Four Bronx Women

In recent weeks, I have turned my lens and my ears toward a few Bronx women whose talents and community projects have impressed me.

Emily Rodriguez, Soprano and Bronx student, performs with the Bronx Arts Ensemble String Quartet.
Emily Rodriguez, Soprano and Bronx student, performs with the Bronx Arts Ensemble String Quartet.

Emily Rodriguez
Soprano / Student at Celia Cruz High School of Music

Ms. Rodriguez performed Mozart’s “Alleluia” accompanied by the Bronx Arts Ensemble String Quartet earlier this year.  We went to the Ensemble’s January concert and it was really lovely, held in a private home in Riverdale.  The Bronx Arts Ensemble often features young Bronx musicians in their concerts. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to expose My Favorite 15 Year Old to chamber music.  And it was — she enjoyed hearing and seeing someone close to her own age. Ms. Rodriguez appeared quite at ease singing to a packed room, which included her school’s principal.  Sitting next to us, a young man wearing a badge that read “Press — Celia Cruz High School” commented to his friend, “She gave me goose bumps.”

Last month, I attended the discussion, “Civil Rights in the Bronx: Past and Present”, as part of The Bronx is Building lecture series presented by the Bronx African-American History Project at Fordham University. The panel happened to be an all women line up, with two women from local chapters of the NAACP (which celebrates its 100th Anniversary this year) and South Bronx community activist Majora Carter.  I was especially excited to hear Ms. Carter as I’ve followed her story shortly after she was awarded the “genius” prize — a MacArthur fellowship in 2005, for her work in her Hunts Point community.

Beverly Roberts, Shirley Fearon and Majora Carter, panelists at the lecture "Civil Rights Activism in the Bronx: Past and Present."
Beverly Roberts, Shirley Fearon and Majora Carter, panelists at the lecture "Civil Rights Activism in the Bronx: Past and Present."

Beverly Roberts
President / NAACP, Parkchester Branch

From the time it was built in 1938 until the early 1970s, the Parkchester housing complex had no residents of color.  Ms. Roberts noted that it was the National Urban League who sued the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Parkchester’s owner, for their “whites only” policy.  The NAACP Parkchester branch, established in 1974, provided support to families with integration of schools in the area.  Ms. Roberts said further, “All people of color, newly arrived in the United States, have benefited from the NAACP.”

Shirley Fearon
President / NAACP, Williamsbridge Branch

Ms. Fearon recalled her first act of defending civil rights as a young girl in her Williamsbridge neighborhood. She joined her father and other blacks in the community in picketing the five and dime store on 216th Street.  It was 1959 and no black women were working there. The moderator Professor Mark Naison, noted this with particular interest commenting that demonstrations and picketing by black Bronxites is not readily known.  Today the Williamsbridge chapter brings programs into local schools that teach students about Black History.

Majora Carter
President and CEO / Marjora Carter Group

Ms. Carter started off by commenting on the name of the lecture series, “The Bronx is Building”.  She said, “As someone who lived in the South Bronx when it was burning, I am so happy to see the word ‘building’ in reference to the Bronx.” Ms. Carter has built bold strategies to improve the quality of life in her Hunts Point, South Bronx community, where residents are saddled with high asthma rates and live side by side with the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center which brings semi trucks into the area on a daily basis. In the late 1990’s, Ms. Carter placed herself front and center in opposition of the city’s plan to bring a waste treatment plant into her community’s back yard.  Her efforts have brought “green” jobs into the South Bronx and she secured a $1.25M federal grant to design a South Bronx Greenway along the Bronx River for parks and recreational use.  Ms. Carter, said during the lecture that “Environmental justice is the civil rights of the 20th century.”

If you have not seen it already, Ms. Carter’s talk at the TED conference (Technology , Entertainment, Design) is brilliant.  She is passionate, she is bold and she is honest. And she puts a challenge directly to Vice President Gore that is so daring but necessary.

Onward and Upward!

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