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August 16, 2012

1250 Sedgwick Ave., Bronx, NY – Birthplace of Hip Hop, Photo by Stephanie Morillo, Source (CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29: 13).

The South Bronx has been a symbol of urban decay since the 1960s.

Located in a long forsaken borough of New York City, the South Bronx includes such neighborhoods as Mott Haven, Tremont, Morrisania, and Hunts Point. Once upon a time, these were home to German and Irish, then Jewish immigrants – working class families, proud to own their small piece of the American dream.

The 1950s saw a demographic shift toward African American and Hispanic residents with lower incomes. Widespread abandonment by landlords of their property, so called “white flight” (relocation to the suburbs by white residents anxious over racial integration and decreasing property values), and construction of the infamous Cross Bronx Expressway accelerated the decay. The Cross Bronx literally cut the Bronx in two – displacing thousands from their homes, and decimating once lively and functional neighborhoods.

The limited economy remaining in the South Bronx collapsed entirely in the 1970s. This led to frequent arson. The skeletal image of burned-out buildings became a familiar sight on broadcast news. Poverty, unemployment, a city without funds for fire marshals and building inspectors, redlining of property by banks and insurance companies, drug addiction, gang violence, and a large homeless population (many with mental health issues) were all factors contributing to the climate of despair and the downward spiral.

The 1980s witnessed some degree of urban renewal. The Bronx County Courthouse obtained landmark status. Bright Temple AME Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places. By 2009, a new baseball stadium had been completed.

Graffiti, now a respected art form, is prominent in the South Bronx. Hip hop had its roots here – with pioneers DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Joseph Sadler (“King Grandmaster Flash”), Lawrence Parker (“KRS-One”), and many more.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; retired 4 star-general and former US Secretary of State, Colin Powell; Stanford University physicist, Leonard Susskind (one of the “fathers” of string theory); Yale University humanities professor, author, and renowned literary critic, Harold Bloom; and actress/singer, Jennifer Lopez all hale from the Bronx. So do actors, Danny Aiello and Al Pacino. So does twelve-time basketball All Star, Adolph “Dolph” Schayes.

There is life here amid the rubble. There are people still striving after their share of the American dream. But poverty, prostitution, drug trafficking, and gang activity persist, as well.

We cannot simply turn our backs on the situation. These desolate cities are our own. These broken lives belong to our brothers and sisters. Our efforts will not be successful unless they are as determined as the residents of the South Bronx are desperate.

May the Lord God hear our prayers. May He move us to action. May He restore our land.


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