South Bronx Spirit 

In the 1970’s, as New York City experienced a financial crisis that bordered on bankruptcy.  No community was hit harder by converging social and political missteps as the South Bronx. The community’s demise began with the building of the Cross Bronx Expressway by Robert Moses who in an effort to connect New York City with Long Island and New Jersey, as well as upstate New York and New England, built a freeway that cut right through the center of the South Bronx, displacing thousands of working class residents and small businesses. As established neighborhoods decreased in value, producing white flight, unemployment increased and a perfect storm of failed urban policies would soon follow; widespread insurance fraud, redlining by banks, a concentration of welfare hotels and housing run by absentee landlords along with planned shrinkage (a refusal by the city to provide city services in an effort to displace entire communities) By the time arson by landlords and tenants took hold, over 40% of the South Bronx would burn or become abandoned between 1970-1980.

In 1973, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) brought artists and photographers to schools and non-profit organizations, in hard-pressed communities. Six years later, En Foco, a Bronx based photography organization, hired me to teach photography at CS 61, an elementary school on Charlotte Street, in the Crotona Park East section of the South Bronx. Overwhelmed by the difficulties my students faced, on a daily basis, as they made their way to school, went grocery shopping, visited neighbors or played after school, in streets that looked like a movie set from WWII, I decided to document their surrounding community. One of my saddest moments was when the children explained  how they, and everyone they knew, went to bed with their shoes on should they be awakened by a raging fire.

       In spite of their war zone environment, the youth from the South Bronx, the poorest congressional district in the United States, never lost their creative spirit. It was during this turbulent period that Jamaican born DJ Kool Herc gave birth to hip-hop culture. through his parties in the Sedgwick projects where he incorporated D.J.’s, rappers and emcees with break dancing and later drum machines. Black-Americans and Puerto Ricans produced block parties and club events that created a movement and lifestyle that continues to influence dance, fashion and music genres around the world. Many South Bronx natives are prominent actors, rappers, and government officials including:  Willie Colon,  Jennifer Lopez,  Al Pacino, Colin Powell, and Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor.                                                                




                              Charlotte St 1979                                                                               Charlotte St. 2014                                                                                                     

In 1986, Charlotte St. was rebuilt with single-family homes. Two and three story townhouses and tall apartment complexes were built throughout Crotona Park and adjacent neighborhoods.