Tag Archive | "Melrose"

Women’s Film Series Draws Audiences to The Bronx Documentary Center

Outbursts from a captivated audience echoed through The Bronx Documentary Center during a film screening at the opening night Women’s Film Series in the Melrose neighborhood of the Bronx.

The movie was Jackson, a documentary about the only abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi and the pro-life opposition attempts to shut it down. The film premiered at the Los Angeles Film this past summer and then screened in New York at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival before it landed in the Bronx.

The Bronx Documentary Center is a non-profit gallery and exhibition space that award-winning photographer Mike Kamber opened five years ago. His mission is to spread social change through photography and film.

There are only two traditional movie theatres in the Bronx and both are megaplexes that screen Hollywood blockbusters. So when The Bronx Documentary Center, one of few alternative screening venues in the county, programmed three documentaries with director Q&As for the Women’s Film Series last month, the event was a significant one. Rarely do Bronx residents have an opportunity to see independent cinema and film festival favorites among public crowds at a local venue.

After the screening, photographer and filmmaker Maisie Crow described how she first discovered the story that would ultimately become a feature length documentary four years later. She had read a 2012 article in Jezebel, an online magazine focused on celebrities, sex, and feminism, about a state law threatening Mississippi’s only abortion clinic. Purely out of curiosity, she headed south.

After arriving in Jackson, Mississippi and successfully pitching the story to an online longform site, Atavist, Crow quickly realized a 7-minute assignment was insufficient. Competing journalists also covering the clinic in Jackson were quick to report and publish though. “News outlets would come for one day expecting to get a story, thinking they deserved to tell someone’s story,” Crow said after her screening. “But you have to spend the time to earn it.”

Crow stayed in Mississippi to follow the unfolding story between the abortion clinic, the protestors, and one 24-year-old single parent on welfare, with four children and pregnant with twins. Crow’s reporting led to the completion of a short film, The Last Clinic, in 2013, which was later nominated for an Emmy. She continued to travel to Jackson back-and-forth for four years to shoot the feature-length follow-up she titled Jackson. Today, Crow is still traveling to Mississippi to follow one subject’s story during the ongoing struggle for women’s reproductive health.

Presenting her film in a program of exclusively female films is gratifying for Crow. Until the industry begets equality, the dedicated support is welcomed. “That we have these ‘women in film’ series is the reality we’re in, and it’s just great to have groups who care about advancing women in documentary and journalism,” Crow said.

The Women’s Film Series continued at the Bronx Documentary Center with The Wolfpack by Crystal Moselle and A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers by Greta Gandbhir.

For more information on events and programs at the Bronx Documentary Center, visit http://bronxdoc.org/.

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Jardin de la Roca, a Sanctuary in Melrose


Twelve community gardens dot the Melrose neighborhood in the Bronx. They stand in the shadows of high rises. Each has a specialty, and its own loyal members. The jardin de la roca, or Rock Garden, at the corner of East 160th and Elton streets is known for its domino tournaments and the geology that gives it its name. Reporter Mike Elsen-Rooney takes us there, and speaks to the people who give it life.

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Violent crime in Mott Haven, Melrose at five-year high

Weekend mornings in Melrose are usually about sounds that help people relax. There’s the bell from the Church of Immaculate Conception, and soft music from shops that have just opened up for business. So when Maximino Rivera heard shots early on a Saturday last November, he couldn’t believe his ears. Minutes later, he walked in on an armored truck that had just been looted on Third Avenue.

Members of the South Bronx Community Congress, a consortium of various community organizations, demand more jobs to control violence. (NASR UL HADI/The Bronx Ink)

The weekend after, Rivera and other members of the South Bronx Community Congress — a consortium of various community organizations — marched down Brook Avenue in Mott Haven, demanding measures to control the violence. “We haven’t seen such heists since the 70s,” said Rivera, who has been involved with welfare work since 1989. “The statistics may or may not show it, but we can see that violence is becoming a bigger problem.”

Rivera’s instincts are fairly accurate. The South Bronx’s 40th Precinct, an area of less than three square miles, has reported almost 500 incidents of violent crime this year. More than 90 percent of these are felonious assaults, mostly shootings. In October, six incidents of gun violence were reported on a single Sunday.

Violence has climbed steadily, almost straight up, since 2008. This year’s toll — both overall, and individually for murder, rape and assault — is the highest in at least five years. The count so far is at least 20 murders and 23 rapes; that’s about one of each every two weeks, in a population of less than 180,000.


Murders in the community have gone up by more than 35 percent since last year. The last time this number was at par with the average across other precincts in the Bronx was in 2008. Since then, the borough’s average has remained below 12, while the 40th’s numbers have gone up by more than 50 percent.

The 2006 Community Health Profiles rank homicide among the top five causes of premature death in Mott Haven.

The rise in incidents of sexual violence is even more disturbing. Rapes are up by 75 percent since last year. Also, for the first time in five years, the 40th has registered more incidents than the borough’s average per precinct.

Assaults in the neighborhood remain at a much higher threshold than the rest of the Bronx, and the gap has been widening consistently. There were 445 incidents of felonious assault in the 40th Precinct this year, 20 percent more than the borough average of 367.


Banners at the residents’ march against violence primarily demanded more jobs and less poverty, as a solution to the spike in violence. “It’s all about connecting the dots between our social problems and violence,” said Raymond Figueroa, who runs a development program for incarcerated youth at Brook Park.

“Poverty and unemployment statistics are like canaries in the mine,” he said. “The minute they start acting up, you know that the situation is becoming dangerous. It’s a circle. Violence happens when people are violated.”

Figueroa explained that there are several jobs in the neighborhood that are just not available to locals, mostly because they are not educated enough. “Our schools haven’t been able to help our children, because they don’t have enough human resources to address our needs,” he said.

New York University’s Furman Center found that more than 75 percent of students in Mott Haven and Hunts Point perform below grade level in reading. In math, that number is almost 65 percent. Eventually these students drop out; more than half the residents in this community do not have a high school diploma.

“These unemployed youth then turn to underground businesses,” said Figueroa. “Prostitution and drug/gun running provide something that is very tangible and immediate.”

This reasoning does seem to hold ground. At least two-thirds of those involved in this year’s murders — both victims and perpetrators — were 25 or younger. Also, all the data charts shared earlier in this text show the 2008-09 recession to be the start of the upward trend in violent crime. During the same period, unemployment in this community doubled, going from about 9 percent to more than 18 percent.

“Joblessness feeds poverty in our community,” reiterated Figueroa, “which in turn makes it difficult for our kids to stick to school.” The 2006 Community Health Profiles estimate the poverty level in Mott Haven at 45 percent, twice as much as New York City overall.

“Poor school-age kids eventually turn to friends on the street for support, and that’s how they become gangs. The Dominicans go to the Trinitarios, the African Americans stick with the Bloods, the Puerto Ricans with the Latin Kings, and so on.”

“We call them gangs, but they think of themselves as street families,” he said. “And these families run the underground economy, which is the source of most violence.”

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Brazen thieves run off with a bag of cash through Melrose streets

Brazen thieves run off with a bag of cash through Melrose streets

Armored Truck perps

Footage from a surveillance camera shows the two suspects in the robbery (photo via NYPD)

Shots rang out early Thursday morning on the streets of Melrose near the Hub as an armored truck security guard fired at two thieves who ran off with the bag of  cash he was trying to deliver to a local check cashing store.

The shootout happened just before 8 a.m. outside of David’s Check Cashing on Third Avenue and 155th Street. Police said two unidentified men–one wearing a construction hat and an orange vest–approached the security guard in his armored truck as he was unloading his delivery. The suspects sprayed mace at the Rapid Armour Company guard, who then fired at them with his handgun. The suspects wrestled his firearm away before fleeing on foot down 155th Street, turning onto Elton Avenue and escaping with an unspecified amount of cash.

Police stand outside of a check chasing store with a broken window.

The shootout occurred early Thursday morning outside of David's Check Cashing in Melrose. (Nigel Chiwaya| THE BRONX INK)

“I just started hearing shots, I didn’t know what was happening,” said Abdel Akaaboune, who works at a convenience store across the street from the check cashing store.  “I didn’t think it was guns.”

Remnants of the robbery could be spotted at the crime scene. A white construction helmet was dropped in front of the store. A single bullet hole punctured the window of a Foreman Mills across the street, and the front door of the check-chasing store was shattered. Another bullet hit the door of an MTA bus. A trail of blood led up 155th Street toward Elton Avenue. Witnesses said the fleeing suspects left behind a handgun.

Neither the driver, the security guard, nor bystanders were hurt.

Residents said that even though they’re used to violence, this wild-west-like shootout defied belief.

“There have been robberies around here before with knives and things, but nothing like this,” said David Luciano, who owns an auto shop across the street that was robbed four years ago. “To try to rob an armored truck, that takes some serious guts.”

Police  have asked the public to help them identify the suspects. One is described as a 5-foot-4-inch black male, between ages 25 and 40, with a “low caesar-cut hairstyle and bad skin.” The second suspect is a 5-foot-8-inch black male, in his 40s, last seen wearing black sunglasses and a tight black skull cap beneath the white construction helmet that was left at the scene.


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Bloody week in the Bronx

Bloody week in the Bronx

Violence in the Bronx has escalated in this week with three shootings in a span of three days, leaving a 4-year-old boy in critical condition and Bronx residents feeling rattled. Click on each marker for more details.

View Bloody week in the Bronx in a larger map

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Top Stories of the Day

Bronx mom takes cops to civil court for failure to protect her son

Residential confidential informant, 20 year old Antony Velez, was doing is job when he tipped off two cops to the location of guns and drugs inside a Brooklyn apartment. The agreement was that he would be protected in return. But on that day in 2004, Velez was shot just two hours after giving police the tip. Velez’s mother Bronx woman Towanda Velez, according to The Daily News, has decided to sue the two police officers in a civil case, for what she sees as negligent conduct.

New gallery to open in the Bronx in memory of slain journalist

Tim Hetherington, photojournalist, was killed while reporting in Libya last April. He dreamed of opening a film and photography gallery space in the Bronx. Soon, reports The Daily News, his dream will be realized. Fellow photojournalist Mike Kamber plans to open the doors to the gallery in tribute to his heroic friend.

Judge Lee Holzman gives advantages to his chief campaign fundraiser

The Daily News reports that Surrogate Judge Holzman allowed his lawyer friend, Michael Lippman, charge fees for work he didn’t do on the estates of deceased Bronx residents. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct recommends disciplinary action against Holzman.

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Avoiding banks, immigrants save their own way

Denisse Lina Chavez keeps her cash savings in a Heineken bottle that she hides behind the counter of her store in Mott Haven, a practice she has kept for at least 10 years. This unique  savings method helped Chavez pay for her expansion to a neighboring store and then later to open a Mexican restaurant she ran for a while before selling it. While she could have placed that money in a bank and collected interest, she said she doesn’t trust banks and prefers her system instead.
Denisse Lina Chavez behind the counter where she keeps her savings

Denisse Lina Chavez behind the counter where she keeps her savings. Photo: Nick Pandolfo

Chavez is one of thousands in the Bronx shying away from the formal financial system. According to a June 2010 report released by the Office of Consumer Affairs Department of Financial Empowerment, the Bronx, at 28.6 percent, is the borough with the highest percentage of unbanked people. While 13.4 percent of New York City residents are without bank accounts, a staggering 56 percent of the roughly 86,000 residents of the neighborhoods Mott Haven and Melrose are unbanked.

But just because many people are not using formal banks does not mean they lack access to savings and credit services. Mexican immigrants bring their cultural practices to the Bronx in the form of informal savings groups called sociedades.   They consist of a group of people who contribute some amount of money on a regular basis. Then,  each member takes the entire pool of money weekly or monthly.

“The point is that you are forcing yourself to save,” said Adrian Franco, director of financial advocacy non-profit Qualitas of Life. “It’s a way to develop an attitude to saving money.”

Chavez is the organizer of a sociedad. In hers, 11 women each contribute $400 weekly, and the pot of $4,400 is given to a different member over the course of 11 weeks. Although the formal group is only 11 women, members without enough money during any given week may ask family and friends to contribute.

“We don’t get rich,” said Chavez. “We just help each other.”

But her group has a much greater chance of bigger returns than most other savings clubs like it. Franco explained that the $400 weekly contribution is extremely high for sociedades, with people normally giving more like $50 a month or $15 or $25 a week. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if there were as many as 50 or 60 people indirectly participating in Chavez’s sociedad.

Chavez explained that in her sociedad, no interest is charged and the group functions to create opportunities for people to make bigger purchases that may be necessary like clothing and rent, or to cover an emergency. She said that a member and her husband have bought two houses in Mexico with their shares of the money.

Sociedades are not replacements for banks, however, because they don’t provide people with a formal credit history. Experts and financial advocates said they serve to help people, especially women, collect savings and attain some financial independence by creating a social structure through the sociedad. Belonging to a sociedad carries with it certain cultural practices and assumptions.

“There is a social pressure attached,” said Alicia Portada, a financial literacy coordinator at the Union Settlement Federal Credit Union, a non-profit group that works in all five boroughs. “You don’t want to be the one who didn’t give the money. Everybody will wonder why and you’ll get left out in the future.”

It is difficult to track how many sociedades actually exist because members are often undocumented and there is no paper trail. But it’s easy to understand why they are so popular.

In all of Mott Haven and Melrose, there are only eight banks, as compared to the 44 across the river in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.  Financial illiteracy also plays a big role in pushing these alternative systems forward, “It might be that they don’t know better.” said Portada. “It takes time to learn the minimum required.”

Lack of English skills also drives people to sociedades, said Adrian Franco, director of Qualitas of Life, another non-profit  group providing financial literacy classes to Hispanics. Immigrants who don’t understand a bank’s policies and complicated procedures prefer these informal savings groups where they can communicate with other members in their native language.

Sociedades and other groups like them have their pitfalls as well. It’s easy for people to run away with the money, which is why these functions work best with friends and family members. “They must be managed well or people can fail to pay and the system collapses,” said Deyanira del Rio, who works at a financial advocacy non-profit organization called the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project. “If it works well, it can be a disciplined form of savings.”

Margarita Gutierrez, a former member of Chavez’s sociedad, used her savings to buy her store on 138th Street. Four of the 11 members of Chavez’s group were recommended by Gutierrez. “It’s good because it gives credit to people who don’t have social security numbers or documents,” said Gutierrez.

Advocacy groups working toward increasing financial literacy in immigrant populations see the value in being part of an informal savings group like sociedades, but are careful to also acknowledge their limitations.

“It’s a tool,” said Catherine Barnett, vice president of Project Enterprise, a non-profit that administers small business loans to immigrants. “It’s filling a gap. It’s not the total gap, but it’s a start.”

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