming back to the community pregnant,” said Nicole Jennings, head of the sex-ed program at WHEDco, “they were really concerned about it themselves as well as why it was happening,”

High school seniors now, the original group of girls from M.S. 218, having been trained by WHEDco now teaches the sex-ed classes at the middle school. They blame the high rate of teen pregnancy to the lack of sex education, especially in middle school when kids first start exploring their sexuality.

“It’s the age that they get curious about sex life and they want to do all these kind of things but they don’t know how to stay protected,” said Dylan Serrano, 17, one of the peer educators. “If they have information they would know what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong.”

While sex education takes place in New York’s high schools, it’s too late by then, Serrano argues. Most middle school students do not get any information at home either. Peer educators believe that parents are reluctant to talk to their children about sex, contraception and pregnancy and would much rather have the school give out that information to them.

“A lot of parents are close minded and they feel that you’ll learn everything at school,” said Yanisla Frias, 17, who adds that parents seem to worry that the information might encourage their teenagers to have sex. “They are afraid that if we are going to teach them then they are going to do it.”

This problem is especially pertinent within the Bronx, as there are a large number of immigrants in the borough. Many parents from different cultural backgrounds do not realize the challenges teens face with respect to the their sexuality and the external factors influencing them, say educators.

“There is a lot of cultural diversity here and with that come a lot of customs about talking to your kids about certain things or not talking to your kids about certain things,” said Rachel Mendelson, JAM program coordinator.

Mendleson points out that a family’s income level also plays a role. “If you are a single mother working and 2 or 3 jobs, you are not really around and your kids are free to get information elsewhere or just free time to have sex,” she said.

17-year-old Emily Godoy plays Pregnancy Jeopardy with middle schoolers.

Teen pregnancy rates in the United States are twice as high as those in Canada or England. , Emily Godoy, a 17-year-old peer educator believes that the numbers are much lower in Europe because schools and parents there talk to the teens about it and discuss the options. Here, she argues, the focus is on abstinence.

“When you tell somebody not to do something, they are going to do it,” said Godoy.

Coordinator Mendelson says that with no information at home, no formal education at school and misinformation from T.V. and their peers, American teenagers do not know how to protect themselves and end up getting pregnant.

During the course of the workshop, the peer educators showed the class clips from two popular reality t.v. shows—Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant. These shows viewed by a large number of teenagers primarily track the lives of teen moms trying to cope with being a parent. The JAM educators said that such programs further misinform kids.

Audrey Pichardo, 14, believes that while these shows do depict the struggles of teenage pregnancy, they also in a way glorify it.

“Without the information, when kids see these shows, they get confused.,” said Pichardo. “And they are like, ‘Is it a bad thing or is it a good thing?’”

For all of these reasons, this group of high school students has taken matters in its own hands. They believe that sex education and human sexuality should be treated as any other academic subject, even for middle schoolers And until that happens they will do it themselves.

“I know that I am going to talk to my kids about it. Because I know what it felt like when I was in 5th grade or 6th grade,” said 18-year-old Frias. Even if it means for now, just playing another round of Pregnancy Jeopardy.

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DIGITAL BRONX: Brothers bypass record labels to promote music online

Rebel Diaz's Rodrigo and Gonzalo Venegas sell their music online

By Manuel Rueda

Gonzalo Venegas and his brother Rodrigo have been rapping about social inequalities since the 1990s.

Based in the south Bronx—the cradle of the hip-hop movement—the two brothers use the Internet to share their work with fans across the world.

Known in hip-hop circles as the Rebel Diaz duo, the Venegas brothers blend hip-hop and Latin rhythms in songs about inner city youth, corrupt government and the problems faced by recently arrived immigrants.

The sons of political refugees from Chile, their songs are often bilingual, with lyrics in English followed by a chorus in Spanish or an English verse punctuated by Chilean slang.

The name Rebel Diaz is a take on the Spanish word for rebels, rebeldes.

Raised in Chicago, the Venegas brothers have created an online community—and built a fanbase— using the most common web tools of the modern age: Facebook, Twitter and their own web site.

On their Twitter account, they update their 1,500 followers about their upcoming concerts and share small snippets of their lives. Last Thursday, for example, the brothers informed followers they were watching their Chicago Bulls “put the bats” on Boston.

On Facebook, the duo will occasionally share articles on civil rights protests with their politically conscious fans.

But in other ways the Venegas are anything but typical web musicians.

Rebel Diaz does not promote its work on digital stores like iTunes. Despite being relatively well known in hip-hop circles, the duo doesn’t do deals with record labels to market their music on the web.

Albums go for $10 on the Rebel Diaz site

“If we wanted to take a route to give us mass exposure we would,” says 26-year-old Gonzalo. “But you have to remember, those labels are controlled by corporate interests that don’t want to hear the type of message that we’re putting forth.”

Instead, Rebel Diaz sells its material exclusively through its website, with tracks going for $1 and an album for $10.

And unlike online retailers like iTunes or Amazon that only provide short previews of the songs they sell online, Rebel Diaz lets you listen to the whole track for free. You only need to pay if you want to download the song or the album into your computer.

“Our experience as producers of music and consumers is that if people want to buy your music, it doesn’t matter if they listen to three seconds or one minute,” says Gonzalo Venegas, who goes by the artistic name, G1.

The younger of the two brothers, G1 explains that the group makes most of its sales “hand to hand” after their concerts. He believes that most of those buying Rebel Diaz’s records online are people who were not able to get their hands on a CD after one of their shows.

“Most people aren’t really hearing our music on our website. They’ll hear it on Democracy Now (a radio news show) or a friend will tell them about it, and at that point they’ll go to the site,” he says.

The band’s web presence helps the duo promote itself and sell albums, but the brothers make no secret about the fact that they rely on live performances to make a living. Last year, the duo rapped at 100 shows. And in May, it kicks off a month-long European tour that will take it to Germany, Greece and the United Kingdom.

For some extra income and to give back to the community, the Venegas brothers hold workshops on the history of hip-hop for students and youth groups in low-income neighborhoods.

“Even though the Internet is very important to us as a tool. It’s not the be all and the end all,” says G1. “The person to person contact, is probably the most important thing that we do.”

One of the group’s recent videos

Click here for more stories on the Digital Bronx.

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Trying to stop the killing

Danny Barber waiting outside the Melrose Public Houses for more youth to arrive for his anti-violence rally. Photo: Nick Pandolfo

Danny Barber waiting outside the Melrose Public Houses for more youth to arrive for his anti-violence rally. Photo: Nick Pandolfo

Danny Barber is a big man to be pounding the pavement around the public housing projects in the South Bronx where he grew up.

Weighing in at a self-described 320 pounds, the 41-year-old Bronx community organizer worked the grounds of five public houses one warm September afternoon, drumming up  interest in a youth event.

For the last eight years, the tenant president said he has ignored his high blood pressure and heart condition in order to help make the Melrose houses safer for kids.  On this day, he was rallying residents to attend a youth anti-violence event he helped organize along with seven other local tenant association presidents and a Queens non-profit called Life Camp, Inc.

But lately,  his frustration over the neighborhood’s rising rate of violence has given way to despair. Six shootings erupted around the Jackson houses in one-month over the summer, he noted. And on September 10, the day before the anti-violence rally, a 24-year-old was murdered three blocks from his complex in broad daylight.

“I would like to be able to care about, once again, where I live,” said Barber, as he juggled multiple cell phone lines with the grace of a veteran secretary.  “Just to see all the killing stop.”

The spike in gun violence coincided with a decline in his tenants’ involvement in the community—causing Barber to lose some faith in his neighborhood.  At times, he said, he thinks about walking away, but has decided instead to dedicate his time to organizing events like the youth rally.

Organizers hoped to bring at least 20 kids from each of the eight local housing developments to attend anti-violence and team-building workshops, encouraged by performances by local artists and prize giveaways such as laptops and iPods. Instead of the anticipated 160 youth, by 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 11, only 15 kids and some of their parents climbed on the bus reserved for three of the complexes. About 50 kids altogether came to participate in the morning’s workshops.

Barber placed blame for the low turnout on the recent violence, and in particular, on the murder just the day before. “The series of events leading up the rally had an effect on the turnout,” he said. “People are scared to leave their building. They’re scared to participate in activities.”

Even so, Barber found a silver lining, claiming the smaller group allowed for a richer experience, with the most faithful children, teenagers and parents in attendance.

“Danny Barber is like a mentor to me. That’s my father,” said Brandon Hernandez, 21, who has lived in the Jackson houses for a decade. “He inspired me to go back to school and do the right thing,” Hernandez’ father bounced in and out of prison when he was growing up. “He likes to see kids better themselves,” he said, “and progress.”

Barber began helping people in need at a young age. At age 7, Danny attended programs at the Salvation Army, where he remembers bringing beef soup and ravioli to the prostitutes of Hunts Point and singing in a choir that toured the United States and Canada. He credited his time at the Salvation Army with defining his giving nature.

After high school, he started losing his way, passing up college scholarships.

Barber spreading the word about the rally to community members. Photo: Nick Pandolfo

Barber spreading the word about the rally to community members. Photo: Nick Pandolfo

“I chose not to go because I chose to be a knuckle head and hang out with people on corners and do wrong things in my life,” Barber said. “But I still worked. Through everything I still held a job.”

For the next 18 years, Barber worked at the Salvation Army, beginning as a janitor at the age of 15 and working his way up to assistant to the managing director, where he helped oversee a $150,000 yearly budget.

On November 18, 1998, Barber’s life changed suddenly when he suffered a minor heart attack. His doctor determined that he couldn’t work, and he started collecting about $1,000 a month in disability benefits.

Barber prides himself on using his power to be a pest to the numerous elected officials and governmental workers on behalf of his residents. He educates residents about their rights, and said his biggest hope is that those he helps pay it forward.

His activism in the area has one community organization, Nos Quedamos, chasing him to sit on its board of directors.

“We want Danny on our board, because he has a pulse on the community,” said Sandra Quilico, Nos Quedamos’s chief operating officer. “He knows everything that’s going on and can bring to our attention issues of the community that need focusing on.”

After a year of saying no, Barber finally filed an application. He said he chose to because it will increase his involvement in the area and act as a way to restore some faith in his community.

“I get discouraged, but I’m not going nowhere,” Barber said. “This is where I am meant to be.”

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