Bronx Narratives held their first ever gallery-like exhibition at the Bronx Art Space on September 12th in partnership with the Lantern Community Center. The event featured numerous interactive stations where participants were able to get their photo taken, share what the Bronx has taught them, reflect on what home means to them and screenprint thoughts on canvas.
I planned to make the trip to the recently opened Lit Bar for months.
I followed Noëlle Santos’ years-long journey to pry open the doors of the only independent bookstore in the Bronx through social media and newsletter, cheering along as progress was made one step at a time. Finally, the Lit Bar opened on April 27th 2019, Independent Bookstore Day, at 131 Alexander Avenue in the South Bronx.
Three months after opening its doors, I still hadn’t set foot in the Lit Bar, but it did not miss my absence — it has been praised, news reported and gone viral on social media, even earning a NYC fact on the LinkNYC monitor’s lining city sidewalks. As a working adult in New York City, there is not enough hours in the day, but I was excited when I had a reason to put visiting the Lit Bar at the top of my priority list. The weekend prior, my QTPOC (Queer/Trans People of Color) book club had settled on All About Love by bell hooks as our next book.
So, on Tuesday, August 8th, as news of Toni Morrison’s death flooded my Twitter feed with quotes from Beloved and snippets of her well-spoken interviews, I was on my way to the Lit Bar. As I hopped on the 6 train, I knew there was no better time to support a black woman-owned bookstore.
When I got there, the Lit Bar was quiet except for a family of four sitting on a couch, the two children being read to by one of their parents while the other sipped on a glass of wine. Two women of color managed the store, walking around and tidying up book displays.
I started judging the bookstore how I judge all bookstores — by how they categorize, section off and display their selections.
I was pleased.
Their LGBTQ+ section was upfront and not tucked away in the depths of the bookstore or nonexistent entirely. They had two book displays marked as “Dear White People” which held books like White Fragility by Robin Diangelo and the Bluest Eye, by the recently passed and loved Toni Morrison. There was an “Smut” section lined with books my sister devoured in her youth and of course, a “Classic” sections but not without the tongue-in-cheek subtitle that stated “(not up for debate).”
A handful of the bookshelves were empty or sparse with signs asking the patron to pardon their appearances as the bookstore works on restocking these sections. In a city where the few independent stores that are still standing are overwhelmingly packed to the brim, this was surprising to me. But only for a second, before I imagined how as the sole source of literature in the Bronx and newly opened at that — and let’s be honest, probably not nearly as well funded at McNally Jackson — the Lit Bar must grind to keep their shelves stocked. And the shelves that were stocked, they were well-chosen books — books I’ve read and loved, critically acclaimed books I’ve been meaning to read or books I’ve never seen before but was immediately drawn too.
As I was browsing, the street food lady poked her head into the bookstore and called out her offerings. Not abnormal for a Bronx business to see, whether it be churros, icees or sliced mangos, the women who worked the streets in our community always had something to offer patrons and passerbys. But, it was the first I’ve ever seen it happen at a bookstore and it was one of those Bronx moments that make you smile.
But, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hold my breath — waiting to see how this newly built, boutique-esque bookstore would handle the moment.
The women working at the bookstore, didn’t shoo her away or ignore her like you can imagine would happen if we were downtown or in Williamsburg. One of the bookstore employees didn’t have money and the other went and spoke to the lady in Spanish about her co-worker’s interest but lack of money. And as expected, the street food lady reassures her that it was alright and that she could pay her back next time.
I was relieved. It was such a Bronx moment. The sense of ‘I got you’ runs in the blood of the Bronx community and to see it alive and well in a literary space, a space that has been denied continuously to our community, was an affirmation. An affirmation that while the South Bronx is gentrification’s most recent target, that our energy and support for one another can be, will be and is stronger than the forces trying to displace and disregard our community. That Bronx energy lives on through businesses that are for us and by us. And it is in those businesses that we must pour our love, support, energy into.
Yes, it is disappointing that the Lit Bar is the only independent general store in the Bronx. But, something is better than nothing. The Lit Bar is more than just something. It is a retreat for families of color, somewhere a mom can sip a glass of wine, while her children flip through their favorite books. It is a place where the street food lady can pop her head into and call out her offerings. The Lit Bar, is a little prayer, a breeze in blistering heat, the train pulling up just as you get on to the platform.
When I think of what the Lit Bar means for our community, I think of Toni Morrison. That Monday night, she died in the Bronx at Montefiore Medical Center. I wonder if she had heard about the Lit Bar and what she would think of it. I imagine it would be something along the lines of her famous quote, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”
I see the Lit Bar as a manifestation of that sentiment and hopefully it will not be the last. In the spaces where our community has been emptied out by lack of resources or funding or care, it is our own hands that have built spaces like the Lit Bar from the ashes because where there is a hunger in our community, it is up to us to satisfy it.
Visit the Lit Bar at 131 Alexander Avenue, Bronx NY, 10454
On July 18, 1999 my father decided to take my brother and I to Yankee Stadium to catch a ball game. Dad always thoughtfully did this sort of thing to break up the monotony of a long work week, which was usually met by our brattish reluctance to do something exciting outdoors as we preferred to stay home, eat Chinese food and play Crash Bandicoot. Dad knew we could never say no to a Yankee game. The day was humid and in the eighties, normal weather for July baseball in the Bronx. My brother, Warren, and I had no idea that we were about to witness a nearly impossible athletic feat to achieve in professional baseball, let alone sports in general.
In 1999 David Cone had already amassed championship rings, all-star selections, broken records, and made millions of dollars as a Major League Baseball pitcher. But, at the age of 36, Cone was on the back end of his career, heading towards the inevitable finality of retirement. Yet the seasoned veteran was a trusted staple of the New York Yankees pitching rotation during their 1990s championship reign. Cone had won twenty games in 1998 and maintained a 3.55 ERA, not too shabby for a man in his mid-thirties - he was in the midst of a miraculous resurgence that very few athletes experience. Throughout most athletic careers, especially in baseball, players make their way up the amateur ranks or “farm” leagues until they are deemed worthy enough to be called up to the professional stage. If an athlete is even capable of becoming a successful player in the professional leagues then he might eventually find himself labeled a star who can consistently deliver for his team, in turn, earn great pay. But, after this stardom comes to an end, retirement is the next and final chapter that all athletes must face. Unless an athlete is fortunate enough to find himself in a “renascence” phase as David Cone did, life as a veteran athlete and journeyman is usually spent on the bench.
The summer of 1999, a simpler time before the emergence of stringent airport scanners and extreme security measures; before the mighty Twin Towers were toppled, the country was fired up for Y2K. The nation was eager to view George Lucas’ first installment of the Star Wars prequel series, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, and Ricky Martin’s “Livin La Vida Loca” was rocking the airwaves. Around this time, President Bill Clinton had been acquitted of impeachment charges brought against him on the floor of the United States Senate for lying under oath. And here in the Bronx, Yankee Stadium was electric as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Mariano Rivera were nearly invincible as they won four championships in five years (1996 and 1998-2000).
Before Major League Baseball’s steroid scandal rocked the sports world, it was common for superstars to hit over fifty home runs per year and pitch twenty winning game seasons. But, there are some feats that are nearly unattainable in baseball, including a perfect game.
We arrived at our seats in the right field stands for the game and the stadium wasn’t full to capacity, but it wasn’t empty either, instead it was comfortable enough to take in the game and not feel cramped. It was Yogi Berra Day at Yankee Stadium, and ironically, Berra caught the opening pitch thrown by Don Larsen. Forty years earlier the same duo was on the mound and behind the plate when Larsen threw a perfect game on October 8th, 1956.
At the time the Montreal Expos were a young team maintaining an average age of twenty seven years old and a budget of merely $16 million. In the other dugout, the Yankees maintained a goliath payroll of $88 million. The Expos weren’t even sure where they would play the 2000-2001 season as the team explored options to leave Canada and move the organization to Washington D.C. The young Montreal Expos team didn’t stand a chance against the experience and savvy that Cone brought to the mound. Behind home plate, Yogi Berra’s player number 8 adorned the field above the New York Yankees logo.
The very first inning saw Cone strikeout Wilton Guerrerro on three quick pitches that set the tone for the rest of the game. Sixty eight of Cone’s eighty eight pitches would be called strikes over nine innings. Next at bat, Terry Jones connected with a solid drive to right field that was the biggest threat to Cone’s perfect game. However, Paul O’ Neill leapt into action and magically dove for the ball, resulting in an out. Had O’Neill worn his glove on the other hand he might not have been able to reach the ball. Finally, Rondell White, a fearsome hitter with tremendous power, connected on a pitch that sent the ball soaring towards left-center field, only to be caught by Ricky Ledee. Cone’s perfect game was just getting started.
The bottom of the second inning led to the bulk of the Yankees’ offense as the Bronx Bombers took advantage of the Expos’ young pitcher, Javier Vazquez. First, Chili Davis was walked leading to a monstrous homerun crushed into the right field upper deck by Ricky Ledee. Later in the inning Joe Girardi’s line drive to left center field brought in Scott Brosius’ run making the score 3-0. Finally, Yankees captain Derek Jeter homered to left field, giving the Yankees a 5-0 lead.
Cone had found his rhythm striking out multiple batters when a few trickles of rain led to the sky opening up and a downpour falling upon Yankee Stadium. At only a little over a half hour and in the bottom of the 3rd inning the umpire decided to bring out the tarp and cover the field. Up in the stands the three of us observed fans heading for the exits, luckily we were covered by just enough of the right field upper deck to remain in our seats. The rain delay lasted thirty three minutes before the water subsided, a length of time that must have felt like an eternity for a surging Cone, but for our trio in right field it was part of our day’s adventure.
From the fourth inning into the 6th inning Cone maintained his consistent pitching, striking out batters and forcing gently hit pop-ups. Paul O’ Neill saw much of the fielding action as the Expos managed to send a multitude of hits towards right field. In the upper deck, Cone’s strong pitching and the 0 marking the Expos hit column began to feel more palpable and the impossible perfect game started to feel like a reality. During other games when the Yankees maintained the lead, we would normally head for the exit in the sixth inning to beat the traffic heading back home. But this time was different, Cone was on a roll.
By the top of the ninth inning the entire stadium stood and waited for the final three outs. First, catcher Chris Widger was swiftly dispatched after a strikeout. Next, Ryan McGuire took the count to two balls and two strikes before solidly hitting a pitch to Ricky Ledee in left field, who bobbled the ball before securing it for an out. Finally, Orlando Cabrera came to bat as the last Expos batter of the game. Cone pitched a ball and a strike to the young hitter before he popped out to Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius who leapt up in celebratory exaltation. Cone had done it, he pitched a perfect game! In the upper right field deck the Yankee faithful flew into a frenzy as beer and popcorn were thrown over the railings showering us like the rains of earlier in the day had. Cone and Joe Girardi embraced as the pitcher fell over onto the catcher and the rest of the New York Yankees stormed the field to celebrate. The triumphant pitcher was lifted up onto his teammates’ shoulders as he raised his glove overhead in victory. What bliss! To see history in the flesh and witness it amongst family and through a child’s eyes. It was a moment that can never be replicated or forgotten by anyone in that stadium, certainly not by me.
On that magical day in July it only took David Cone a little over an hour to dispatch twenty seven Expos hitters and achieve perfection.
Benedict Campbell is a writer and director focused on short and feature length dramatic fiction. He is a member of The Bronx Filmmakers Collective, a recipient of the 2019 BRIO Award from the Bronx Council on the Arts and was a teaching artist at Ghetto Film School. His films have shown at festivals around the world including the Sundance Film Festival. The High Bridge is his latest film.
What inspired this film? How long did it take to write?
I’ve been working on The High Bridge for a few years and I’m inspired by the Bronx and the incredible communities within the borough. My friend was a teenage dad who stepped up to raise his kids here. I was struck by his story and he inspired the main character of Abel. I was working in Washington Heights when they reopened the bridge and it gave me a chance to walk back to the Bronx and see the connection between the two neighborhoods. I thought the bridge could be a metaphor for a child that links two families on opposite sides and I wanted to write a film set among both communities. I spent about two years writing the feature film. I included details from my friend’s story, his emotions, and anecdotes I collected. I spoke with academics specializing in fatherhood and family planning in person and on Skype. I talked to program coordinators that work with young fathers. There were vivid details that stuck with me (like a visit to a doctor’s office) and I adapted them to the character and narrative structure. The short film is based on the feature length script with the same characters. I shared both scripts with different writing and filmmaking groups like The Bronx Filmmakers Collective for feedback. I read the short with tenth graders when I was a teaching artist for two weeks at a Bronx high school. Both were revised several times. I felt it was important to share this story because I don’t think we’ve seen young black dads portrayed positively in movies.
Why was it important to cast a young father?
Once I landed on a story about a young dad, I dug into the harmful stereotypes and the impressive non-fiction work done on the subject. For example, Zun Lee has done amazing documentary work photographing dads in his series Father Figure. The narrative reinforced repeatedly is that black fathers are absent or uncaring. Visual stories change minds and I wanted to tell a real, positive story about a young dad. I wanted to see him confronting judgment, taking responsibility, caring for his daughter and upending this pervasive narrative. I worked with Aubrey Joseph (Abel) on an earlier film and he’s got this subtlety the camera can read. You aim to capture emotional complexity and you can see him processing multiple emotionson screen without speaking. Aubrey mentioned having friends in similar situations and I think he connected with Abel.
What was the most challenging part of putting this film together?
Getting from the page to the screen is always a challenge because things beyond your control bring the story to life but also get in the way. We worked closely with NYC Parks but there were restrictions on which days we could film. I wrote the scene in the park thinking of a nice day and that didn’t happen. The crew was huddled under a tarp waiting out the rain and we lost valuable time. On the bright side, grey skies meant even and consistently diffused light. When you don’t have tons of gear, it’s the best photographic conditions you can hope for.
How long did it take you to shoot and edit this film entirely?
Pre-production was three months. Shooting was 2.5 days and post-production was another three months. Needless to say, a lot goes into a nine minute film.
What inspired you to get into filmmaking? Is this your first film?
I was that photo kid in high school. I loved the dark room and I would be in there for hours before school, after school, and during lunch. When I picked up movie film, I saw all the tiny frames and realized it wasn’t that different. Initially I was only interested in the visual part and it would take a lot more learning to understand how much work has to go into a script and a story to make one that is worth telling with all those tiny pictures. Later on I was inspired by Ang Lee for his ability to seemingly tell any story and his remarkable humility when directors can have big egos. I’m lucky that The High Bridge isn’t my first short film and I’ve had the experience of making a few others. I do hope it will be my first feature-length film.
What do you hope people take away from this film?
I hope to give some people the chance to see a real depiction of their journey. I also want people to see a film that challenges misconceptions. In nine minutes, you’re getting a brief sense of who Abel is and where he is in his life. He’s concerned but not necessarily willing. In other words, he knows what he needs to do, he’s just in denial about it. The denial is consistent with processing in stages (denial, anger, guilt, fear and so on). It’s hard for him to process how and why he’s being treated a certain way. He’s embarrassed he doesn’t know the answers to basic questions but angry he’s being embarrassed and also mad at himself. He has the authority to be assertive without the experience to do it confidently. That inner conflict about what he can do and should do is playing out and hopefully you’re following his journey as he uses a tough moment to change. I also want people to see the bridge and realize that the Bronx is a beautiful setting for this story and others. The best thing a short film can do is leave you with a sense of wanting more. I’d like The High Bridge to be feature film and hopefully you’re left with a sense of wanting to see that.
“Nos quitaron tanto que nos quitaron el miedo.”
“They took away so much that they took away our fear.”
Oaxaca to the Bronx
The year old awning is slightly soiled from the natural accumulation of snow, rain, and all of the muck that develops during New York City winters. Yet, La Morada’s awning, featuring vibrant purple lettering suavely overlapping earthy mesa colors, bears an undeniable air of authenticity and ethos. La Morada’s awning represents Natalia Mendez and her husband Antonio Saavedra’s journey from their native Oaxaca to the Bronx.
As one passes through La Morada’s doors you instantly feel a wave of social protest and rebellion course through your veins. A party of twenty young professionals sits in front of the communal lending library - some are white, some are Latinx, a black woman is wearing a hijab. The few tables in the restaurant are lined together in two rows to accommodate this large party while smaller groups are huddled at countertop seating with storefront views of Willis Avenue. The matriarch, Natalia, is a motherly woman who proudly walks up to her patrons and inquires about their meals “¿Todo bien?” and inconspicuously returns to the ceaseless movement of cooking, packing, and speaking Spanish in the kitchen. Both, Natalia and Antonio, look weary during their shifts, but they gracefully administer their tasks and greet and wave farewell to their clients who pass in and out of the family eatery.
For nearly thirty years Natalia and Antonio have lived in the United States —paying taxes after crossing the Sonoran desert to access the American Dream for their family. After a devastating drought in Oaxaca crippled the farming micro-economy of San Miguel Ahuehuetitlan, Natalia and Antonio left their children back home in Mexico and made their way to New York City. Years of hard work led the family to be reunited in the Bronx and together they started their very own restaurant in Mott Haven. The family set up shop as a self-identifying indigenous Oaxacan restaurant owned and operated by undocumented immigrants. It’s encouraging to see La Morada’s workers walk by with their shoulders back and their heads raised high as opposed to many of the undocumented immigrants who often live life in the shadows, afraid of making waves and drawing unwanted attention to their “legal” status. My mother was one of them.
A Blade of Grass
It’s here in the South Bronx that a group of high school students came together to design a community art project funded by A Blade of Grass, a non-profit organization collaborating with artists who work with communities to enact social change through art. In unison with La Morada and led by Ecuadorian born artist Ronny Quevedo, the group of local teenagers (all Bronxites) took the responsibility of working as junior designers to develop the restaurant’s new and improved awning.
A five foot long white sign declaring “No Deportaciones” in scarlet red is suspended over La Morada’s entranceway, a clear reminder to all patrons that this safe space is owned by a family of immigrants. Ronny (who I met for the first time) and I finally find a place to nestle ourselves into and discuss the community art project, one that he does not consider solely his. Instead, Ronny views the awning as “a shared experience with the restaurant, the teens, and myself...I try to be conscious that there are elements of the project that don’t need me.” This humility motivated Ronny to lead the team of high school students from diverse backgrounds; Dominican, Puerto Rican, Honduran, and African-American, to utilize the Mott Haven library and Bronx Art Space to brainstorm concepts for the awning. They designed the mountains, buildings, and farmers featured in the artwork today. But first, Ronny and the teens interviewed every single worker at La Morada and focused on understanding and internalizing the restaurant’s mission and history. In tow, a camera crew filmed the teens during their ten week long project. According to Ronny “the documentation is helpful to understand outside perspectives of the work.”
As the South Bronx community continues to see different faces encroach upon their neighborhood from all corners, Ronny believes that the gentrification narrative says “‘What’s around is not modern’ and what I say is what’s here is valuable and can be uplifted.” For Ronny Quevedo, art is a way of life that moves him to examine and interact with many of the commonplace things he encounters in his neighborhood. As a boy in Guayaquil, Ronny sculpted toy guns and hoops out of cardboard, while his mother, a seamstress, encouraged his creativity. “What we have, like shopping bags, awnings, and billboards, they’re all part of our daily experience.” It’s this sort of utilitarian thinking that made the La Morada awning project successful.
Yajaira Saavedra’s Arrest
Nearly a year after the new awning was hoisted atop La Morada, January 11, 2019 saw Yajaira Saavedra, Natalia and Antonio’s daughter, arrested by the New York Police Department. After Yajaira and her family recorded an arrest in progress, police officers entered La Morada, arrested Yajaira and led her to an unmarked black van across the street from the eatery. At the time Yajaira feared the worst, as a DACA recipient living under the Trump administration’s overzealous ICE detainment measures, deportation could have become a reality. Instead, Yajaira was held at the 40th precinct for three hours where she recalls “I was thinking about my safety, my family’s safety. Who was going to take care of my niece? I was worried about my sister who had gone through a surgery due to a tough pregnancy...It wasn’t my first time getting arrested, so I recalled all my training as an activist.”
Within a matter of minutes the 40th precinct was overflowing with Yajaira’s family, friends, and neighbors who were all worried about her safety. Later that evening Yajaira was released and bolstered by her spirit of activism and neighborhood to continue her work on behalf of Mott Haven. “This is the core of Mott Haven. One of the highest concentrations of Mexican populations in the city.” says the young restaurateur. According to Yajaira, the Bronx, specifically Mott Haven, is experiencing “food apartheid”. A condition that impedes Bronxites’ ability to access fresh and healthy food that is simply out of their price range. Yajaira states “Hunts Point is the biggest importer in the nation, yet we don’t have access to that food. Only the wealthy can afford that food.”
Four months later, Yajaira and I sit on a tree pit’s wooden railing in front of her family restaurant and discuss her arrest. The young activist nervously looks behind her and from side to side. “NYPD has their station constantly harassing us. They patrol within a one block radius and station themselves in buildings around us.” says Yajaira as she quickly looks back at me. A car pulls up and parks directly behind us and adds to the tension that has suddenly enveloped the air.
According to Yajaira “artwork is a form of community engagement, involvement and hard work.” The reality of this match made in heaven between Ronny, the socially aware artist, and La Morada, the activist restaurant, dawns on me when I look up at the farmers standing beside the concrete building. I ask Yajaira what the artwork means and she replies “The culture vultures and gentrifiers take advantage of our food. But, if you want our food you need to know about our narratives.” As I take a bite out of my savory chicken quesadillas and look around the cozy eatery I realize that this place is more than just a business. La Morada is part of the Saavedra family’s identity and it stands as a testament to the shared narrative of their journey from Oaxaca to the Bronx.
In the midst of the hip clothing and accessories and all of the boutique shops that have arrived, one must take solace in the black and brown faces in front of the barbershop, the ladies pushing their strollers down the sidewalks, and the gleeful boys howling by the basketball court. Leaders like Ronny and Yajaira are the reason why communities thrive, why businesses flourish and people come together. They are an inspiration for all and perhaps Ronny sums it up best when he states “People can see what can be done through collaboration...We don’t have to go very far to showcase our values, our agency.”
A film covering the creation of La Morada’s new awning will be screened on June 6th at 6 pm at Bronx Art Space.
Please visit http://www.abladeofgrass.org/events/rooted-in-neighborhood/ for more information.
Growing up in the Bronx, I had many escapes to help me cope with the troubling parts of life and complications of teenage years. Some of those escapes where as simple as hanging on the stoop with friends or as dangerous as riding in between trains cars in pitch black tunnels. But I wouldn’t be doing my childhood any justice if I left out my biggest crutch of all, and that of course is music, hip-hop to be exact.
From early on in life, I enjoyed nothing more than listening to the radio alone in my room and getting lost into my thoughts, but as I grew older I would take notice to the way music made me feel as a young man who was struggling with pre-teen angst and mental health issues. I used music as my own form of personal therapy to help me get through numerous obstacles in life; whether they were small or devastating. I took advantage of drowning my emotions into music--heartbreak over a crush, grief over a friend’s death and melancholy from depression.
Music has always kept me grounded and level headed during some of the hardest years of my youth, so I feel indebted to talk about my fascination and love with it.
Intro to the Mixes
My main source of music growing up was the radio; it was exciting and adventurous, especially when you heard that one song you’ve been waiting to hear for weeks. In New York City there were two local stations that played Hip-Hop; Hot 97.1 and Power 106.5. Both stations were great, but Hot 97.1 was my go-to, especially when I learned that I could create my own mix tape with a blank tape and my radio’s cassette deck.
I was lucky enough to have a radio with a cassette deck and a record button and knew the joys of creating your own mixtape. When it came to making your very own personalized mixtape, you had to be both patient and fast, because nothing was worse than pressing record, and that song that you had been waiting weeks to hear was actually at the end and not the beginning like you had hoped! In 1998 when Pras, (a member of the Fugees) released one of his most popular songs, Ghetto Superstar featuring Mya and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, I literally sat by my radio, waiting and waiting for the DJ to play it so I could forever capture it on tape. It wasn’t until one night, when I got up and left the room for a moment that the song finally came on. When I heard Mya sing the chorus from across my apartment, I darted back towards my room like a mad child, kicked the door open, pressed record and waited for the song to play out in its entirety, but of course it was just ending. It was pure disappointment.
I’ve always loved discovering new music and learning about new artists, and when it comes to certain songs and albums, I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard them.
In 1996 on a summer afternoon, I noticed a few of my friends and some other kids I didn’t know, all surrounding a boombox that was standing alone on the sidewalk; and it was on full blast. A friend of a friend, Adam, was playing a song I had never heard before and immediately upon hearing it, I was drawn in. Someone from the circle waved me closer so I could take part in the action. I asked Adam to start the song over because I had missed the opening; and he was kind enough to oblige me. He rewound the tape for just a few seconds and started it again. The song started playing instantly: “Strumming my pain with his fingers, Singing my life with his words, Killing me softly with his song.” It was beautiful to me—perfect even. I asked Adam who sang the song and he passed me the empty cassette case. It read, The Score by The Fugees and the singer was Lauryn Hill--the song was Killing me Softly. For the next hour Adam played the same song over and over again and we all sat there and just listened in an odd form of celebratory silence.
Summer of 1998 my brother gifted me tape that was unlike anything I had heard before. The album was by a new rapper from Yonkers NY called DMX. The album was called It's Dark and Hell is Hot and I couldn’t turn it off. One day my father asked me to accompany him while he ran errands around the Bronx, and because I didn’t have much of a choice, I went with him, but figured that I would kill time in his car with my new DMX album while he shopped. My father wasn’t exactly a fan of gangster rap, so I had to be careful. With each store he ran into, I inserted the tape into the cassette deck and took it back out as he exited the store. This was working perfectly until the last store that he went in to. When I tried to eject the tape, it got stuck and when my father got back in the car, he turned the radio on and switched it back to tape once he noticed there was a cassette inserted. When he pressed play my heart sank. The song that played was How's it Goin’ Down and after the first 38 seconds of the songs built in skit, he unstuck the tape from the deck, rolled down the window and threw it out of the car while driving up Van Cortland Park South. As my tape was being crushed by cars on what we called Snake Hill, I started to plot how I would buy the CD version and learn to hide it better; which I did, and it was great.
The 90’s gave me so many great memories when it came to my childhood and music; spending summer afternoons on the corner with friends and a boombox, playing DJ in my bedroom and bonding with my brother and a new cassette. Through music I also learned how to survive in a violent household, cope with trauma and how to discover myself when I barely had any time to be kid. There were many nights when I would lay in my bed for hours, quiet and still, getting lost into whatever sounds were coming out of my headphones, because it was better than listening to the screams of a family falling apart. But in just a short amount of time, the chaos that was my life would spiral out of control and I would need something much faster than my cassette player and tape rewinder to ease the pain and drown those screams.
And then there were CD’s
Only a few years after listening to the Fugees on 238th street and DMX in my father’s Lincoln Town Car, technology was rapidly improving, but I was still behind the times with my outdated Sony Walkman Cassette player. All my friends were now collecting CD’s, and tapes had become a thing of the past. I desperately wanted to keep up. CD’s were very expensive for someone like me who was too young to have a job, so I had to rely on chore money and hand-me-downs from my older brother. In 1999 my father, on a very rare occasion, my father took me to one of the last remaining Tower Records stores in NY and allowed me to pick out one new CD--it was a miracle, as this never happened before. I scanned through the hip-hop section searching for a new artist, and I stopped shuffling when I saw a CD cover that had three men dressed in tactical and militant gear and looked like they were ready for war. I carefully showed it to my father and told him that I had heard “positive” things about this group that I had actually never heard of before and that they weren’t violent. At that moment he either bought my lie or just gave up on parenting my taste in music. The group was Onyx and the album was Shut ‘em Down. They were not entirely positive.
With the prices of CD’s showing no signs of going down, I would eventually have to resort to alternate means of owning new music; and this is where CD Mixtapes came into my life. CD mixtapes are unofficial albums created by artists, usually released in between albums. They consist of new songs, remixes, or sometimes both. They’re mostly put together to hype up a forthcoming album and create a buzz. I like to believe they’re a nice gesture to hold fans over until the official album drops. Sometimes the hardest part of getting a mixtape was knowing when they were coming out--word of mouth from classmates, friends and radio DJs were all great sources for this buzzworthy news. They were also the perfect vessel for delivering new diss tracks towards a rival rapper. The bigger the buzz from a mixtape and the more hype and drama that it created, the more likely that fans would run to buy the actual album with the hopes of a brand new, even better diss track. The anticipation of a rebuttal song was always worth the months or longer that it would take for an album to come out.
Now, there was the CD mixtape, but there was also the bootleg CD; and when I was feeling particularly cheap which was often, the bootleg reigned supreme. A bootleg is far different than a mixtape and of course the real album. So, where mixtapes are intentionally released by the artists, bootlegs are not; instead being released by a third party. Bootlegs have caused much agony for musicians, spanning all genres and there’s a few different ways to how these knock off albums are made.
Bootleg ran about five dollars each which was nice if you didn’t want to take the gamble on an album that you weren’t entirely sure about. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up and $20 wasn’t always available at one’s disposal, so having the option of a knock off CD was great. When it came to buying bootlegs, there was one catch. After you bought your bootleg, you ran the risk of inserting the disk into your CD player, pressing play and... nothing happens, silence, no music, no beats, no lyrics. A few times I bought a dud, a fake, a poorly ripped CD. This was sometimes the price that you would have to pay for taking the cheap and easy way out. I bought most of my bootlegs on Jerome Ave or Broadway in Kingsbridge, either in a bodega or a man on a sidewalk with a suitcase full of photocopied CD covers and no-refund policy. Sometimes these purveyors would swing through a McDonald’s or pizza shop of all places, usually being asked to leave immediately.
As much as I loved spending five dollars over twenty dollars, some albums I just had to suck it up and buy the real thing. On September 12th, 2001, one day after the United States was attacked and the World Trade Center fell in lower Manhattan, I found myself walking down Broadway and 231 street in the Bronx, headed to the local FYE music store to buy the newly released album from Jay-Z--The Blueprint. The Blueprint was Jay-Z’s sixth album and it was released one day before on the 11th, but my father didn’t want me to leave the house because of the attacks on the World Trade Center, so I had to wait one more full day to buy it, which back then felt like a lifetime. I bought the CD because I was a fan, but also to keep up on the wildly popular beef between Jay-Z and Queens rapper Nas. I felt guilty after I bought the CD, thinking that maybe it was a little disrespectful that only a few miles away from where I was in the Bronx, laid Ground Zero and the bodies yet to be discovered amongst the twisted metal. I was in my bedroom with the television on mute while the news played footage of the Twin Towers falling on a constant loop. I was horrified about what happened and the best way for me not to deal with the processing part of it all at that time, was to bury my head in the booklet that came with the Blueprint CD and study the linear notes, memorizing the lyrics as fast as I could. I first became a Jay-Z fan in 1999 when I heard the single, Hard Knock Life off his 1998 album, Vol.2...Hard Knock Life, and I was immediately obsessed.
In 2002 the album Juslisten by Musiq Soulchild helped me get through a bitter and awkward rejection from a neighborhood girl, Jessica. From the Juslisten album, I played the songs Newness, Time and Something on a constant loop from a radio that laid next to me head while I slept on the floor for months. In 2003 when my depression took a turn for the worse and I really felt alienated from friends and family, I listened to a debut album by New Jersey rapper, Joe Budden. He openly spoke about therapy, prescription pills and depression in his songs Calm Down and Walk with Me. Those songs would give me the strength and courage to talk to my friends about my struggles with mental health. And on the days when I felt that Hip-Hop was running dry, I was able to find peace of mind through other genres of music; Rock, R&B, Indie Folk and Classical.
With today’s ever-changing technology is improving at a lightspeed pace, it’s much easier for me to achieve instant gratification whether I’m looking for a certain song to clear my head or just to play an album while I cook dinner for my wife and me. The easiest and most convenient and inexpensive way to do this is through the mega-streaming site YouTube. A lot has changed in just a few years since I was running through my apartment with my finger stretched out towards the record button. But even as comforting as it may be to play any song I’m looking to hear at any given time with the press of a button, it will never match how rewarding it felt to save up a few bucks, ditch 10th grade homeroom and take a nice slow walk home from the CD spot with a new mixtape in my Sony portable CD player, walking as steady as I could so the songs didn’t skip. Sometimes I take the accessibility of music for granted and say things like, “There’s nothing to listen to” or “What am I supposed to do, I have no new music.” It’s moments like that when I must reflect and be grateful for what I have, because today, I can play Ghetto Superstar whenever and wherever I want, as many times as I want.
nightmares in broad daylight with my eyes wide open
just a dream
aunty got cancer screaming she’s dying
all times of the night
difficult to deal with i must admit
living this way
sometimes i get discouraged
in my quiet moments i spend alone
nobody really understands my ambition
this radical i got inside of me
but i can't afford to see a psychologist anymore
so i write down
in between the sheets of my diary
all these feelings
would never get the chance to express
sometimes i get discouraged
ignorance and death
surround me on all sides when i step outside
yes i’m busy trying to break the cycle
but any time i try to change for the better
it’s my own people that stand in my way
watching my own mother deteriorate
squinting her eyes like she’s going blind
on all types of medication
wishing she’d find a way to shake the weight off and maybe come up off those motherfucking
cigarettes cuz lately
we been trading places in hospital beds like it’s a game of musical chairs
plus my father stares at me like he wanna push me off the planet
we exchange hate
sometimes i get discouraged
tired from all the thinking and planning
mapping my way out of this maze
counting down dog days
frustrated frothing at the mouth
from bad breaks and the setbacks common to a young black male
not knowing when it will happen for me
watching all these dumb rappers play monkey for the camera
doing numbers on the billboard
i guess the crackers not interested in your story unless you live in the projects
sell drugs and represent a set
i got to question why is that they don’t want us to be intelligent?
but in the meantime
you could find me
on the street selling paperbacks of special k
far away from any media attention
sleeping on a mattress in the basement waiting for my day to come
on the pavement trying to make my way
cuz I got something to say so why should i lie down and be quiet?
i’m no choir boy with his nose in the bible
i’m more of the type to start the fire
write words to spark your mind
feel like my purpose in life is to be like the light from a candle in the dark
or that distant voice telling you that it’ll be alright when you can’t see past your challenges
sometimes i get discouraged but I still get up
stick my chest out to the test and give my best to it
bring my guts to it to get through trying times
trials and tribulations
remember that faith is the bridge over troubled waters when you get discouraged
because i know i do
so i’m just here to remind y'all
The control room is dark and chilly as two producers seated in swivel chairs wearing headsets cordially greet me. I nestle my way onto a chair in a nook behind the producers attempting to become inconspicuous. One of the producers looks up at the behemoth wall clad in multiple television sets of varying sizes and states “Try to stay to your right.” And there she is, anchorwoman Asha McKenzie seated next to her co-anchor Gianna Gelosi, both wearing blood red floral patterned dresses, apparently “clashing” on camera. “Cory Booker announced for president” gasps Asha, as she scans her phone for information. The paradoxical quality in the anchorwoman obtaining headlines from her cell phone while seated in a news studio humorously crosses my mind. The producer chimes in again “Go to your left, thank you.” before playfully bantering with Asha, “Why did they pick you?” referring to my presence at the news station. The jovial camaraderie permeates into the studio and workstations as staffers plan the day’s lunch order. The order of the day? Cheese, in particular, half and quarter pounds of cheese fresh from Arthur Avenue.
“Doubles” calls out the producer, as Asha laughs alongside weatherman Mike Rizzo who walks on set to prep for his rundown of the weekend deep freeze overtaking the Bronx. The crew prepares to go live coming off a commercial break as one producer counts down “10, 9, 8, 7…” and another producer repositions a camera in the studio using an analog stick. Asha places her cell phone down on the thick glass table in front of her and brushes her hair to one side of her face. “4, 3, 2, 1…” the countdown concludes as Asha brings viewers news of Puppy Bowl 15 on Animal Planet, a Super Bowl pregame show alternative. It’s Super Bowl weekend.
As the early morning segments wrap up, Asha calls me into the studio where I expect to find teams of cameramen and staff running around with gaffs and booms, clear indicators of my newsroom ignorance. But there’s none of that and no one’s there, except for Asha, seated in her anchor chair prepping for the next hour of news. “You can sit over there” Asha instructs me “just watch out for camera six.” Asha’s voice is commanding, full of ethos and she expertly controls her voice’s cadence and pitch as she reads through assorted news items, it’s the sort of voice that’s meant for anchoring. I settle into a directoresque chair and observe the anchorwoman in her natural habitat. All the high tech cameras, monitors and ceiling lights shift and focus on Asha, the center of attention, as she prepares for her next hour of news coverage. Asha scrolls through her cell phone again, reviews the segment scripts on the tablet in front of her, and interfaces with her co-workers “Who’s the producer? Oh, never mind” and “This script is so weird.” Asha has been filming all morning and it’s only 8 am. Asha yawns “Oh my goodness! I need a nap.” Another countdown commences as Asha’s gameface materializes and she looks up at the camera, and live from Soundview in the Bronx, News 12 is transmitted to you.
The news is constantly in flux, ever-changing, ceaseless, and journalists have the responsibility to cover the symbiotic relationships between subjects and consumers as the news balloons into bigger stories or diminishes into mere fillers for a daily news reel. It’s the sort of neverending pace that Asha’s mother, Fay, kept up as a psychiatric nurse and a single mom to six children. Asha, the youngest of the six children, always admired her mother’s work ethic and kindness. “None of us ever became a statistic. She really did her best.” says Asha “She always told me that I had to work even harder to get what I wanted in life.” Asha’s family is a close one, some of them live in the Bronx, and others are based in New Jersey and Philadelphia, but their tight-knit bonds are a testament to Fay’s commitment to her children’s values and growth, no matter the physical distance separating them.
Asha’s resilience and work ethic, molded during her upbringing, carried over into her professional life and helped guide her as she graduated from Montclair University and later became a desk assistant for ABC. Under the mentorship of Michelle Charlesworth and Phil Lipof, Asha learned the ropes by shadowing the reporters two days per week. Asha’s hard work eventually paid off when she accepted a reporting position at WENY News in Elmira, New York, a station where Asha was only one of two minority staff members in the newsroom. This employment situation is not unique as only 22.6% of newsroom staff jobs are held by minority persons, according to the American Society of News Editors. As a black journalist, Asha falls into an even slimmer statistical category as only 12.6% of local TV station jobs are held by women of color. Suffice to say, journalism has a long way to go in diversifying newsrooms.
Opportunity knocked even louder when Asha was offered a position as a multimedia journalist with News 12 The Bronx. The AP award winning journalist has developed deep connections to her stories and sources in the borough as she fuses her passion for journalism and her commitment to the Bronx. Asha says “I will respond, I don’t ignore work. The borough needs it.”
Asha’s almost finished anchoring as the remote operated camera to my left slightly shifts to the right an inch or so. The minimalist design and phantom operated cameras in the studio have taken the place of newsroom staff that are now only specters here, memories of careers that were once essential, perhaps unimaginable, to run a newsroom without. The future of journalism has seemingly arrived as multimedia journalist positions have become more common at news stations. Multimedia journalists operate their own video cameras and serve as their own photographers, wielding their iPhones for Instagram flash briefs and scrolling through the web for new leads and information. Information, the concept at the crux of journalism, is what Asha is responsible for bringing to Bronxites everyday. And, in the era of fake news and the genesis of Google’s search engine serving as our primary source for information, it is of the utmost importance that our journalists maintain integrity and understand the great responsibility their work bears. “You have to be mindful. Everything I say can be looked up.” says Asha.
“It’s generational, my mom still watches the 5 o’clock news.” Asha smiles, referring to the different ways that people consume news. I tell Asha that I use my landlord’s Optimum subscription to watch News 12’s app on my Apple TV (I know, it sounds difficult, but it’s actually very easy!) Asha laughs and responds “Ahh, so you cheat!” I prepare to ask Asha more questions about automation, social media, and algorithms, and the effects they might have on journalism in the next five years when a congenial producer tiptoes into the studio. “I hate to interrupt but I have a REALLY important question.” whispers the producer “Does anyone want to split a bagel?”
The internet has sped up everything: business, information, journalism, everything. But there are certain interpersonal experiences and fraternity that impossible-looking algorithms and steel equipment can’t produce or convey, like ordering cheese with co-workers, joking in the control room, or simply offering someone a bagel. It’s reassuring to know that our borough’s news is being brought to us by people like Asha, people who care about getting the facts right.
look past the garbage
over the trains and
under the expressway
where they overlook
look through the pollution
in between the crowded avenues and busy streets
there you’ll see
it’s the city
of the bronx new york
the place where I came of age
oh you not familiar?
haven't been past 125th
well if that's the case
come take a trip with me
lemme show you what it's all about
so you could see just how we live
so you could see the blacks and puerto ricans
dominicanos italianos and chicanos
immigrants from many different places in this great melting pot
the strips malls and car washes
liquor stores and pawn shops
children with limited opportunities
not enough options
frustrated in poverty
people pushing bottles and cans in shopping carts to the supermarket
for nickels dimes and quarters
trying to make dollars
junkies and alcoholics strung out
lying face down on the hot concrete
homeless and broken hearted off that
numb the pain of a fiend who was once fat but now skinny
eyes seen too muchwhat a pitiful sight to see her digging in the trash
arguments and fights outside every night
families beefing with slumlords
for some heat in the winter when it's freezing
hardworking single mamas on ebt running hard not to miss the bus
absentee papas missing in action
where they at?
aunties uncles and cousins under one roof all on top of each other sons
sitting behind prison walls
daughters pregnant before their time
tenement fires so many innocent lives lost
behind the building
knock knock it's a raid
killer coppers chasing robbers killers drug dealers
it seems to be the
only time the news and helicopters come
seldom seen politicians
only come around when it's election time tryna play us like we dumb
racist institutions won't fix our roads or fund our schools
they say we useless
won’t ever amount to much of nothing
so what’s the sense in educating people made to slave in the kitchen
sweep floors and drive cabs for the rich people on madison avenue?
huh animal habitat picture that
it's like a jungle sometimes
a constant struggle just to get by
summertimes surviving off cold cuts from the corner bodega
wondering if i was gon make it or go under because
i’m up to my neck in it
so don’t push me
close to the edge
trying to clear my headspace and make sense of it all
as I walk down the street and take a look around me
not a bookstore in sight
nowhere to buy groceries of fresh produce but we got the most green space in the whole new york
youth hopeless with no signs that say out
they say we too ghetto
won't ever amount to much of nothing
but what the hell those gringos know about our borough
home of the thoroughbred and the talented
where all this hip-hop got started
before it went pop and lost its spark
we tagged our names in graffiti
so they could see us
because we was invisible
back when power from the streetlights made the place dark
spinning on cardboard at the park jams
stop the violence but ya’ll must’ve forgot about that
when they wrote
left us out and gave us no choice
we made something from nothing
let me tell you a little something about where i’m from
because you don't know nothing!
pelham parkway is where i came of age
so make that a historic landmark
not too far away from arthur avenue and the botanical gardens one of the largest in the world
where roses grow from concrete
bet you aint know that
genius is hidden in the cracks
if you open your eyes to see
past the garbage
look at the architecture that lines the grand concourse
i’m here to let you know its more to it than Yankee Stadium
in the BX US of A
the place to be if you need a fresh trim from the barbershop call me
where you got to stop at if you want to get your ethnic food authentic
to top it all off like chopped cheese in the Bronx
home to some of the most genuine people you’ll ever meet
we got bright minds
and if you aint know now you know
the greatest poet of our time is a local!
I left to get it crackin in DC but you know i had to come back
to be an ambassador
put us back on the map map and give back
to the blocks that gave me my game
made me raise cain and abel to
carve my name in legend and represent
open up shop and buy properties
honestly we like the last ones left
one of the few places in the empire state
they have yet to gentrify
we can't just lie down and let em take it from us push us out
it’s up to us
to make em put some respect on our name
no obstacle is impossible to overcome
if we come together
stop the bickering and the fighting
stand up to lay claim to the greatness of our city
make our home a better place
if we use our imagination
i have a dream
we can change
Karl Omar Lawrence , 2019 ©
Karl Omar Lawrence is a poet and social entrepreneur from the Bronx, New York. He began writing at the age of 11 years old and has been performing his work ever since he was a teenager. He is a passionate believer in the power that words have to transform people and inspire change in our society. Visit his website at richradical.com for more information on new project releases, music, videos and live performances.
On a March morning, while the sun was still slowly creeping its way across a nearly-cloudless blue sky, Amina woke up with a jolt, moments before her alarm was set to go off. She went about her morning the way she usually did. Brushed her teeth, shook her half-asleep mother on the couch and started the stovetop coffee maker before anyone else was fully moving. She went through her pile of laundry, looking for a shirt she was almost positive wasn’t actually dirty but she had thrown in the basket for organizational purposes. In their shared bed, Amina’s little brother was still curled up in the tangle of blankets, protecting himself from the frigid cold that encompasses the small room that has two front-facing windows.
Amina always left the house like this, almost-frantic and unsure — taking one last look before she stepped out the door as if when she came back, it might be entirely different. And sometimes, it was. A house once organized and tidy by Amina the night before might transform into a whirlwind of clutter while her mother was in search for one specific item she absolutely needed in that moment. A fridge, filled with just enough food to hold them over for the week, emptied by her little brother who was hungry on a day there was no one to take him to school.
Today, it was the strip of stores around the corner of her apartment that had changed. As Amina was walking out of her apartment building, she noticed a cluster of neighbors holding the front door open, one foot stepping inside the building but bodies turned towards the street, the way a magnet pulls a paper clip irrevocably to its surface.
When something is strange on East 194th street, Amina, as well as most of her neighbors, didn’t flinch. It takes ten minutes of an escalating fight outside her window before she even notices the commotion, even then giving it another few seconds before she popped her head out onto the fire escape to see what was going on. When there was a strange man sleeping in the hallway of her building, she told herself she would wait a few days before mentioning it to her super. Weeks went by and she never did.
So, like any other day, Amina didn’t fully register the oddity of her neighbor’s still and drawn expressions. Until she herself stepped outside the front door, the sky opening up before her.
Mothers stood, arms crossed and feet curled in their slippers and children huddled next to them, hands gripping the arms of their bookbags. The entire bodega staff stood out in the cold without coats on — including the sweet Dominicana, Marisol, who always greeted Amina’s entrance into the bodega with a smile and made her coffee without having to ask her how she wanted. There were barricades, wet concrete and more white people on the corner of East 194th than she had ever seen before at one given time.
Most of them were firefighters. The rest were news reporters.
As far as she could see, the sky was blue up above but at eye level, the sky was smoke — the color of canvas notebook paper. The kind of notebook paper Amina carried in her bag where she doodled eyes and lips next to the answers to her homework assignment.
The corner laundromat, pizza shop, the beauty salon and grocery store were engulfed. The extent of the damage was indistinguishable. Where the fire started, where it ended - if it ended at all - was lost in the sounds of walkie-talkies, the shuffling of cameras and reporters and in the congestion of residents, both cornered and enthralled in the chaos.
Amina fleed, in the other direction — I still have things to do, I can’t stand here all day, she reassured herself.
The last time there was a fire on her block, only a couple months ago, Amina laid in bed, her brother snoring next to her while the smell of what she could only identify as the smell of summer seeped into her room. The smell of summer was really the smell of charcoal grills and her father’s carne asada on Fourth of July, her uncles setting fireworks off on the street — little particles of heat hopping through the air. The smell of summer was her boyfriend throwing parties at a house that was not his in Kingsbridge Heights, the smell of burning branches in a garbage can turned fire pit, the smoke trapped in the helix of her curls for days and the taste of Corona and purple Doritos scraping against on her tongue.
In actuality, the smell of summer was the fifth floor of the building on the corner of Briggs Ave and East 194th catching fire in the middle of the night last December, Amina would come to find out through social media an hour later. Her breath got caught in her throat. In a moment of both relief and mourning, Amina pulled her brother closer to her body. There was something about fires in the Bronx that sat uneasy in her stomach, a sense of history repeating itself. She felt guilty for being relieved it wasn’t her building, but relieved she was. Amina went to bed that night dreaming of empty buildings with only unharmed children’s toys left behind on the floor, the walls colored black from old fires.
In the months that followed, Amina had almost forgotten about that fire, despite its close proximity. Until this moment, her initial grief had been lost the way most tragedies that just barely touch you do, not out of disregard but by the protective nature of dissociation. Until this moment, Amina was able to evade the feeling that at any moment, a cloud of smoke can take the place of her home.
A honking car summons her out of her foggy memories. She, instinctually, takes a step back from the curb.
All of the streets leading to East 194 were closed off, except Valentine Ave which was the highest point of East 194th Street, each block thereafter gradually lowering down to where East 194 met Webster Avenue. Amina stood at the top of the hill. In front of her, a stream of cars trudged behind one another, one driver after another turning their head to look towards the smoke — wondering for a moment what caused the disruption of their morning commute, a flash of concern before going on their daily routine.
Amina could see her neighbors, still huddled around a barricade of fire trucks and firefighters, watching as places they walk past and visit every day were carved out hollow by both fire and water. It occurred to Amina then that it was only nine in the morning. The laundromat opens at six. She wondered then whose clothes were burned, lost in the midsts of their washing cycle. Her mind flashes to the pile of laundry in the corner of her room. Her brother only had a few clean pair of underwears left.
It wasn’t until that moment that Amina felt the emptiness of her hands, void of her morning coffee. She stuffs her hands into her jacket pockets, turning on her heels forcefully.
Enough, she told herself, I’m not helping anyone by standing here.
But as she ascends up the hill towards the subway station, Amina can’t help but take one last glance over her shoulder at the streets behind her.
A construction worker sticks his head out the window of a new building on the block, a helicopter hovered above in the part of the sky that was blue, untouched by smoke and chaos. The notebook-colored smoke engulfed the corner of E 194th Street and Marion Ave. From here, the smoke just looked like low-flying clouds, quiet and ready to swallow everything whole