December 31, 2013

Shining some light on NYPD's year-end reporting and the need for more transparency in reporting crimes

Photo credit: NYC.gov, top stories. Some of the cadets
from the last graduating class of 2013.
On Friday, December 27th, Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly published a year end report on how successful the NYPD has been in reducing crime over the last 12 years, with a particular focus on the number of homicides. While the information that is published is good news for all New Yorkers, there is a lot to be desired with the little data we are able to obtain on a regular basis. How has anyone's particular precinct done in 2013? You can find out by looking at the official CompStats Page. But what about data on a neighborhood level? There is a somewhat feeble attempt to do that on the NYC Crime Map, but it doesn't give you the weekly statistics the same way that CompStats Report does, and it certainly doesn't give you the information by sector, or sub-sections of each precinct.

Too often, the NYPD has used a very broad brush to paint a rosy picture of what they believe the public should know, but that is dramatically different than the information that we should know. While the city has fared well according to the official report, how does the Bronx compare crime this year to 2012? What are the areas in the Bronx that need attention with the new administration taking office tomorrow? From the Bronx's official CompStat report (as of 12/22/13), we do see a significant drop in homicides (-26.8% vs 2012, -55.9% vs 2001) and likewise in crimes such as burglaries, rapes, and grand larceny autos over the same time period. However, the Bronx has gone in the opposite direction when it comes to felony assaults (+11.9% vs 2012, +1.9% vs 2001) and grand larcenies (+7.6% vs. 2012, +36.8% vs. 2001). Additionally, petite larcenies and misdemeanor assaults have also risen over the last two years by 10.4% and 5.9%, respectively.

While the above information does not have the same appeal as the official press release, it conveys much more information and includes the public in trying to play its role in addressing crime on a community level, which should be the intent of having crime data published in the first place. Even the above information is practically meaningless to the individual unless we are able to publish neighborhood level data by sector. We can only hope that the new Mayor and City Council will raise this as one of the first issues to address when they take office, especially given the somewhat spotty record of the NYPD when it comes to providing communities with information in the Bronx.

Additionally, here are two other suggestions for the new administration to improve reporting on crime statistics, starting in 2014. First, begin reporting each category in CompStats per capita (per 100,000 residents) as a way to compare precincts and boroughs equally. This can help highlight hotspots much more readily and rally communities to addressing public safety issues. Secondly, given the rapidly rising (yet still under-counted) population in the Bronx, it is time to create multiple borough commands to better serve the public, as is done in every other borough except Staten Island. Regarding this last point, when the Bronx is compared as a whole to half of another borough, it is no wonder that the Bronx continues to get a bad rap. However, if the Bronx was split, either North/South (46-52 pcts./40-45 pcts.) or East/West (Odd number vs Even number pcts.), the reality of crime stats becomes radically different for the Bronx (see image below).
Information obtained from weekly CompStat reports for each Bronx precinct as of 12/15/13, Vol. 20/No. 50 and compiled by proposed commands. East/West represents Odd/Even number precincts, North/South represents 46-52 pcts./40-45 pcts.

I understand how important it is for the Mayor and the Commissioner to demonstrate to residents that they have been able to get a handle on crime. It is equally important that residents are included in the public safety process with the most efficient and reliable data available instead of feeling that they are being fed a fluff piece that often leads to resentment and cynicism. It has been an uphill fight for many to get the NYPD to comply; hopefully in 2014 we reach the top of the hill and are able to get a clearer picture as to how truly safe are our neighborhoods.

December 28, 2013

The Gift of Giving… This holiday season one Hindu temple joins in collecting toys for the community with Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda.

By Bharati Kemraj

On Sunday, December 22, 2013 toys, toys and a few more toys were collected to bring the total of over 100 pieces of presents for boys and girls of all ages in the community. The items were collected by the Vishnu Mandir and the Bharati Dance Academy. They were then donated to Assemblyman Sepulveda for distribution at St. Andrews Church in their Annual Toy Giveaway to families in the community.

“To know that we can do anything to help bring happiness to a family here in our borough gives us great pleasure in wanting to help even more,” says dance choreographer Bharati Kemraj. “We are so excited for the kids that will have something to open on Christmas Day,” adds eight years old student, Sarah Dilchand, of the Bharati Dance Academy.  

“Myself and the kids brought a few toys today because we wanted to give back as a way of saying thank you for all that we have in our life,” says Indy Churaman as she hugs her son Stefan and daughter Ilyssa, who attended the monthly youth service at the temple.  

Once a month Pandit Vishnu, Pandit Vyaas and Pandit Krishna Sukul leads the youth in Hawan Ceremony and Puja where they give thanks to God and participate in singing religious songs, giving speeches and reading from the sacred Hindu Scriptures. Assemblyman Sepulveda expressed his gratitude to the members of the temple and said that he always feels like he is a part of the family. “Myself and my family have been asking people throughout the community to assist and help with the toy drive and I am thankful to those who found it in their hearts to donate today,” said the Assemblyman.

December 24, 2013

Mayor's office release progress reports for each borough, Bronx shows mixed results after 12 years

Last week the Mayor's office released a report for each of the 5 boroughs to demonstrate progress during his tenure. On Sunday, during his weekly radio show, Bloomberg stated that:

"The best way to appreciate the great things happening all over New York is to go out and see them.  Last week, that’s just what we did, using the final week before the holidays to spotlight progress the city is making in so many areas, in all five boroughs. That starts with creating new jobs for New Yorkers. The final jobs report of 2013 came out last week – and it shows New York City heading into 2014 riding high.  We’re on course to have a record-setting four million jobs by this year’s end."

While the total job numbers are good for the city as a whole, the number of  jobs created in the Bronx Progress report over the last 12 years is less than 6% of the city's total. And while we have the second highest number of schools housing built in the city, to say that only 23,915 out of 406,000 private sector jobs over 12 years have been created in the Bronx is a bit dismal. And about 66% of the new jobs created have been in leisure and hospitality industries, despite only 6 new hotels built in the same time-frame. That doesn't mean that Bronxites are not working in the other four boroughs, but that seems to be the norm and not the exception. This means that most Bronxites are spending time and money commuting, making part of the purchases elsewhere, and don't have as much time to invest locally in their communities. 

And with some sections and demographics of the Bronx having double digit unemployment since at least the 2000 census, these numbers are appalling. Investment has been slow for the Bronx, and only in the last few years has it started to change around for the borough. But it is and must change for all of our sakes. Projects like the new Kingsbridge National Ice Center and the La Central development are great news to the borough, but we must continue to better ourselves and our communities to encourage investment while we hold the feet of elected officials to the fire. Sorry to Mayor-elect DeBlasio, Bloomberg has thrown down the gauntlet and touted his own horn about job creation, how are you going to choose to respond? Hopefully better than the last 12 years. We'll have to wait and see.

December 23, 2013

One building's special way of celebrating Christmas by coming together for a meal

When you get the right mix of people to work together, they can really have a positive impact on their community. On Saturday night at one building's holiday celebration, its residents came together to have a meal with one another and enjoy the performance of some special young, uplifting talent.

Located in the Bedford Park section of the Bronx, the residents of 190 East Mosholu Parkway South held its 5th Annual Christmas Celebration, a break from the usual stress that goes along with holiday shopping, gridlock alerts, and nonstop television commercials. It was a chance for us (yes, a bit of self-promotion here) to sit down with our neighbors and talk, laugh, eat, and drink together, something that we wouldn't normally do the rest of the year. The event has become larger every year, and we look forward to sitting down with each other as opposed to passing by one other on our way to work as we do on every other day.

This year was a little bit more special. Some residents prepared dishes to share with one another, but we also hired a former resident, who's family still lives in the building, to prepare the main course instead of hiring someone from the outside. Executive Chef Roopchand "Raj" Seesochan recently started his own business, after serving as the executive chef for the Radio City Rockettes for many years, and prepared an elaborate spread from various cultures and cuisines that was a real treat. This hidden Bronx talent prepared an exquisite menu from Cajun shrimp to baked chicken to bacalaitos, and his particular flair definitely contributed to the holiday atmosphere. A very jovial and hardworking character, "Chef Raj" is very dedicated in the manner in which he both prepares and presents his food to his clients and friends. It is great to know that someone as talented as Chef Raj, a term that I don't use lightly, continues to make his home in the Bronx when he could have gone elsewhere.

In addition to the great food, we also had the privilege of listening to some great, talented pre-teens in our own private concert. Four seventh graders, two who are Bronxites, are from The Special Music School at PS 859 at the Kaufman Center near Lincoln Center, and performed several traditional Christmas carols on the violin and cello. Myah Segura, who lives with her parents in the building, has performed for us in the past, and the residents come out every year to support and encourage her. It is always a pleasure to hear her perform, along with her classmates Nina Uesato, Sofia Manuguerra, and Isabel Janovsky. These young women were led by their conductor Shana Mahoney, who happens to be the mother of Sofia and serves as the conductor for St. Barnabas Church in the Woodlawn section of the Bronx. 

So the moral of this particular story, happiness is not found in the things you have, but in the things you share with one another. Whether that is in a meal together, or in supporting one another in their  aspirations, we as Bronxites need to take a moment to reflect on who and what we have and support one another. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, y un Feliz Año Nuevo to everyone!

For more pics from this event, check out our album on the official Facebook Page.

December 16, 2013

Raising the minimum wage is needed, but may not be enough

There has been a lot of talk lately about raising the minimum wage as of late, especially with the coverage of food service workers protesting an increase to $15/hour. While many have balked at the notion and even labeled these workers negatively, from a historical perspective the wage increase issue is not really that far-fetched. 

As a teen, I went to work to help my parents with the bills and my own expenses, and times were tough then. When I was working my first job in 1985, the minimum wage was $3.35/hour, and working everyday after school and weekends, I barely made $100 in two weeks and after taxes. Now there was no way that I could have supported myself on those wages, but I do remember there were some of the adults who were working alongside me at the same rate of pay, and I didn't know how they did it.

Calculating that rate of pay now and adjusting it for inflation using the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Price Index (CPI) Inflation Calendar, my rate of pay in 2013 dollars would be $7.27, two cents hire than the consumer minimum (you can verify the information by clicking here and here). How is it that the rate people are getting paid slightly less than it was almost 30 years ago, despite the rate of inflation going up in the same time period a whopping 117%? That was due to bad political decisions that failed to peg wages to inflation and kept them stagnant so that companies can control labor costs. In addition to these efforts to control labor costs, many low to medium wage jobs in the same time period have been exported to other countries, creating an even greater wage disparity.

While the demands of many to raise the wage to $15/hour may have come from noble intentions, doubling the wages immediately would be disastrous for the economy, especially for smaller businesses. The result would be many employers simply letting go of their staff or even worse, forcing them to go out of business entirely and forcing many to seek unemployment insurance and public assistance. So what is a fair and balanced policy to ease the economic disparities?

Many of the proposals being put out there are no more than a band-aid on a laceration, purely cosmetic and will force the working poor to continue to be at the mercy of others. The talks from the state and the nation on dueling rates are doing nothing but wasting time and hurting people. Here is a three-step recommendation for what could be done to ease in a raise for the working poor and give businesses time to adjust. 

  1. Raise the minimum wage to $9.00/hour in 2014. This has the same purchasing power as $4.38/hour in 1985 and while it doesn't make up for the last two and a half decades, it's a start.
  2. Peg wages to a percentage of inflation annually. Politics should not turn a blind eye to the plight of its citizens for political expediency, which has unfortunately become the norm for this generation. Tying wages to 50-75% of the inflation rate (50% when inflation exceeds 3% 60% between 2-3%, and 75% below 2%), would give the most vulnerable a better chance of escaping the cycle of poverty.
  3. Eliminate local, state, and national income taxes for everyone making 200% or lower of the federal poverty level (or an annual salary of $22,980 for an individual). This elimination will provide these individuals with more disposable income and localities can make this up by the increase in sales taxes as a result of greater spending. On a national level, the feds can absorb this small reduction easily by cutting spending in other areas. From a moral imperative, governments should not be in the business of using income taxes from the poor as a way to engage in untested policies, givebacks to lobbyists, or as incentives to large corporations anyway.
I'm sure that there are many arguments for and against these recommendations, but at least they are on the table. And like the saying goes, if you're not at the table, you might be on the menu. Lets make things right for the working poor now and not wait until the next decade like our predecessors have.

December 7, 2013

Bronx entrepreneurs come together to bring toys to local kids for Christmas

On Wednesday, December 4th, local business owners gathered in the Throggs Neck section of the Bronx to participate in a Toys for Tots event for local Bronx kids. The event was organized by Clarisel Gonzalez of the Bronx Entrepreneurs and Business Network (BEBN), Evelyn Torres of The Foxy Family Organization, and Thirty3 Sixty 3 Restaurant. It was an opportunity for local businesses and organizations to come together at the Jolly Holiday Network & Toy Drive and collect almost 75 toys for local kids. Foxy Family, a Bronx-based nonprofit organization that provides primary services to women, men and children who are exposed to and experiencing domestic violence. will distribute the toys to Bronx kids on Dec. 21 at another jolly holiday gathering.

In addition to the toy drive, almost a dozen of the participants received awards from the BEBN for their contributions over the past year. These entrepreneurs incorporate giving back to the Bronx community as part of their everyday business, and the award "... recognizes entrepreneurs, small business and local leaders who have lived up to [BEBN's] business and social mission of informing, empowering, and building community in their personal and/or professional lives." 

The 2013 BEBN Award winners are: George Acevedo, Bronx Women's Business Resource Center; Jacqueline Acevedo-Villanueva, MAS, Inc.; Nina Cochran, CodeNYC; Ed Garcia Conde, Welcome to the Bronx; Mariposa Maria Teresa Fernandez, Poetry for Entrepreneurs; Alexandra Maruri, MCNY Tours; Maribel Mercado, Amapola Events Planning; Nicole Perrino, BronxMama; Cheryl Sanchez, The NetWorks Organization; and Evelyn Torres, Foxy Family.

To see additional pictures from the event, check out our Facebook Page album.

November 27, 2013

Bronxites rally to help victims of the typhoon in the Philippines

The Vishnu Mandir and the Bharati Dance Academy Donates Flip Flops for the Philippines
By Bharati Kemraj

It was a horrific vision for everyone looking at their television or seeing first hand the damages caused by Typhoon Haiyan that affected thousands of lives in the Philippines on Friday, November 8, 2013. For one Hindu Temple in the Bronx it only took a day to arrange a collection of footwear for individuals looking to rebuild and find hope. Flip Flops for the Philippines was arranged by the Vishnu Mandir and the Bharati Dane Academy where 500 pairs of flip flops and shoes were donated by families and friends.

"I heard Deputy Inspector of the 49th Precinct announced at a Community Board 11 meeting that they are asking for flip flops as a donation that will be given to people affected by the Super Typhoon and right away I started thinking and went to work on my phone,” said Bharati Kemraj from the Bharati Dance Academy. “The next day, after several texts, e-mails and calls, I reached out to the DI and told him that the Vishnu Mandir Hindu Temple in the Community Board 9 area would give about 500 pairs of footwear. He was amazed and with appreciation in his voice he said that he would arrange for pick up not knowing that he would come himself along with a Community Affairs Officer,” added Kemraj.

On Sunday, November 24, 2013 a line was formed as Devotees of the Vishnu Mandir and Students of the Bharati Dance Academy joined together to stack the boxes containing 500 pairs of flip flops and shoes into the NYPD Van. “Take a look at the line and smiles of the people as they move the boxes. These are members here in our community coming together to help those in need,” said Ganesh Basil. As a longtime member of the Temple, Basil remembers several occasions where fellow worshipers assisted in lending a helping hand to other Countries during or after certain disasters including China, India and Guyana. “This is what giving back is all about,” he shouted as he went around the line to move more boxes.

 “I read somewhere that the people in the Philippines needed footwear and after talking to my Supervisor, DI Johnson, I got approval to move forward and here we are collecting 500 pairs of footwear,” said Officer Jay Sturdivant of Community Affairs as he loaded the boxes into the vehicle.

“Typhoon Haiyan affected hundreds of families as it swept through the Philippines and this is just a small way of helping those trying to get back on their feet,” said Deputy Inspector Andy Johnson, 49th Police Precinct. “When Bharati mentioned that the people of the Temple would donate I did not expect for it to happen so quickly or that the number of flip flops and shoes would be in the hundreds,” added DI Johnson who carried the last box, placed it into the packed space and closed the doors.

As of this weekend, the death toll from Typhoon Haiyan reached 5,235 with a further 1,613 missing. For more information about Flip Flops for the Philippines or to donate, contact Community Affairs at (718) 918-2025 or the 49th Precinct at (718) 918-2000.

Organizers: Deputy Inspector Andy Johnson, 49th Police Precinct and Police Officer Jay Sturdivant of Community Affairs

Sponsors: The Vishnu Mandir & the Bharati Dance Academy

Event Coordinator: Bharati S. Kemraj

Publicist: Chandra Sukul

Photo Credit: Shanti Mangar

Special Thanks: Pandit Vishnu, Pandit Vyaas, Pandit Krishna and Chandra Sukul; Navin Singh and all Members

November 24, 2013

The Other Side of the Coin: Small Businesses Supporting Their Communities, Kingsbridge Road Merchants Association Hosts 1st Holiday Celebration

Earlier this week, I wrote about the importance of supporting local merchants in the Bronx during Small Business Saturday, which occurs after most people do their holiday shopping on Black Friday. The topic did bring up some discussion on Facebook, as some people (rightfully) stated that too many businesses don't do enough to attract or keep their customers. And the wrong mix and attitudes of businesses can bring about resentment and frustration from residents, which drives away people to shop elsewhere.


Small businesses do bring a sense of vibrancy to communities and provide them with goods, services, and local jobs. And when small businesses come together, they can accomplish things that contribute to the character of a neighborhood. This requires businesses to do something that may seem counter-intuitive, and that is think outside of their business to enhance their business. 

Families gathered on Saturday at W. Kingsbridge Road for the
1st Holiday Celebration Event, sponsored by the
Kingsbridge Road Merchants Association

On Saturday the 23rd, the members of the Kingsbridge Road Merchants Association, representing over 35+ businesses on the strip and now going on its third year, gave back to their community and hosted its first ever holiday celebration and tree lighting ceremony. Under the leadership of its president and vice-president, Nancy Fernandez and Christian Ramos, the association put together this family-friendly, free event for residents in the Kingsbridge Heights section of the Bronx. Produced by Marketing & Advertising Solutions (MAS) and hosted by comedian Roman Suarez, over 100 children were treated to a very early Christmas when they received a visit and a gift from Santa in front of the Mirador Restaurant on the corner of Grand Ave. and West Kingsbridge Road. They were even treated to a brief dusting of holiday snow to set the holiday mood for everyone.

Mirador Restaurant, one of the newest members of the
association, played host to Santa and his helpers to bring an
early Christmas to Kingsbridge Heights in the Bronx.
Mirador Restaurant, owned by Mr. Jose Estevez, provided the space for Santa and the kids, as well as many of the decorations. Having opened less than a year a go, Mr. Estevez just recently joined the association and said he is used to giving back to the community as much as he works at his business. And he doesn't mind. "Some people have a bad perception of the Bronx, but that's completely not true" he stated. He has managed other restaurants in Manhattan and the Bronx, and he hasn't had any problems with his business in Kingsbridge Heights. "I would be paying more than double the rent for the same space in Manhattan, and I have half the problems here than over there," referring to vandalism that has occurred to decorations and his businesses in Manhattan. "We have ups and downs in this business like everyone else, but I believe the people love that we're here," which makes his decision to support the association even more rewarding.

L to R: Marlene Cintron, BOEDC President, Christian Ramos
Vice-President of KRMA, Ruben Diaz, Jr., Bronx BP,
Santa (looks familiar), and Nancy Fernandez, President, KRMA
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and Assemblyman-elect for the 86th district Victor Pichardo both made an appearance at the event, wishing everyone a happy holidays and their support to the association for its contribution to the community. BP Diaz also plugged how important the proposed Kingsbridge National Ice Center (KNIC) development, located across the street at the Kingsbridge Armory, will be for both the community and the association.

MAS, lead by Jacqueline Acevedo, has helped market the association for the last three years and seen the association continue to grow in many ways. Since the early days of sidewalk sales, MAS has helped them in putting together several events and promotions that have brought the community and businesses together. She reached out to both KNIC and Green Mountain Energy, who sponsored the event, and was able to promote it successfully for the association.

And this is what is meant by the other side of the coin regarding small businesses. No one doubts how hard it is and the courage to go out there everyday to make a living, and that customer loyalty is important. But like everything else, businesses have to invest in their customers and community in they want their business to be successful. And if it means a few decorations or having a large-scale festival, find out what your customers want beyond the transaction or two and be a part of what they need for the community to succeed.

For more photos, check out our Facebook Page. We look forward to hearing from you and wish everyone an early happy holidays.

November 18, 2013

Shopping locally matters, and not just for the holidays

If you have watched television anytime after November 1st, you have already started seeing ads or hearing jingles for the holiday season from numerous companies. Everyone is vying for your attention to get you to purchase the next big thing. Interestingly, companies such as American Express and Optimum have begun once again to push the marketing of Small Business Saturday, the event after Black Friday where we are encouraged to shop locally. There are definite benefits to shopping locally, and not just for the holidays. But here in the Bronx, as in other poorer areas, the impact of shopping locally is greater for the community.

Shopping locally provides an increase in the local tax base and keeps spending within a community. Additionally, it brings about neighborhood stability by creating jobs for local people, who then reinvest in their community. It is only recently (20-30 years) that some big box stores have made their way into the Bronx and have had a growing impact on jobs and growth. But according to some sources and previous discussions with Prof. Bill Bosworth of the Bronx Data Center at Lehman College, more money leaves the Bronx then comes into it, and this is a contributing factor to the high unemployment and poverty rates.

Think about it, when people are commuting away from their homes and spending money outside of their community, you are helping to build some other community's economy. And there is no incentive for the business that you just spent your hard-earned money on to reinvest in your community, they don't even know where you live. So what happens to the Bronx in this scenario? The divestment leads to empty storefronts, or worse, being inundated with a bunch of "99 Cents Stores" on a block, or a dozen storefront churches, who are the only groups left that can afford the rent, barely open during the week or employing anyone locally. Many other businesses that do survive only do so by a thread, living off of a subsistence business model.

Obviously this does not apply to places such as Fordham Road, which is the largest Business Improvement District in the Bronx, or to other major commercial areas such as Co-op City or the malls popping up along the Major Deegan Expressway. But there are many areas throughout the Bronx where even supermarkets, a staple for any community, have all but disappeared.

So before you commit all your shopping to areas outside of the borough, think about where you can get a great meal at a local restaurant, that customized item in a niche store, or even a discount at a chain store that has set up shop locally. Spend that dollar here, and watch it come back to you in ways you never imagined. Shop the Bronx.

November 12, 2013

Four Hip Hop Legends Unite in the Bronx to Talk About Music, Health, & Fashion

Sponsored by John Benizio of Metro Optics and
Melissa Libran of Windows of Hip Hop

On Monday the 11th, four pioneers of Hip Hop made their way up to Norwood to be a part of a photo shoot and public awareness campaign, while talking about music and community today. The event was coordinated by Melissa Libran, CEO of Windows of Hip Hop (WOHH), an economic development project that promotes Hip Hop, Gino Pacheco, owner of Beso Lounge and CFO at WOHH, and sponsored by John Benizio, owner of Metro Optics.

WOHH was also celebrating their first anniversary which has been spent primarily on building a reputation and a name for themselves since last November. WOHH has hosted several youth and community forums on what Hip Hop means to people today and developed "edu-tainment" as a way to connect with children in the Bronx. As a fan of Hip Hop, a Bronxite, and a businesswoman, Ms. Libran seeks support to obtain a trailer to host a mobile, interactive exhibit and educational component based on a Hip Hop curriculum to the Bronx.

In speaking with Mr. Benizio about his sponsorship, he stated that he knew Melissa for a longtime and stressed the connection of Hip Hop and Metro Optics as being "Bronx Brands". Eye-wear such as Cazal or Gucci have long been synonymous with Hip Hop artists and both companies were contacted to model their latest frames at today's event.

So who were these Hip Hop icons? None other than Afrika Bambaataa, Melle Mel, Grand Wizzard Theodore, and Grandmaster Caz! Coming together for the first time in a few decades, they showed their support for promoting men's eye health while sporting the latest frames from Cazal and Gucci. Throughout the shoot, they also got a chance to talk about music, community, activism, and the importance of understanding the importance of true Hip Hop.

Supporting an Army Reserve uniform, Melle Mel stressed about keeping his music "...at a more mature level of what Hip Hop is, it's not like we need to blend in to what's going on. These pioneers are going to make, and build, and take a seat in Hip Hop alongside of everything else in the industry." He also stressed how these legends have stood the test of time and, "...have formed a united front to save Hip Hop from itself."

Meanwhile, Afrika Bambaataa talked about his roots, including the founding of the Universal Zulu Nation, refocusing his efforts early on and doing something positive for the community, and remembering the King (not the Godfather) of Soul, James Brown. He also took a jab at the city, "Shame on New York!" for not supporting a Hip Hop museum, especially in the Bronx.

There was also a lot of press and support from various other business also at the event, including News 12, BronxNet, and Bronx personalities such as Michael Max Knobbe, Gabrielle Williams of "The Ms. Gabie Show", Ken "Mustafa" Howell of DBNEB Music. Additionally, the Bronx's own poetic prodigy NeNe Ali was present, describing herself as a product of the pioneers of Hip Hop and has strives to uplift her community through the spoken word.

For more pictures of the event, visit our official Facebook Page!

November 9, 2013

Congrats to our new mayor, now let's address the issues with Bronx parks!

First I'd like to congratulate our new mayor, Bill DeBlasio, and wish him all the best when he is officially sworn in. I don't know him personally, but I do know a few people who have worked under him and they are great, hardworking people who have always stood up for the Bronx. And while there are many pressing issues that the new mayor faces such as housing, jobs, public safety, schools, and treating our public employees fairly, one issue I believe needs to be addressed is how the Bronx has been shortchanged when it comes to our parks.

Years ago, a deal was struck to have a (money) pit dug at Van Cortlandt Park to put in the Croton Filtration Plant, an outdated and questionable project from the onset, in exchange for over $250 million in capital improvements for Bronx parks. The project itself was supposed to cost several hundred million dollars, but under the Bloomberg administration, costs overruns and mismanagement have raised the price tag to over $3.3 billion and counting.

And while there have been many great projects built throughout Bronx parks, only slightly more than half of those capital dollars have been spent to date. Additionally, some of the larger projects have been plagued with delays, contractor conflicts, and other issues. A case in point has been the Williamsbridge Oval Recreation Center in the Norwood section of the Bronx. The center, along with the surrounding park space, received a huge infusion of cash to modernize it. The center was closed to the public in early 2010 for what was supposed to be an 18-month project, but is only now opening its doors at the end of this month, more than 2 years behind schedule. Residents are grateful that it is finally open, but it has been a very long wait.

Even more disturbing is that the money from this arrangement was supposed to be in addition to the borough's annual budget, but that hasn't been the case. It appears as if the borough has been the victim of a "bait and switch", with capital projects getting all the attention and services, staffing, and maintenance have been cut over the last 5 years. No one from the city can clearly explain what happened to those dollars, but it is doubtful that it stayed in the Bronx. One only needs to look at the fiscal budget over the last several years to see that funding has remained flat all this time.

So Mr. DeBlasio, when you step up to Gracie Mansion in January, Bronxites would like to see some justice done on a variety of issues, but please, don't forget our parks and what we've had to endure these last several years.

November 1, 2013

Leveling the Tech Playing Field in the Bronx, Part 1

One of the issues that many don't see dominate the headlines in the Bronx is the need to create a local, tech-savvy workforce to compete in new jobs being created in the technology fields. All too often, we spend enormous amounts of resources just trying to get people employed so that we can reduce the double digit unemployment that has existed in parts of the borough for over forty years. Yes, I said it, for the better part of forty years, too many have been unemployed or underemployed, perpetuating a vicious cycle of poverty in the Bronx. So how do we change it?

Throughout New York State, school districts and communities are tripping over each other trying to bring STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) centers and programs into their areas to prepare their children for the demands of a modern workforce. Where is that discussion in the Bronx? With the exception of some very close-knit circles, that discussion is non-existent or even an option for most Bronx students. The NYC Department of Education (DOE) can barely prepare Bronx middle-school children to take the specialized high school exam, let alone prepare them to compete in a 21st century workforce. Before I sound as if I am coming off too negative, let me point out that the Bronx has some extremely bright students and individuals, some that have excelled in robotics, technology, and other sciences. And as great and important these shining stars are, we as a county are woefully unprepared in training a technology-based workforce for the city. Because of the lack of direction, those future jobs will go to other places in and outside of the city, leaving Bronxites further behind their counterparts in the region.

We need to think-outside-the-educational box and help identify whatever resources are available to those who are willing to lift themselves up and cross the digital divide. There are a few people here in the Bronx who are starting to build that bridge for others, and I hope to bring you more about them soon enough. Right now, I want to talk about an organization in NYC that I came across on a news show recently (yes, I consider the 'Colbert Report' a news source, leave me alone) called the Codecademy, an organization that teaches individuals young and old alike how to write web-based programs for free. Yes, that is the business model right now, teaching people the basics of several program languages used for writing code on the internet at no cost other than that for computer access, which one can get also for free at any of our public libraries (while we still have those for free).

According to Codecademy's mission statement, "We are rethinking education from the bottom up. The web has rethought nearly everything - commerce, social networking, healthcare, and more. We are building the education the world needs - the first truly net native education. We take more cues from Facebook and Zynga in creating an engaging educational experience than we do from the classroom." That's a bold statement, is it one that we can get Bronxites motivated around, whether its this company or others like it? What will it take to show young Bronxites that they too can be a part of a modern day tech workforce, and not stay stuck on the lower rungs of the economic ladder? If the traditional education system is not working for so many, those in academic and political leadership need to step up harder and faster than before, or we risk losing future generations of Bronxites to cyclical poverty. While we're at it, let's make sure that whoever is the next mayor is also listening and working on a plan now, and not wait until they take their first step into Gracie Mansion to ponder a plan for the Bronx.

October 30, 2013

Missing from the mayoral debates about public safety-better reporting on crime data

Despite what some are labeling as a rather tame debate between mayoral candidates Bill de Blasio (D) and Joe Lhota (R), not much was said by either candidate that hasn't been already stated in previous debates or through the negative political ads. As a matter of opinion, both candidates leave listeners wondering what either have to offer to the residents of NYC other than the fact that they are not Bloomberg II.

One topic that has been fiercely debated has been public safety and crime, and the doomsday scenario of what will happen if the "wrong" candidate wins. Rather than trying to predict what will go wrong, I'd like to propose a modest suggestion of what can go right to combat crime-update the way crime stats are reported so that communities are better informed and make better decisions. 

By the time the next mayor will take office, it will have been nearly 20 years since CompStats was rolled out, the NYPD's major crimes reporting system initiated under then police commissioner Bill Bratton during the Guiliani administration. Seen as a way to provide communities with weekly updates on crimes happening in their precinct, CompStats is still a tightly-controlled database that has remained static over the years, presenting many more questions that deserve to be answered. Considering the technological leaps that have occurred over the last 20 years, today's method of reporting CompStats needs to be completely revamped if it is going to keep up with New Yorkers' demand for better information.

In the best scenario, CompStats should provide 'incident-based reporting' of crime in one large, publicly accessible database. Many police departments across the country such as the Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Utah state police to name a few, already report crime in this manner. This allows citizens, organizations, and other government agencies to access the data and make better decisions for allocating resources that can assist in reducing crime. Considering the long-standing resistance of  the NYPD in sharing this intimate a level of data with communities, I don't see this happening unless there is the political will and a major shake up at 1PP.

What can be almost as effective is the sharing of data in what precincts call 'sectors', or smaller chucks of the precincts, rather than reporting crime in a precinct as a whole. Immediately, one would be able to see where potential hotspots are for a particular crime. This would allow communities to work with their precincts, elected officials, businesses, schools, etc. in making informed decisions and to be a part of the solution, rather than being left in the dark and allowing precinct commanders to spin the information how ever they needed for a particular audience.

A plan is better than no plan, and we, particularly in the Bronx, need to demand more when it comes to dealing with our public safety. When big businesses can track and report one's shopping habits in an instant, its hard to believe that NYC can't do the same with something as important as crime. Let's make it a priority in the Bronx and in City Hall come January 2014.