Rain didn’t stop the crowd as locals poured into the Bronxlandia building on March 25 to celebrate the beauty that is the Bronx with the Boogie Down for Change crawl.
The event was sponsored by Ideas 42 – a nonprofit that uses behavioral science to correct harmful narratives to help improve lives, build better systems and drive social change. Over the span of more than a decade, its impact has spread to more than 50 countries.
“We’ve been doing research for the last two years to understand the dominant narratives that are held in the Bronx and those dominant narratives were meritocracy and fatalism – our whole initiative is to combat these harmful narratives,” said Jen Tirado, Ideas 42 community coordinator and native Bronxite. “[The Bronx] is more than poverty. It’s more than just violence.”
The crawl, which served to quell negative misconceptions of the borough in areas that are often overlooked, began Saturday morning and hit six South Bronx businesses that are also encouraging the arts and providing spaces for creatives. Those who participated were split into three groups and hit the locations at different times to avoid crowding. Among the select venues were Bronx Native – a small independent and Puerto-Rican owned, Bronx-centric clothing and accessories store; Raze Up – a space that provides “smash therapy” where people can freely shatter glass, dishes and other breakable items with bats and crowbars; Sankofa Haus – a venue space, which provided a space to mingle; the Boogie Down Grind Café; and finally Bronxlandia, with the last stop culminating in a party with food, refreshments, performance, therapy sessions and a confessional.
Therapy sessions were available to ensure that participants were provided with a space to talk through anything that might have made them uncomfortable or may have triggered any emotions associated with the crawl.
“Were talking about taking members of a community and walking them through spaces that don’t necessarily feel like they belong to them and to have other Bronxites tell them, ‘you can achieve this,’” said therapist Sherrie Lilley of Centering Wholeness Counseling, which is a space specifically for Black and brown clients and therapists alike. “It’s about changing the mindset and really resetting that narrative around poverty.”
Built in 1909, the cavernous building, known today as Bronxlandia, is a former train station that connected commuters to Grand Central. Built in the French Renaissance style with decorative dormer accents, and located at 910 Hunts Point Ave., the building takes up nearly the entire block between Garrison Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard. It ceased being a pathway for commuters in the 1930s, and in the ‘70s it became a space for individual business owners, separated by several roll-down gates. There are no doors and no windows.
Seven years ago, the space was purchased from Amtrak by Majora Carter, an award-winning urban revitalization strategist and community advocate, along with her husband James Chase. And their mission has been to create an event space for locals to showcase their creativity in their own borough, while also dispelling negative assumptions of the Bronx and its people. They also own the Boogie Down Grind Café.
“Almost 100% of the time if you want to see [artists] do whatever it is, whether they dance or they sing or they’re wrestlers or whatever, you have to go to Brooklyn and Queens,” said Chase. “There’s just not a lot of spaces like [Bronxlandia] in the Bronx.”
The performances, as part of the Saturday crawl, were also tethered to the narrative of taking back the Bronx and expressing the derision that comes from Hollywood’s portrayal of the borough.
“And it might sound like, why am I so serious? But when tourists came to take pictures by that staircase, no one was laughing,” said Lyrical Faith in her spoken word poem, “Movie Magic.” Faith is referencing the flood of people that flocked to the Guason staircase at the intersection of Shakespeare and Jerome avenues following the popularity of the hit Warner Brother’s movie, “Joker.”
And the message is pervasive.
At the Bronx Documentary Center’s new viewing, “Everyday Bronx,” opening March 31, the exhibit similarly intends to rewrite the narrative associated with the borough in what curator Rhynna Santos calls corrective history. One of the images on view is red paint graffiti along the infamous “Joker” staircase which reads, “My poverty is not your photoshoot.”
Bronxlandia will be undergoing major construction to add more bathrooms, windows, insulation and a satellite kitchen to allow for catering events. Anyone looking to rent the venue can do so via Peerspace.
“We’re tired of being treated like charity cases, like we’re problems to be solved all the time when we’re the ones with solutions for our own recovery,” said Majora Carter, a Hunts Point native.
Reach ET Rodriguez at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes