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By Mark Naison | With thanks to NewBlackMan


Friday, August 5, 2011.



Dear Bronx,


In the forty five years I've spent with you, you've taught me that creativity, beauty and compassion thrive most in the midst of hardship.


I first met you in the mid-60's when my girlfriend and I visited her sisters living hear the Grand Concourse and Claremont Park. She was black and I was white, and we had a hard time walking hand in hand in most of the city. 


But not in the Bronx, We always felt safe here because the Bronx was a place where people of different races and cultures lived together and where people of different colors were part of the same families. Though we didn't stay together forever, I will never forget your hospitality during that challenging time in my life.


I then watched you burn from the Third Avenue El and the Number 4 train when I first stared working at Fordham in the early and middle 1970s. It felt awful, at the time, that I could do nothing to stop this tragedy, but I took heart from the community organizations that mobilized, first to stop the fires from heading North, and then that began to rebuild every neighborhood that had been left abandoned and burned. 


Now virtually every vacant lot in the South Bronx is filled with new town houses, apartments and shopping centers. Thank you, Bronx for showing me and the world, that your spirit was unconquerable, and that all the people that wrote you off as hopelessly beaten and decayed were wrong.


And thank you Bronx, for giving the world hip-hop. In the middle of the 70's, when large portions of the Bronx were burning and music programs in the schools were being eliminated by budget cuts, young people in the Bronx, some African American, some Latino, some West Indian, were creating a new form of densely percussive music, using two turntables and a mixer, that made whole neighborhoods dance, and then incorporated poetry and rhyme to dazzle the imagination. What started in the Bronx soon spread into every neighborhood in the country, and eventually the world, where young people were marginalized, forgotten, and looked on with contempt. Hip Hop, your original product, became as popular as Rock and Roll was in its time.


Now,"The Message" that you spawned during those difficult years is given life daily, in the suburbs of Paris , in the favelas of Rio, in the immigrant quarters of Berlin In all of those places, where life is hard, young people use hip hop to say, in the words of Grand Master Flash; "Don't push me, cause I'm close to the edge, I'm trying not to lose my head. It makes me wonder how I keep from going under."


Thank you Bronx, not only for surviving, but for triumphing in the face of adversity, and setting an example of endurance and creativity for the entire world.




Mark Naison

Professor of African American Studies and History

Fordham University




Mark Naison is a Professor of African-American Studies and History at Fordham University and Director of Fordham’s Urban Studies Program. He is the author of two books, Communists in Harlem During the Depression and White Boy: A Memoir. Naison is also co-director of the Bronx African American History Project (BAAHP). Research from the BAAHP will be published in a forthcoming collection of oral histories Before the Fires: An Oral History of African American Life From the 1930’s to the 1960’s.


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