by Mark Naison
November 7, 2018
Every time I hear Laura Nyro sing or hear Felipe Luciano speak, I get back in touch with the romantic side that was always there underneath my gritty exterior. When you grew up in a tough New York neighborhood, especially in Brooklyn, Manhattan or the Bronx, you learned to cultivate a tough exterior to ward off bullies and aggressors, but there was always something else there.
You see, New York is a city of dreamers. You had to be a dreamer to cross the ocean or the border and come here from a distant land. And that quality of dreaming, of hoping for something better, of wishing for love and acceptance was passed on to the children, even children who joined gangs or fought every day going to and from school ( yes, girls as well as boys did that, right Maria Aponte?).
So in tenements and housing projects, in school yards and alleys, where people were playing stick ball or jumping double dutch, there were always poets, singers, painters, cartoonists, hoping they could find a safe place to unleash those talents, Some of our best music and best art came out of those places. And that romantic impulse is still there if we dare to find it, recognize it and support it.
It was there when Laura Nyro joined to sing doo wop in the 167th Subway stop of the D Train with two Puerto Rican friends. It was there when Felipe Luciano, former gang member/ Young Lords Founder, came together with Black revolutionaries to form the Last Poets and put poetry over jazz riffs and drum beats. And it was there when young people all over the Bronx, deprived of art and music instruction in financially strapped public schools, covered subway cars with bold, colorful images and created a new music that would sweep he world with two turntables and a mixer.
In a city of dreamers the Bronx has often been Ground Zero for romanticism and creativity.
Mark Naison is Professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University and founded the Bronx African American History Project.
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