Profile: Adam Levine-Peres/28/Teacher/Social Media Commentator/Community Builder
On a cool Monday afternoon we met up with Adam Levine, the founder of Project Bronx, in Little Italy. We took our seats at The Bronx Beer Hall, which sits quaintly in the center of an Italian market. Amidst the noise from shoppers and the gazes of curious passersby, we began to chat about Project Bronx and what it’s like to navigate the uncharted territory that is The Bronx.
What part of the Bronx are you from?
I claim the South Bronx as my home specifically the Hunts Point, Simpson Street, Bryant Ave area. I lived there for 15 years and then [my family] moved around a lot. We lived by Soundview and Pelham Parkway for a while, and now I live by Kingsbridge/Riverdale. I teach around there. My grandmother also lived on White Plains Road and 231st. I used to go there every Sunday so I know of many different enclaves, many different neighborhoods.
How has living in these different areas shaped you into who you are today?
It has allowed me to see us - see people within our borough. I see it as different seasoning to a steak, it’s like different types of flavors that you can add or take away and I like that.
It’s fun to be a part of that. I grew up around that.
Can you tell us more about Project Bronx?
Project Bronx is a YouTube web series that focuses on highlighting the voices of the Bronx. We go to different areas, man on the street style interview style and ask various questions.
Some of them are a little serious and some of them are funny but they all connect with what is community. At the end of the day, I want folks to talk. I want people to talk to folks that they may not normally talk to and talk about things that they may not usually talk about. That’s where I want [Project Bronx] to go and where I think it has gone.
When interviewing people is it easy to approach them or are some of them apprehensive?
Folks that are being interviewed are skeptical, as they should be, so it’s second nature to be as approachable as possible and let folks know we are from here and what our mission is right off the bat. Then the comfort factor comes. When we first started I used to get discouraged by rejections but I brush it off because I understand. It’s become easier because we (June Baby Productions, the people behind the camera), and I have gotten more comfortable.
How did you come up with the idea for Project Bronx?
It was Hurricane Sandy, I was stuck at home and I went on YouTube, I was just doing research and I typed in "The Bronx." Videos that came up were a lot of rappers, which is cool, and then I saw a lot of news reports on YouTube on the Bronx being the poorest congressional district, to poverty, to food deserts all of those things that, though debatable, may be true may not be true however, they’re one hundred percent negative. One thing I noticed was [the reports] were always from the outside looking in. It’s always an outsider speaking about us; our issues, our problems, and it’s hurtful. They point out the deficits without actually wanting to come up with a solution. No one talks about solutions.
I thought “wow, we need to do something about this." I thought about my students, the fact the Bronx has the lowest voter turnout. It’s the lowest within the five boroughs, you gotta ask yourself why. Media plays a massive role in that.
Why the name “Project Bronx”?
So I decided that this was something that needs to be changed and as a teacher, when we see something that needs to be changed, we assign it. If you want to test something, you’re going to do an experiment. If you want to create something, which is what we were creating with this YouTube channel, it’s a project. It was Project Bronx specifically open ended because everyone can learn from this project.
I think that also affects how recent transplants view the area they are in, how do they begin to claim the Bronx as their own?
There are two types of transplants in my opinion, there are immigrant/migrant transplants and then there are hipster transplants. One set of people relocate for better opportunities. They slowly become a part of the community by participating in the local activities and opening businesses. I see a lot of South American and African restaurants, it’s awesome to see them apart of the community.
Then there are hipster transplants and we have to question why they are coming here in the first place. Bottom line is cheap rent, ‘cause if you could afford to live in SoHo, you would. You’re choosing to live in the South Bronx or Kingsbridge because that’s what you can afford and that’s fine, but then you have to understand that you are in a community that already exists. Their presence alone changes the texture of the community, so it is essential we are sensitive to that. They also learn about the existing community and participate in it.
Have you noticed any change in the way your students, family members, or people you come in contact with on a regular basis view the Bronx since beginning your work with Project Bronx?
In terms of friends and colleagues, they’ll take the effort to shop at a local Bronx supermarket or join a gym in the Bronx which is cool. It’s nice to know that our money is going back into our borough. Some of my students will come up to me and say, “yo Mister, I really like what you’re doing.” There’s a sense of pride in themselves, like pride by association, and I’m not anybody. They know me and then they see I’m on the internet and they see that it’s a positive thing and they feel like they’re getting residual cool points from that, as they should. I would have never guessed that this would have that kind of affect on them.
You’ve covered different topics on your channel, for instance: “Bronx Swag, What is Justice,” and your most recent, “Who Are Your Top 5 Favorite Rappers?” How do you choose what topic you’re going to discuss on your channel?
I tried doing an informal survey at work with my kids, that didn’t quite work out. So I basically go home and think about stuff that I would like. I’m equally a political junky and social justice advocate, half ratchet and half crazy. That may be inappropriate but that’s the Bronx in me. We’re gonna talk about Hip Hop, we’re gonna talk about different things. Maybe things that people would say “Oh my God, I can’t believe he would bring that up!” But at the same time I’m equally trying to talk about issues that matter and affects all folks.
In one of our first interviews, the interviewee, Donzell Crow, stated “even if it’s not a paper, which is the traditional way of sharing information, it could be a blog. That’s definitely needed so there can be one voice [in the Bronx].” I saw your BronxNet interview when you spoke about “guerilla-styled” media that tries to highlight the Bronx. With multiple organizations that share similar visions but have different voices, how do you suggest we become cohesive? Is it possible?
I don’t know if it’s possible, but I think that they’re equally important. This morning I literally woke up thinking, “You can’t be all things to all people,” and it just kept repeating. I can’t be all things to all people, y’all can’t be all things to all people, and that is ok. What we can be is who we are and believe in what we are doing as long as we are being organic and genuine then we’ll fit into our lanes. And the good thing is communication, communication is key. That’s where the cohesiveness can exist but it’s a very utopian idea for every single individual to get along and play along. People have egos and that’s human nature. As long you as you’re aware of what you do in a genuine matter then I think that will resonate.
The first time we met was during the High Bridge Photo Walk between Project Bronx and Bronx Narratives. It was inspiring to have so many creative individuals sharing their plans and ideas on how they want to enhance the Bronx, but is there a danger in like-minded individuals only getting together with each other and creating cocoon communities where we end up alienating those that actually need our help? How do we avoid that?
I immediately went to what I do for a living which is divorced 100% from my social media presence and Project Bronx. I’m working with low income, immigrant kids; my life is dedicated to that, that’s my life. So to go back to the question, it could be dangerous, I found it empowering myself to be with creative like-minded individuals, it felt very therapeutic because my 9-5, Monday through Friday, is not as [creative]. But I guess what I would say, if you have time, which again is attached to privilege, would be to engage the community in general. Go to a soup kitchen or local church. Find out when there is clean up at a local park, make conversation with parents and kids. Be a positive citizen of this world, hopefully that transpires. Being positive is contagious. The other thing I would say to that is open the [media] channels up to everyday folk, which is what we do at Project Bronx already. Once they feel the authenticity they start lining up because we have a lot to say and we’re not heard.
How are you looking to expand Project Bronx?
My plan is to create more of a brand for myself as a social commentator. I don’t think I’m going to do seasons anymore. I think we gotta do something different. I’m going to start doing more vlogs. I’m a voice in the Bronx too and there is something about the social commentary coming from such a local voice. I want to be able to go in a direction where I’m hopefully equally entertaining but keep a very conscious message. With that the goal is to create a podcast and a website for me as an individual where you’ll be able to find the podcast and Project Bronx.