Tag Archive | "The Bronx"

Soundview’s Family-Run Hindu Temple Pioneers Efforts for Diwali to Become an Official Holiday in NYC

Vishnu Mandir, a Hindu temple located in Soundview, Bronx. Mansi Vithlani for The Bronx Ink.

The alarm rings and it is time for Pandit Vyaas Sukul to prepare to leave for the Bronx on an early Sunday morning. He showers, puts on his kurta (cotton tunic) and an upavita (sacred thread) and tends to his two-month-old baby. The Pandit has no time to eat breakfast. He gets in his car and drives over 45 minutes to his family’s 26-year-old temple.

When Sukul is not working as a finance executive in an office, he is the officiating priest at the family-run Hindu temple, Vishnu Mandir in Soundview. He took on the role in 2019, shortly after his father passed. This is a regular Sunday for Sukul, traveling almost 15 miles from Long Island to the Bronx to host the Sunday youth service for the two hours a week the temple is open to the public. 

Along with his brother Pandit Krishna Sukul, who travels from Brooklyn, they both take off their shoes, take their place by the deities, and commence the rituals for the worshippers. Situated on Noble Avenue, the Vishnu Mandir serves the general neighborhood — community members, that at times include bishops and imams from neighboring centers of worship. The temple observes all the major festivals of the Hindu calendar. 

Bronx Ink reporter, Mansi Vithlani explores the history and significance of the Vishnu Mandir in Soundview.

The family, who are preparing to host Diwali, one of the biggest festivities in the Hindu calendar, are disappointed that the occasion is not recognized as a federal or state holiday. The festival is not mentioned in NYC’s Financial Information Services Agency (FISA) 2022 list of holidays and is also not listed as a Department of Education holiday.

As a matter of fact, the Hindu community remains to be one of the many religious communities in New York City and state without any recognized holidays, according to Bharati Kemraj, daughter of the late-priest Pandit Vishnu Sukul. 

“There isn’t much for us. While there are many groups that are pushing (for) it, it has yet to happen and the Mayor Eric Adams did promise that in his first 100 days that he was going to change that,” she said. “It’s past 100 days and the community is still waiting.” 

The festival this year is celebrated on Monday, October 24. People of various religions — including Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists — celebrate Diwali, also known as the festival of lights. According to a 2020 community survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are almost 21,000 residents who identify as Asian Indians in the Bronx county, many of whom are likely to practice Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, or Buddhism.

In May 2021, Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar (D-Queens), the first South Asian woman to be elected to a state office in New York, introduced a bill (A07062) to make Diwali a holiday for schools in the state. Kemraj hopes the bill advances past the Senate, who have the power for the bill to be written into the city. She adds that there is a short window of opportunity to do this, and so authoritative members, like the mayor, must review the bill and not wait until Diwali comes, working year round to ensure the community has a holiday.

“I think the leaders in our community need to recognize that the Hindu community is a very large community and we’re from all over. People could be from Africa and be a Hindu worshiper. New York City has to do a better job at talking about diversity and inclusion in 2022. All we get is alternate side parking for Diwali, but nothing is on the calendar,” Kemraj added.

Former mayor, Bill de Blasio, avoided answering whether Diwali would be recognized as a school holiday in October 2021, but that Eid and the Lunar New Year were. In the 2021-2022 school year, schools were closed for both the Lunar New Year and Eid while they were open for Diwali.

Continued efforts, like Rajkumar’s, are still in the works. In 2021, the city council issued a resolution requesting that the New York City Department of Education declare Diwali a holiday.

“Mayor Adams fully supports making Diwali a state and school holiday and has met with community leaders, including Assemblymember Rajkumar, to discuss strategies to ensure this happens,” a city hall spokesperson said via email.

“Diwali becoming a holiday is one of our legislative priorities for next year,” they added. 

On October 20, Mayor Eric Adams, state assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, and Department of Education chancellor David Banks announced at a morning conference, that if Rajkumar’s bill passes the legislature, Diwali will become a Department of Education holiday in the 2023 public school calendar. It will replace Anniversary Day, which is typically observed on the first Thursday in June.

The Department of Education told The Bronx Ink that “state regulations around the duration and the length of the school year create limitations to any additional school holidays to the school calendar.” Nonetheless, they added that they are providing teachers with a resource called “Learning About Diwali” that has model lessons for all grade levels K–12 as well as ideas for activities, books, and websites.

Most recently on various evenings, public officials attended Vishnu Mandir during the temple’s nine day Navratri festivities, which celebrates the divine feminine with rituals and offerings made to many goddesses. Among the crowd were Soundview native and Councilmember Amanda Farías (D-Bronx), along with District Leader Ramdat Singh of Riverdale (D-Bronx).

“I love Navrtatri. I think it’s one of the few times in any religion but particularly in Hinduism, where we get to celebrate feminine figures and it’s super empowering,” Farías said. 

Farías took office in January of this year, serving as a council member for District 18 which includes Soundview.  

“Whether it’s in a school, or in a temple, it’s my priority as the elected member to show up for them,” she said. “It is more important to make sure that statewide recognizes Diwali and I think there needs to be more of a conscious push from electors at all levels to get it to the full achievement of being recognized on a larger scale. But from the city perspective we’re working on it.” 

The majority of members of the Vishnu Mandir live in Soundview and have ties to Guyana and the Hindu faith. “Everybody came here for a better life and a better home and I think that fight continues,” Kemraj said. Nearly 12 % of residents in Soundview were born in Guyana, with a high concentration living north of Bruckner Expressway, where the Vishnu Mandir is situated, according to census data .

On this Sunday in October, there were about 50 attendees at the special youth service, who ranged from ages nine to late 80s. Second and third generation immigrants lead the ceremonies. Sunday morning within the Hindu religion is an auspicious time, a staple day of worship — everybody either flocks to temples to pray or prays by their own altars at home.

The Sukul family expects almost 80 attendees for their Diwali weekend celebrations, taking place on Oct. 23 and Oct. 24.  “Almost every year, I have to skip work for Diwali. But when I get a job, I always tell them that I’m a priest, so they know what to expect,” said Sukul.

Small steps are being taken to increase awareness of the celebration. City Hall will hold a Diwali event on Nov. 1 that is also co-hosted by elected officials from various parts of the city, including Farías.

“In a time where there’s so much diversity, I think our community gets a little lost because we want to share our culture, and it’s really sad to see that people are still closed minded or they just don’t know enough to be able to acknowledge what we do and how we do it. So the fight still continues,” Kemraj said.

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New York City Says Bronx Pedestrian Pathway Lawsuit Should be Dismissed, Case is ‘Moot’

Car blocking crosswalk cut in the Mt. Eden Mall area. Churchill Ndonwie for the Bronx Ink.

New York City remains steadfast in its position that it did not violate Title II of the American Disabilities Act in the pedestrian pathway class action lawsuit filed by Disability Rights New York on behalf of Bronx residents Carlos and Stephanie Diaz. 

In its response to the lawsuit, the city stated the Diazes’ complaint of not being able to access their Mt. Eden Mall neighborhood because people parked illegally on their front street, did not include enough harm or injury to warrant getting relief from the court. It also argued that the Diazes neighborhood is generally accessible most of the time and asked the case be dismissed. 

“Nor does the Complaint plead how the alleged obstructions rise to the level of a violation of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. Instead, the Complaint merely generally alleges that a problem of accessibility to the pedestrian pathways in the Mt. Eden Mall area violates the ADA,” the city’s response stated.

The court filing comes after the federal government submitted a brief in the Diazes’ lawsuit that said the city’s interpretation of the American with Disabilities Rights was wrong and it must provide clear pedestrian pathways to all residents in the Mount Eden neighborhood of the Bronx.  

Carlos Diaz who has cerebral palsy and Stephanie Diaz who has loss of vision due to degenerative disease filed the lawsuit in June saying they were not able to access their Mount Eden neighborhood because of illegal parkers and placard abusers. 

This worsened after the department of transportation granted special Covid-19 placards for healthcare workers in 2020. 

The city now argues the Mt. Eden Mall neighborhood is a large area and the Diazes’ complaint did not document very specifically what type of obstruction they encountered, where they encountered it, how frequent it was and how long it lasted for it to be a violation of the ADA.

“Plaintiffs merely alleged general conditions and obstructions on the pedestrian pathways in the general Mt. Eden Mall area without specifying, at the very least, their locations within the area that includes many blocks, avenues and intersections,” their dismissal filing claims.

Stephanie Diaze shared with the court in June that she and her husband had submitted 25 311 incident reports regarding illegal parking and recorded at least 45 illegally parked vehicles in front of curb cuts January through March 2021 with specific locations on where the incidents took place. 

The city said that Diaze’s argument is not specific enough on pedestrian pathway obstructions and what harm they caused. They reiterated the Covid-19 healthcare parking permits mentioned in the case expired and the argument of it contributing to illegal parking is now “moot”. 

According to the city’s filing, under the New York Administrative Code, conditions of sidewalks are the adjacent properties owners responsibility. They stated not all the blocked pedestrian pathways mentioned in the complaint are specific enough to determine if the obstructions fall within the city’s pathway program. 

“Thus, viewing the City of New York’s pedestrian pathways in their entirety. The Complaint, which at best alleges a few random non specific grievances that even if true do not rise to the level of ADA violations, fails to state a claim under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act, and these claims should be dismissed.”  the filing stated.

Disability Rights New York et al v. City of New York et al is currently awaiting the judges ruling on dismissal.

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Cars, Community Resources, TransportationComments (0)

Excelsior Scholarship Not Reaching Bronx Students

Bronx Community College campus

Introduced in 2017 by then New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and hailed as a “groundbreaking proposal” by both Cuomo and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Excelsior scholarship program intended to help low to middle income students, isn’t getting to the poorest students in the state, according to a report published in May by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization.

The report found that about 68 percent of funds awarded through the Excelsior scholarship went to middle-income students, specifically those with incomes at or above $70,000. The report also found that among fully eligible students in the 2018 cohort, community college students and Black students were least likely to receive Excelsior funds.

The reason why many low-income students have slipped through the cracks comes down to the last dollar nature of Excelsior, co-author of the report Daniel Sparks said. 

“Because it’s focused specifically on that remaining gap in tuition after (federal student aid) and after TAP (New York’s Tuition Assistance program), we see disproportionately fewer low income students actually taking up, or even applying for the scholarship,” Sparks said.

The scholarship is only awarded when tuition is not covered by other financial aid programs like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or TAP. Even then, Excelsior does not account for non-tuition related expenses that many students face. Additionally, Excelsior has a long list of requirements for a student to be eligible for aid, including a contract that the student will reside in New York state after graduation, for however long they receive the scholarship. 

Community college students make up about seven percent of all CUNY Excelsior recipients according to data from the Higher Education Services Corporation, despite the fact that they make up approximately 38 percent of all CUNY students, according to CUNY data.

In the Bronx, 48 Bronx Community College students received the Excelsior scholarship between 2017 to 2020, the lowest number of recipients for a single school amongst all CUNY schools. While Bronx Community College students make up about four percent of all CUNY undergraduates, they only make up about 0.2 percent of CUNY Excelsior scholarship recipients.

Sparks also hypothesized that many students do a cost-benefit analysis and decide that Excelsior is simply not worth the hassle.

“It’s not really worth the hassle of going through yet another application process,” Sparks said. “You’re going through all of that just for an extra 500 bucks a year, it might not make a ton of sense, they might just decide to forgo it.”

Bernice Agyeiwaa, a Bronx Community College student who received the Excelsior scholarship, said that she wished the process for applying for financial aid was easier, citing the tough requirements of Excelsior.

“It is a lot at first, I even tried to give up on the Excelsior, it’s quite a lot,” Agyeiwaa said. “But then I looked at the tuition and finances and was like, okay, let me just put in effort and apply… I wouldn’t say it’s easy.”

However, after pulling together all materials required and after being notified that she was a recipient, Agyeiwaa did not receive any funds from the scholarship since her tuition was covered by federal student aid.

Bronx Community College student Hawa Tiama told the Bronx Ink that she was upset at how her Excelsior application was handled. After two months of not hearing back after she submitted the application, she was notified that she was ineligible for the scholarship because she did not complete two years of high school in the U.S. despite completing the General Educational Development to get the scholarship.

“They came to my (adult school) and they told us if you have your GED, you can have this scholarship,” Tiama said. “That’s why I was inspired, okay, I can do the GED and they’ll pay for my school. I’m now registered and they tell me I’m ineligible.”

Andrew Whyte, another Bronx Community College student, said that while he was deemed ineligible due to income requirements, he felt that the scholarship required too much of a student.

“It would have benefited me a little bit if I would have accepted but at the same time, it wouldn’t. I’m not fast-paced when it comes to the pace of college,” Whyte said, referring to the 30 credit per year requirement.

The New York State HESC did not immediately respond to request for comment.

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, Bronx Community College costs about $4,405 a year to attend after financial aid.

New Deal for CUNY

As Excelsior gets renewed for another year, some are looking into other ways to provide free tuition for CUNY students. The New Deal for CUNY bill, introduced by state Sen. Andrew Gournades (D-Brooklyn) in February last year, seeks to change how free college tuition works in New York.

The bill as it stands for consideration in the Higher Education Committee in the state senate would create a new “tuition reimbursement fund” controlled by the Office of the State Comptroller using funding previously earmarked for TAP and Excelsior, and would be a first dollar award. 

In an interview with the Bronx Ink, Gournades said that he believes that the Excelsior scholarship is not helping enough CUNY students and has too many requirements for students to access free college tuition.

“The reality is the Excelsior scholarship does not fully reach all of the students who would otherwise be attending CUNY,” Gournades said. “The Excelsior scholarship does not offer the type of help and does not make college affordable for those who need it most.”

While the bill is still waiting to progress through the senate, the recently-enacted state executive budget shows an increase in funding for CUNY schools. In the current fiscal year, funding for operational support for CUNY schools increased by over $62 million, according to the supplemental budget report. The overall spending budget for CUNY schools have also increased since last year, from $1.6 billion to $2.4 billion, according to the state’s budget reports.

Gournades said while he’s still fighting to pass the bill, he’s optimistic that the small steps in funding will help fuel larger investments in CUNY.

“I think there’s this belief that only if you adhere to a certain criteria, are you worthy of being invested in,” Gournades said. “So many young people at CUNY institutions today have so much promise and so much potential, and the public should be invested in that.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Education, Education, North Central BronxComments (0)

Remaining Quonset Hut Serves as a Reminder of Current New York City Housing Crisis

A Quonset hut located in Soundview. Mansi Vithlani for The Bronx Ink.

In the midst of New York City’s housing crisis, in which Mayor Eric Adams has initiated the construction of a tent city for over 10,000 migrants, a huge silver-colored dome-shaped hut made of rigid steel sits between Rosedale and Metcalf — in the middle of Seward Avenue — in Soundview. It’s a reminder that the problem of housing scarcity or affordability is not recent. It dates back almost 76 years, with innovative and arguably questionable emergency housing solutions being prevalent both post-war and today.

The hut is located next to a parking garage that at first glance appears to be abandoned, with a wire fence that is frequently locked surrounding both the garage and the hut.

Technically, it’s known as a Quonset hut and could be one of many that were built in the United States during World War II. They were mostly utilized by the military for a range of things, including barracks, storage, sheds, offices, and hospitals. After that, they were converted into affordable housing for returning veterans who had started families, due to the urgent housing shortage, post-war. The housing shortage however, dates back to the post-depression era between 1929 and 1939

WATCH: Bronx Ink reporter Mansi Vithlani takes us inside the hut.

Records indicate that there was an entire neighborhood of Quonset huts in Castle Hill, in the south Bronx, in the late 1940s and early 50s. They were used as temporary housing for returning WWII veterans, nearly 962 families.

The George Fuller construction company is accredited with being the first to produce Quonset huts for the US Navy in 1941. The Quonset hut design however, was influenced by the more intricate Nissen hut design, created by the British during World War I. The Quonset Point neighborhood, a Navy base in Rhode Island, is where the first production site of the huts was located, giving them their name

The hut at Soundview is not a remnant of World War II and is now used for storage, according to a New York City Housing Authority spokesperson. NYCHA owns the hut, according to property records. It’s part of Soundview Houses, a development built in 1954. But NYCHA does not know where the hut came from.

A NYCHA spokesperson said they were unaware whether the hut was relocated from another location, such as the Castle Hill hut development and placed in Soundview, or if it was built from scratch for storage. It does, however, serve as a poignant reminder of the housing crisis in the 1900s.

Utilizing NYC Then & Now, from 1951, 1996 and 2004, the Quonset hut in Soundview does not show up until after 1996. 

1951 – No development in Soundview

1996 – No hut

2004 – Hut clearly shown 

1951 – Quonset Hut neighborhood in Castle Hill, Bronx

There was a dire need for veteran housing in the 1940s, and so the Quonset huts were placed in subdivisions, which are divided plots of land for homes for families, as a way to control the ongoing crisis. “The housing emergency was to push public housing again, because it wasn’t there,” said Nicholas Dagen Bloom, a Professor of Urban Policy and Planning.

A 1946 quonset hut community built at Bruckner Blvd. & Boynton Ave. in Soundview for returning veterans. Courtesy of Lehman C​ollege, Leonard Lief Library.

“From the 30s definitely until the 50s, there was this dominant view that the city needed to be reconstructed and enormous money was available from mostly the state and federal governments to do this (construction) work until the 1960s,” he added. 

Sebastian Mudry, 77, lived in a Quonset hut in Castle Hill with his parents and two younger brothers from 1951. He was about to start kindergarten at the time. “I loved it because we had a place of our own… We had been living at my grandmother’s…And it was overcrowded,” Mudry said.

LISTEN: Sebastian Mudry recalls his move to the Quonsets.

Mudry wrote about his experience in “A Bronx Boys’ Christmas,” a book about a Christmas party for 50 or 60 of the Quonset hut kids, with one hut decorated with festive ornaments and a feast laid out for the children to celebrate the holiday.

Sebastian Mudry, 77, who lived in a Castle Hill Quonset when he was in kindergarten. Photo taken via Zoom.

He recalls the hut he once called home feeling luxurious at the time, as they had the kerosene stove. “That kept us warm,” Mudry said. There was also a small kitchen and a bathroom in the hut. “(It) had just a shower, I believe, not as I recall a bathtub, just room enough up for an upright shower,” he added.

LISTEN: Mudry explains the layout of the Quonset hut. 

Each hut was divided for two families by a wall, but sound was able to pass through, according to Roger McCormack, director of education at the Bronx County Historical Society. He explains that although the shelters featured kerosene stoves, they were not favored by the majority. “I know there were a number of complaints that they weren’t heated very well, there were leaks, so it was a short period of time for them to live in,” McCormack added. 

The Housing Act 1949 began new significant federal appropriations for public housing to help with the post-war housing shortfall, and according to Bloom, these projects in New York, were pushed by Robert Moses and his ambition in redeveloping the city. 

Research indicates that Robert Moses, known as the “master builder”,  was appointed to the City Planning Commission in 1941, and that he later served as chairman of the Emergency Committee on Housing. Moses decided to take advantage of the surplus huts that were available after the war which could serve as temporary housing by assembling them on vacant land.

“Robert Moses was not a fan of public housing, he didn’t really run it until the mid 1940s, but then when he did, he turned it into a machine for building. He was called the construction coordinator in the post-war year, so all of the money that came to New York had to come through him,” Bloom said.

Moses’ implicit authority over subsidized housing was fully established once he was chosen by Mayor William O’Dwyer to serve as the City Construction Coordinator in 1946. In 1946 huts in Soundview can be traced to Mayor William O’Dwyer. He requested that New York City receive 1,345 Quonset huts that would be constructed in Soundview Park, spanning 148 acres of land, and that the Board of Estimate and the Public Federal Housing Authority provide the temporary housing units.

“Soundview and Castle Hill was always farmland, it was marshy and particularly in the 1940s, it was fairly inhabited, so that’s why they chose that as a location,” McCormack said.

Living in a Quonset gave Mudry the opportunity to live a typical childhood, playing games such as tag, hide-and-seek, red light, green light, 123, and he never encountered bullying. “It was like a city of Quonset huts… it was a delightful experience, ” he added.

LISTEN:  Mudry recalls his experience living in the Castle Hill Quonset.

Within a few years, the families were rehoused into new NYCHA developments if they qualified, Bloom explained. Following a “$57 million city investment” that had started in 1961,  high rise apartment constructions would begin, removing the Quonset huts in the Bronx and replacing them with modern row homes and apartment complexes with multiple units. 

Almost 76 years later, affordable housing units remain a pressing concern for New York City residents. The city is currently experiencing a housing crisis with more than 52,000  homeless people in NYC. 

Number of people in NYC shelters. Chart courtesy of Brendan Cheney, Director of Policy and Communications at the New York Housing Conference.

“It’s such a huge crisis right now. We’ve been talking about the housing crisis for way too long, years, decades, but I didn’t really appreciate it until the other day looking at numbers about just how big the current crisis is and how overwhelming the need is,” said Brendan Cheney, Director of Policy and Communications at the New York Housing Conference.

“Quonset huts and tents, it’s a story right there, right? New York did this,” Bloom said.

In response to the thousands of asylum seekers being brought across the Texas border, Adams ordered the construction of relief centers, referred to as “tent city,” which were initially set up in the Bronx and eventually moved to Randall’s Island as a result of flooding.

“The Quonset huts were really a waystation for a very brief period, and they were erected at the same time the city was launching vast and enormous housing projects on a scale. So there’s that difference. There will be this temporary housing but there really isn’t permanent housing available for the migrants,” Bloom added.

The current housing supply cannot address the crisis as is, and that more federal assistance is required, Cheney explained. “It’s been going on for 70 years, and it’s not, ‘but now we’re finally approaching the end’. No, it could continue for another several years. I hope not, but it’s so frustrating,” he added.

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Housing, Southern BronxComments (0)

In the Face of Record Shop Closures, Moodies Records Persists

 Moodies Records hosts a celebration of life for the deceased owner, Earl Moodie. Liz Foster for the Bronx Ink.

Reggae music overpowers light chatter in a room where music legends cover the walls; Michael Jackson posters, Taylor Swift CDs and Lauryn Hill vinyl records flank a narrow aisle weaving between the rows of entertainment. Baskets filled with incense and hair conditioners sit near the cash register as Williamsbridge’s older residents chat on the shady sidewalk underneath a rumbling 2-train. Friends, neighbors and family joined together to celebrate the life of Earl Moodie, owner of Moodies Records, who died last September at the age of sixty-nine. 

“He opened the shop, the rest is history,” said his son, Earl Moodie Jr. 

Moodies Records, a small music store in Williamsbridge, has persisted despite the shift from vinyl to digital, and in the face of big brands like T-Mobile moving into the storefronts that line White Plains Rd. and Westchester Ave.  

The locally owned Records-N-Stuff and Tony Ryan Records & Electronics have both disappeared – just two of the Bronx vinyl shops that went out of business in the early 2010s. But Moodies is still selling records. 

Against a wave of closing independent shops, Moodies holds the line.

Entering an online search for “record shop in the Bronx” or “Bronx music store” yields two results: Moodies and Cholo’s Record Shop. Cholo’s sits at the very southern tip of the Bronx, a mere stone’s throw from Manhattan. Looking up other music shop names, like Cam DVD & Music World, lead to links and contact information for Moodies, not even showing the closed store. 

While streaming subscriptions continue to grow–$5 billion according to the Recording Industry Association of America’s mid-year report – the problem facing record shops isn’t a lack of interest in vinyl. In fact, record sales have increased over 4000% in the past decade, from one million units sold in 2009 to 41.7 million units sold in 2021, according to statistica.com.

Independent record stores scattered throughout the country comprised around 52% of the market share in 2022, most often selling rock and hip-hop albums. Major companies like Amazon, Hot Topic and Urban Outfitters, nonetheless, hold a tight grip on the vinyl market. 

But platforms like Amazon fail to highlight the sense of community that independent record stores provide. While algorithms can offer what you “may like,” the suggestion is a result of data and analytics, not a person who can “analyze the soulfulness of your music choices,” said Edward Bilous,  Founding Director of the Center for Innovation in the Arts at the Juilliard School.

Vinyl, as a medium, shows a “breakdown of the artistic choice – the tender loving care – that was put into the record making process,” Bilous said.

 The word album as we know it dates back to the 19th century, meaning a “collection of individual works with a certain structure in mind,” he said. This structure became less important in the new digital music marketplace, where someone can replay the one song that they’d like to hear without having to listen to the entire body of musical work. 

“I think that that’s missed in the digital world,” said Bilous, “I don’t think there will be a day where it will be impossible to find vinyl.”

Moodies Records opened over forty years ago in 1973, gaining popularity in the late 1980s. The shop instilled itself in the community, hosting meet and greets with artists, gatherings and performances. Stars like Bob Marley, Slick Rick and Ashanti found their way to the store, which sits among the crowds of businesses on White Plains Rd. Critic Anthony Bourdain featured the shop on an episode of his television show Parts Unknown, highlighting Moodies as a building block for hip-hop and reggae. Pierre Barclay, Moodie’s nephew, described the store as “the beating heart” of reggae.

“Music helps out. It deals with a lot,” Barclay said. He explained that Moodies aims to relieve people of their worries, even if only for the length of an album. This mission for consumers to practice self care is why the store expanded to selling a few skincare and haircare products. Moodies is for the mind and body. 

Earl Moodie began his career performing in a band, the Stepping Stones. His son said that his father “poured everything into” music which was “his life,” echoing the store’s motto, “music is life.” In Williamsbridge, Moodie was more than just an artist and tastemaker.

“It’s what he was meant to do,” reflected Moodie Jr., explaining that Moodie was “very smart” but chose not to “go corporate.” With help from fellow music enthusiast and New York City reggae icon Brad Osbourne, Moodie began his nearly fifty year career at the record store. That the store still remains speaks both to his skills as a businessman and his immersion in the neighborhood and music industry. 

Moodie was described by family and close friends as “a man of the people” and “a really good guy.” Some neighbors trusted him enough to hold onto their savings as though he were a bank. Moodie Jr. believes that his father has “good karma.” One comment on a Facebook post announcing Moodie’s death reads, “he was a true pillar of the community.” 

As for other record shops in the Bronx, “all of them are gone,” said Barclay. 

“As long as we got vinyl, we’ll be here.”

 Vinyls, CDs, DVDs and more cover nearly every inch of Moodies Records. Liz Foster for the Bronx Ink. 

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Food Planting Event in New York Botanical Garden Helps Address Food Insecurity in Bronx

The Children’s Garden at the Edible Academy located in the New York Botanical Garden. Henrietta McFarlane for the Bronx Ink.

The “three sisters”— beans, corn, and squash—grow in a semicircle shaped plot at the far end of Edible Academy’s vegetable garden in the Bronx. Beans grow wrapped around corn stems for support. The roots of beans fortify the soil with nitrogen, important for the growth of corn and squash. Orange, yellow, and green squash have large sprawling leaves that cover the ground below the beans and corn, which keep the soil cool and moist and prevent weeds from growing. 

“This companion planting technique was something that was taught to settlers by the Indigenous Americans,” said Edible Academy Educator Alyssa Markowski. 

On Sunday, the same technique was taught to elementary-school-aged children during the Edible Academy’s event “Dig! Plant! Grow! The Three Sisters.”  

Each child who participated was shown how to make a “Fiesta Corn Salad” out of the ingredients in the garden. Posters on small tables showed how beans might become soup, squash could be roasted and corn turned into spoonbread or fritters. Everyone was sent home with popcorn seeds to make into popcorn. 

The Edible Academy’s garden, tucked away in the north-east corner of the New York Botanical Garden, is a small oasis in one of the most notoriously food insecure areas in the nation: the Bronx. NYBG is responding to this nutrition crisis through the new Edible Academy. 

The Edible Academy, located in the New York Botanical Gardens, the Bronx. Henrietta McFarlane for the Bronx Ink.

According to Hunger Free America’s most recent report, one in four Bronx residents experienced food insecurity between 2018 and 2020. The borough also has the highest level of food insecurity in all of New York City. Households with children were about 15 percent more likely to report having less income for food during the pandemic, according to the NYC Health Epi Data Brief

“The pandemic has really highlighted the issue of food insecurity. Pre-pandemic rates of food insecurity were already unacceptably high for a country as wealthy as the United States,” said Kim Hekimian, a professor at Columbia University’s Institute of Human Nutrition. 

During the pandemic, economic barriers to food grew—45 percent of residents reported less income and 20 percent were unable to buy groceries due to lack of money for food. 

“Rates of food insecurity still remain higher than pre-pandemic,” said Professor Hekimian. 

Hekimian explained that people who experience food insecurity tend to rely on low cost foods that are cheap and accessible. Those foods tend to be high in non-nutritive calories such as sugars, sodium, and other non-essential nutrients. 

Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that levels of childhood obesity surged to unprecedented levels during the pandemic. This is directly linked to inadequate nutrition. 

The Edible Academy runs regular activities throughout the year to bring awareness to this issue. 

“We have a program for school trip visits, summer camps, and scout groups,” said Ann Novak, the Edible Academy’s manager.

The most effective way to deal with the diseases caused by malnutrition is to prevent them from happening in the first place, Hekimian explained.

“It is important to teach children to grow food in an urban setting so that they are taught from a young age about fruit and vegetable intake, what dietary guidelines are and how to cook with these foods.”

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Morris Heights Residents Voice Concerns About Noise and Pollution as City Plans to Renovate Jennie Jerome Playground

Jennie Jerome Playground. New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

Community members in Morris Heights are asking the city to address noise and pollution as it begins the process of renovating the Jennie Jerome Playground. The park, located on Jerome Ave. near the Bronx Expressway, is getting a $4 million dollar facelift. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation held a scope meeting Wednesday, to discuss the  redevelopment.

“I don’t think there’s a way to mitigate the noise pollution from the (four) train because it’s elevated above the park and we’re just kind of used to that,” local education organizer Chauncy Young said. “It really is in a lot of ways, you know, a very small public park so you have to have something to draw people in.”

The decision to renovate Jennie Jerome Playground was announced in July, one of 10 new sites to be renovated as part of the Community Parks Initiative to renovate neighborhood parks that were hit hardest by the pandemic. A total of $425 million was allocated for the initiative, according to Peng Xu, landscape designer for the project. 

Many community members expressed their concerns at the meeting about noise and pollution in the playground, suggesting that the renovation add unique features to the park to mitigate pollution.

They also cited safety concerns regarding the traffic and transportation around the playground. Suggestions included moving the entrance to the park from Jerome Ave nearer to Townsend Ave and installing a traffic light.

“A lot of our children actually don’t go to this park, not only the highway pollution, the noise pollution, but there’s also a safety concern that our children are not the only ones that are in this park,” said Gladys Gomez, Parents Association president for school district PS 170. “This is a park that’s so near to the highway and there’s a stop sign rather than a traffic light on one of the crossways.”

Samantha Cardenas, chief of staff for city councilmember Pierina Ana Sanchez, indicated that Sanchez’s office was open to the idea of the entrance being moved. She added that Sanchez’s office would facilitate conversations with the Department of Transportation to install a traffic light.

“This is unfortunately one of the few parks we have and it is very very sadly stationed right above the Cross Bronx and next to the train,” Cardenas said. “However we can mitigate those would be ideal.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Community Resources, Culture, North Central BronxComments (1)

Bronx Community Leaders Reach Out to Communities of Color Disproportionately Affected by Monkeypox

Community members grab sanitary products from NYC Health during a Monkeypox outreach event. Churchill Ndonwie for the Bronx Inc.

Bronx community leaders gathered for a night of Monkeypox outreach Wednesday, to raise awareness about the spread of Monkeypox in the Bronx and address the disproportionate impact the disease has on Black and Latino communities.

Members of the community were given information about vaccination resources and educational pamphlets on how to protect themselves from Monkeypox. They were also given condoms, sanitary products and encouraged to seek care if they feel sick or identify a rash or sore.

“We know that inequities continue to exist. The numbers within our communities, particularly communities of color among African American and Latino men are still high when compared to other groups” said Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson, who’s office hosted the event in partnership with the Bronx Chamber of Commerce, Third Avenue Business Improvement District, NYC Health and Destination Tomorrow.

Though cases are beginning to decline citywide, latest data from New York Health as of September 18 shows 632 of the identified 3480 citywide cases are in the Bronx. And of those citywide cases, 60% are among Blacks and Hispanics, the majority demographic group of the Bronx. 

“Lot of people out there haven’t been able to get the education that they desperately need in order to understand and take the steps that are necessary to protect and prevent from being harmed by it” said Sage Rivera, Chief Development Program Officer for Destination Tomorrow, a grassroots agency and the LGBTQ+ center for the Bronx borough. The center also serves as a first dose Monkeypox vaccination site.

Rivera also talked about the importance of not falling prey to stigmatization against a certain community because they are the most affected. “It’s very, very easy to fall into the trap of what’s going on, because it’s been so prevalent amongst people of color, and affecting so much the LGBTQ community. This is a skin to skin contact disease, plain and simple,” he said.

On July 18, the five Borough Presidents sent a joint letter to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky demanding more Monkeypox vaccines be sent to New York City. Latest New York Health data shows 95,345 doses have been administered citywide with 5,639 doses administered in the Bronx. About a third of the citywide  doses were administered to those identifying as Black or Hispanic. 

“We do know that access is an issue. So we want to get more vaccination sites,” said Anita Reyes, Assistant Commissioner, Bronx Neighborhood Health, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

New York City Health recently opened a Tremont Monkeypox vaccination clinic in the Bronx. The clinic, located at 1826 Arthur Ave., is open to the public for first dose vaccination walk-ins. 

“I think that health is an issue that is still not spoken about enough in the Bronx….Monkeypox is just something that is making a lot of people question what makes them feel safe and healthy in a community, especially for the LGBTQ community,” said Cecil Brooks, a long time Mott Haven resident. 

“If we have enough people who are fighting misinformation, and know what resources are available, then we can do our small part to make the South Bronx an even better and more welcoming space,” Brooks said.

Posted in Bronx Life, Community Resources, HealthComments (0)

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