Board Bashing: The Long and Short of It

By Brad Williams    

The hum of four soft urethane wheels gliding over abrasive asphalt has become a common addition to the noises on the streets of New York, as longboarding continues to grow in popularity. Far from the stereotype of skateboarders (teenage boys, or young men with long hair and tattoos), the people riding longboards range from businessmen, to young mothers, and even young children. They often ride together in groups of three or more on long-distance cruises. They can be seen nonchalantly whizzing by traffic and pedestrians on the city’s streets without doing a single trick, on boards of various shapes and sizes but longer than three feet in length. One rider might be 5 years old, and the next rider might be 50.

Photo by Brad Williams

Photo by Brad Williams

Many people refer to these boarders as skaters – and that leaves those on the other end of the skateboarding spectrum – trick skaters – fuming. While outsiders might see longboarders and shortboarders as two families of the same clan, the participants see themselves as rivals.

In the past five years, longboarding has reached new heights in popularity. As more and more longboarders coast through the streets of New York City, many shortboarders frown in disapproval.

The basis of the dispute is the style of board used by the rider. In general, there are three types of skateboards:  trick boards (also referred to as “regular” and “short” boards) used primarily for executing numerous tricks; longboards, mostly used for transportation and riding at high speeds, and cruisers, a varying mixture of both.

Longtime skater and Roll America skateboarding instructor John Jackson is displeased with the increase in longboarding. “It feels like they outnumber us now,” Jackson said. “When I would skate around 10 years ago, I’d see skaters everywhere, riding in groups, now I just see a bunch of longboarders clogging up the bike lanes.” Founded in 1988 by Joel Rappelfeld, RollAmerica offers rollerblading and skateboarding lessons and says it works with more than 50 elementary and middle schools to teach students.

Longboards, significantly longer than trick skateboards, require less effort and can reach much faster speeds. Most longboards have wheels twice the size of regular skateboard wheels, to handle rough surfaces and add momentum when in motion. Longboards are primarily used for transportation.

Jackson said beginners were the “most annoying thing” about the rise in longboarding.

“As an instructor, I encourage my students not to start out with a longboard. It’s too easy to reach high speeds, and beginners can’t keep control,” he said. ”It’s like driving a Corvette the very first time you drive a car, you’re a danger to yourself and everyone near you.”

“I can count four longboarding deaths in New York City since 2012. I can’t think of a single person dying from trying a trick here,” Jackson said. “And we skate all of the ramps and rails that most people think are so dangerous! It’s all from a lack of experience and comfort on a board.” According to the Web site Skaters for Public Skateparks, two skateboard-related deaths occurred in New York City in 2012.

By Jackson’s definition, the majority of the city’s longboarders should not be referred to as skaters because they have not spent countless hours bettering their skills through trial and error.

“What can you fail at as a longboarder?” Jackson asked. “Riding down the street? Outside of the hardcore longboarders, who have complete control at speeds above 15 miles per hour, longboarding is not a demanding activity.…Is anyone who rides a bike considered a cyclist? No. They should only be referred as longboarders.” he added, “Longboarding is more like surfing or snowboarding than skateboarding.”

Jeff Gates, an avid longboarder and the founder and owner of Uncle Funky’s Boards in the West Village, said there’s not just a link between longboarding and board sports such as surfing and snowboarding, but that the latter are “the root of all skateboarding”– meaning that skateboarding as a whole evolved from surfing.

“Longboarding is as simple as riding,” Gates said. “You can get the gist of it in a matter of hours, while street skating requires a lot more practice and dealing with injuries.”

Gates said that trick skaters embrace skateboarding as part of their identities, and aren’t happy to see people who just bought longboards being referred to as skaters.

“When a dude who’s been doing tricks for 15 years sees a guy in a suit riding a longboard to work on Wall Street, he’s pissed,” he said.

Unlike Jackson, Gates believes that a longboard is an ideal choice for newcomers for a multitude of reasons: “It’s longer and wider than a standard board, so it has more room to stand on and is more stable. Its wheels are much larger, so riders don’t have to worry about tripping over every crack, twig or pebble, and it’s just easier to turn on.”

Gates admits that the ease of reaching high speeds is a potential danger, but advises that all riders should do their best not to skate outside of their abilities. In addition, he suggests a change in philosophy: “Everybody can skate, everybody should skate. It’s fun, and it’s easy…And I think skaters have tried to keep that secret for too long—to protect it like it’s their own. But it never was their own, and it never should be their own: it’s for everybody.”

One Year Later: Recollections of Sandy

Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the Northeast was so devastating that many people are still recovering a year later. The storm victims tell stories of searching for loved onesrebuilding destroyed businesses and escaping floodwaters. These four New Yorkers talked about how Sandy affected them and continues to affect them to this day.

Rockaway Beach, Queens after Sandy. Photo by Henry Wu

Rockaway Beach, Queens after Sandy.
Photo by Henry Wu

Located in Manhattan’s Financial District, 17 State Street is a 42-story building that houses commercial offices in industries ranging from software to insurance and serves as a workplace for many New Yorkers. When Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012, the building sustained costly damages. Building Manager Deloy Stoll can recall the experience all too well.

Reporting by Brad Williams

Gary Griffith is a retired New York police officer, but it was his summer house in Brick, N.J., that took a hit. He discussed his Hurricane Sandy experience and where he stands now.

Reporting by Taylor Bilecky

One lesson that could be useful in preparing for future storm was the use of food trucks to distribute hot meals to the worst-hit neighborhoods. The co-owner of the Mexico Blvd. food truck, Jordi Louisa, talked about how he was able to join other food-truck operators to help out.

Reporting by Peter Bell

Just after the storm, Irina Bondartseva’s home in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, seemed fine, but she later found it would need four months of renovation.

Reporting by Dmitriy Godunov

Remembering Sandy in Photos: 

RelatedRecollections of Sandy by the Editor-in-Chief

Devastation and Dislocation…

Call it a hurricane, a superstorm or a frankenstorm, Sandy ravaged the New York metropolitan area, leaving death and destruction in its wake and many months of recovery ahead. In the photos and unedited blog posts that follow, Baruch students reported on the unfolding horror. Also, Juliya Madorskaya details her escape from the flooding, Malynda Salamone tells of her efforts to get word on the safety of her father, who was in a nursing home in Far Rockaway when the storm hit, and Justin Goldberg and Elisha Fieldstadt recount a Lower Manhattan restaurant’s struggle to reopen.

See more storm coverage here…

Originally published on November 9, 2012.

How ‘Little Ukraine’ Transformed Through the Decades

Story and media by Anastasia Medytska

Little Ukraine

A sign outside Veselka pays tribute to the neighborhood.

These days, the East Village is filled with hipsters slinging back $2 beers at Sly Fox or satisfying a 3 a.m. craving for pierogi at Veselka without any knowledge of the rich Ukrainian history behind these neighborhood hotspots.

Behind the overcrowded bar, above shelves stocked with an array of Ukrainian vodkas, hangs a sign with the words “Lys Mykyta,” or Sly Fox, in Ukrainian. The dive bar resembles a log cabin in the famed Carpathian Mountains, which is why it also goes by a second name, known only to the Ukrainians that frequent it during off-peak hours, the Karpaty Pub.

Just one building over, on the corner of Second Avenue and Ninth Street, sits Veselka Restaurant, open 24 hours to accommodate the merry revelers of Sly Fox and places like it. From movies like “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” where the titular characters grab a late-night meal near the end of the movie, to “Gossip Girl,” where Blair and Dan nosh on pierogi, Veselka holds a place in pop culture.

What its multitudes of visitors don’t know is that it opened as a result of the Ukrainian diaspora, when multitudes of Ukrainians fled a Soviet-controlled nation after World War II.

The neighborhood — with its unbeatable nightlife, cheap eats and Japanese markets — has a past teeming with Ukrainian culture. From retro eateries like the Stage Restaurant to kielbasa connoisseurs’ favorite meat market, Baczynsky, first-generation Ukrainians built a neighborhood to carry on their culture. Today, that heritage is sometimes easy to miss, but pockets of the past remain.

“I’m proud that they are still keeping the culture alive,” said Olha Medytska, a first-generation immigrant and teacher at St. George Ukrainian Catholic School, a K-12 school located on Sixth Street and Taras Shevchenko Place, which was developed for Ukrainian immigrants during times of mass immigration. “Although the majority of my students are not Ukrainian, they are still required to learn the language and they do it great! It’s good that it hasn’t been closed down; I’d be sad to see that.”

As the neighborhood, known as Little Ukraine in the 1950s, has changed and gentrified, its population has changed, too.

Surma Book & Music Company, a Ukrainian shop that opened in the 1800s, has weathered the changes, including several waves of Ukrainian immigration.

“At the end of World War II,” says Natalia Yezerska, a Ukrainian immigrant and active member of the Ukrainian-American community, “thousands of Ukrainians fled a country overtaken by the Soviet Union. They knew they could never come back to their motherland and so they developed their own ‘Little Ukraine’ here in New York to hold onto their culture.”

In the following decades, places like Veselka and the Baczynsky Meat Market opened. “These immigrants worked hard to ensure that the generations to come would know what it means to be Ukrainian, without ever visiting the country,” says Ms. Yezerska. They opened restaurants, shops, bars, schools and after-school activities.

Then came another wave of Ukrainian immigration. “In the 1990s, post-Soviet collapse, Ukraine finally gained independence and with it, Ukrainians earned the freedom to emigrate to America. This caused what is known as the fourth wave of immigration,” Ms. Yezerska says. Many came to Manhattan, which had everything they needed to comfortably settle into a foreign country.

Ms. Medytska, the teacher at St. George, came with her family during the fourth wave. “I was lucky because I had family here already but this community helped me be more comfortable and I know it helped so many people who didn’t know anyone or a word of English,” she says.

Surma

Wares inside Surma showcase Ukrainian heritage.

And so the Ukrainian community blossomed anew.

Ukrainians are fiercely proud of their cultural heritage, all the more so that it survived Soviet domination. Even though they may no longer flock to Manhattan, as a result of rising rent prices and falling immigration, Ukrainians still make the trip for a piece of Little Ukraine on weekends.

Every Saturday morning, throngs of Ukrainian parents come to the East Village to engrain some Ukrainian culture into their American-born children. The typical day starts with Ukrainian school in the morning. There are two such schools in the area, one housed in the St. George School building and another, a block away on Second Avenue, in the Ukrainian National Home.

Children learn the Ukrainian language, as well as history and customs in classrooms adorned with Ukrainian flags and symbols. Afterward, they go to either PLAST or CYM, two international Ukrainian Youth organizations. In khaki uniforms adorned with badges and medals, the idea is similar to scouting.

However, instead of selling cookies and tying knots, the children learn Ukrainian songs and poems and do fun activities for holidays, such as Easter egg painting. The day doesn’t stop there for some. Many children also attend dance classes, either at the Roma Pryma Bohachevska School of Dance or with a small group in St. George, where they learn Ukrainian folk dances.

Meanwhile, parents shop at Baczynsky meat market, the only remaining Ukrainian meat market in the neighborhood (once, there were three), and visit the Ukrainian National Credit Union, which has branches nationwide. They might grab a meal at the Ukrainian East Village Restaurant or go to a party in the Ukrainian National Home. Then they drive back to Connecticut, Brooklyn, New Jersey and upstate New York, only to come again for church at St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church on Sunday mornings.

The locals, many of whom are not Ukrainian, support the businesses on the days there are no Ukrainians coming in from the suburbs.

“This is a place for Lower East Side hipsters on weekends. Many of the young people here don’t even know it’s Ukrainian until they spend some time here,” said Ariel, a bartender at Sly Fox. Places like the Stage Restaurant, Veselka and Sly Fox have become culture icons for locals, a reminder of New York’s ethnic niches and of days gone by.

With the support of both visiting immigrants and local New Yorkers alike, Little Ukraine thrives on.

A Skateboard Entrepreneur Draws Inspiration From New York Food Trucks

By Sean Creamer

Tre TruckSkateboarding has enjoyed a boom in New York City during the last decade, as the Bloomberg administration has doubled the number of skate parks.

With new parks in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan new businesses have emerged to meet the rising demand, among them the so-called Tre Truck. On any given day, outside the parks, you’re likely to spot the plain silver-sided self-proclaimed “World’s Finest Mobile Skateboard Shop” parked at a nearby curb.

The Tre Truck is owned by Alex Ritondo, 21, a skateboarder and entrepreneur who drew his inspiration from the food trucks that can be found throughout the city. The Tre Truck travels from the Lower East Side skate park under the Manhattan Bridge to the newly constructed Far Rockaway skate park and to points in between.

The goal is to bring hard goods — the skateboard decks (the platform on which the boarder stands), trucks, the turning apparatus and wheels — directly to skaters at prices comparable to those in a moderately priced skate shops. At an average skate shop, decks usually go for about $60 and trucks for $40.

“Skateboarding has always been my passion,” says Ritondo, his brown shaggy hair tucked under a baseball cap. “I originally wanted to open a shop. Me and my friends always talked about it.”

With skate shops, as with many businesses, location is a key element. And “a good location for a skate shop is going to cost a lot of money,” adds Ritondo.

Rent on the Lower East Side, a popular skate location — the Lower East Side skate park, on Monroe Street, is a regular stop for Ritondo — ranges from $2,000 to $3,000 a month, according to Tungsten Properties, a commercial real estate company in Manhattan. (Most local skate shops pay $25,000 to $100,000 a year, or roughly $2,000 to $8,000 per month, according to ReferenceUSA.)

Then, too, in the last few years a few skate shops have closed, in part because of a weak economy, but also because gentrification has pushed the shops’ customer base—typically young 20-somethings—to other neighborhoods in the outer boroughs.

A graduate of Borough of Manhattan Community College with a degree in entrepreneurship, Ritondo skateboarded daily while at school and decided to reimagine the idea of the traditional skate shop to make his dream a reality.

A traditional skate shop acts as the headquarters for a community of skateboarders. The shop typically purchases merchandise wholesale from larger suppliers who supply similar shops all over the country.

The Internet has taken some business away from brick-and-mortar retailers. But for die-hard skateboarders, the local skate shop/hangout is still the preferred locale for buying equipment and accessories, including skateboard brand shirts, shoes and other items that define the lifestyle.

While Ritondo couldn’t afford to open a skate shop, he saw opportunity in the proliferation of new parks.

“I don’t think that Tre Truck would have been sustainable without the creation of all the skate parks,” says Steve Rodriguez, a skateboarding legend in New York City who also owns Five Boro Skateboards. “Tre Truck needs that concentrated audience to do enough business to make it worth it.”

Ritondo bought a used truck from a friend on Long Island with savings and help from his family. He also got help from some of the bigger players in the city’s skateboard industry.

For example, Michael Cohen, shop manager of the Shut Skateboards brand and flagship store in the Lower East Side, agreed to let Ritondo open an account to sell Shut Skateboards.

“It is a win-win situation, people will buy from the Tre Truck and then come to the store,” says Cohen who has known Ritondo for several years. “At the same time we get kids who come here and we will tell them to check out the Tre Truck at their local park.”

The Tre Truck, which has been operating since September, has brought in about $10,000 in revenue so far. Ritondo knows that he will need to increase sales substantially in order to stay in business. He is hoping one day to franchise the operation and have trucks operating throughout Long Island.

Then too, skateboarding is seasonal and there isn’t much business in the winter.

Despite these challenges, Ritondo wins praise from both competitors and customers. “We offer a lot more variety, but what they are doing is a cool idea,” says Lennon Ficalora, the owner of Wampum skate shop on the Lower East Side.

Skaters like Frank Nicado, a regular at the Chelsea Piers 62 skate park, are often on the lookout for Ritondo. “The Truck just always has what I need,” says Nicado. “When I lose a bolt or a bearing they are always willing to hook me up.”

At Chelsea Piers, the NHL Seems Very Far Away

By Alex Mikoulianitch

The year was 1994. The New York Rangers eliminated the New Jersey Devils, their cross-river rivals in the Eastern Conference finals, advancing to the Stanley Cup finals, where they beat the Vancouver Canucks for their only Stanley Cup since 1940.

For Elvis Tominovic that was enough to spark a passion in the young Croatian immigrant that would lead him to play for his country’s national team.

Paul Durante

Paul Durante, goalie for the Steiner Stars, follows the puck as it circles along the boards to his left. Photo by Carlos Mendoza.

And there his dream ended. Like Ivo Mocek, Tom Lambertson and Paul Durante, his teammates on the Steiner Stars of Chelsea Piers Division 1 adult league, their dreams of playing in the National Hockey League were not realized.

Even making the national team was long and arduous. From learning to skate, to learning the mechanics of the game and developing “hockey sense,” (the ability to make fast decisions on what to do when) Tominovic stood out. “Hockey was fun from the start, it was fast paced, lots of hitting and a lot of hard work,” Tominovic says. “It came to me naturally, even though I played it from sunrise till sunset as a kid. My first position was defense because I was a big kid growing up, and the coach put all the big kids on defense. I played defense until I was 14 and moved to Long Island, then the coaches put me at forward. I can play both defense and forward in men’s league.”

When he was young, Tominovic’s family wasn’t financially well off, and playing hockey is expensive, because of the cost of equipment.

For a good hockey stick, prices start near $100, and skates and protective equipment are far more. Because of his talent, Tominovic was helped by some of his coaches, and was able to get equipment and start training.

“The coaches started taking me under their wing and gave me old equipment to use and let my mother only pay half the fee for ice time,” he says. “Sometimes they allowed me to work at the rink in order to receive free ice time in return. Without their help I would have never played ice hockey.”

Tominovic developed into a strong, effective skater and played in college at SUNY Fredonia, in Division III of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Succeeding there was the key to Tominovic’s invitation to play for Croatia’s national team.

Handshake

Opponents line up for a post-game handshake after the game at Chelsea Piers. Photo by Carlos Mendoza.

“I moved on to play for the Croatian National Team and from there they offered me a contract to play for Medvescak of Zagreb in Croatia,” he says. When he returned to the U.S., he played in the Eastern Professional Hockey League, a minor league. There, he realized that he didn’t have what it takes to make the NHL, that “the dream was fun, but hockey will not pay the bills.”

His teammate Paul Durante made it much closer to the NHL. Durante was a late bloomer; his mother didn’t want him to play hockey, saying he was a “china doll.” Only after his parents divorced was he able to play. “In order to get custody of me, my dad told me, ‘Hey Paul, if you come live with me I’ll let you play hockey’,” says Durante. “So I ended up playing hockey because my father wanted to spite my mother.”

He started to play ice hockey at the age of 11, though he says he “played street hockey since he could walk.”

Durante played in a bunch of junior leagues until he finally was invited to training camp by the NHL’s Hartford Whalers (now the Carolina Hurricanes). But injury intervened. While wrestling for his high school team, “I badly dislocated my shoulder and it ended my hockey career,” Durante says. “So I stopped playing when I was about 18 or 19.”

Another Chelsea Piers teammate, Tom Lambertson, came closer.

Growing up in Texas, he and his brother decided to stray from football and took up hockey. Living close to the rink helped.

From a young age, Lambertson attended a regional camp, played in high school, then at Buffalo State University, also in Division III. He left school and was noticed by a coach in the East Coast Hockey League.

The team was linked to the Montreal Canadiens, and some players who didn’t perform well in the NHL were demoted to where Lambertson was playing.

It was there that Lambertson concluded he wasn’t good enough to move on. Among the opponents he played against was Sidney Crosby, now with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who is among the three or four best players in the world when he’s healthy.

“He would just win the faceoff to himself, one guy would slash him on the hands and he would just be like ‘Okay, no,’ I’d try to grab him, he would be like ‘no’ and he’d go down the ice and score a goal,” Lambertson recalls.

Even though the players’ dreams didn’t turn into reality, playing at Chelsea’s Division 1 is more than enough now.

“You know it’s all about having fun,” said Mocek. “And I have that here, at men’s league.”

Art Vendors Struggle With New Rules in Union Square

By Teresa Roca

Marty Allen, who sells art on the streets, wakes up at 4 a.m. every morning to commute to work. As he boards the Manhattan-bound G train from Classon Avenue in Brooklyn, he pushes a cart filled with framed photographs and whiteout drawings of sock puppets, each with its own personality and identity.

Allen reaches Union Square about 5 a.m. and joins a community of street artists, each vying to secure 1 of 18 selling spots. Once settled, Allen watches for hours as people walk to and from his quirky stand; he hopes to sells as many pieces of art as he used to before the Parks Department limited the number of street artists in Union Square.

View Interactive Map of New York Street Artists.

“In the past, we used to be able to set up all throughout the park,” says Allen, who has been selling art on the street for six years. Then the new rules were enforced, and “it is a lot harder to make a living doing this because of the rules,” he says.

Two years after the limits took effect, some artists continue to fight its impact.

For more than 170 years, city residents and tourists have walked through Union Square Park, taking in the stimulating atmosphere that was once home to political protests and festive celebrations.

Street art vendors have helped create this environment, adding color with paintings, photography and other works of art.

Then, in 2010, the Parks Department proposed limits on the number of vendors in the park. Despite protests by more than 90 street artists, the rules took effect in July 2010.

“The city is really shutting down the artists here,” says Vincent Spinelli, who sells abstract, architecture, nude and fashion photographs. “A couple of years ago we had a lot of energy here. People came to Union Square for that energy and to buy art. Now they are really putting the nail in the coffin. We are still fighting them in court and are trying to bring that energy back.”

According to nycgovparks.org, the restrictions were needed to make way for corporate vendors and commercial interests, as well as a way to reduce congestion on pathways and sidewalks.

“We organize ourselves pretty well,” says Spinelli. “We always went in the line down here, and we weren’t making obstruction like the Farmers Market with their big two-ton trucks over there.”

According to nycgovparks.org, the designated spots for Union Square art vendors are on the west side and east side of the park from 14th Street to 15th Street. These spots are on the outer perimeter of sidewalks and are based on a first-come-first-served basis.

On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays an additional 40 vendors are allowed to sell in Union Square, when the Farmers Market isn’t running. This doesn’t make matters any better for street art vendors forced to set up against the crowded curb.

Tile Art

A ceramic photo tile mural by street art vendor Joel Kaye.

“It is strange because the spots they are giving us we would never be in,” says Joel Kaye, who has been selling ceramic photo tiles of popular New York City landmarks for seven years. “They basically made these spots because they don’t want us here at all. They put us on top of each other, they turn the sprinklers on and get us all wet—it’s crazy.”

Union Square is not the only park with these rules. According to nycgovparks.org, five vendors are allowed to sell on the High Line, nine in Battery Park and 49 in high-traffic areas of Central Park, reducing by more than 75 percent the number of vendors permitted. Many street art vendors have tried turning to galleries to display and sell their work, but are often turned away because they don’t have a large following.

“This is my full-time job right now, but because of the rules of the park my income has dropped significantly,” says Allen. “It was much more consistent. I am sure the economy has something to do with it, but not nearly as much as the fact that we have to set up in an area that is much less accessible to foot traffic.”

Allen says art vendors should be allowed to sell in parks because of their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. “I talk to other artists and there are a lot of ideas on how to fight this, but there is an extent to which they are drumming the fight out of us,” said Allen. “It is a complicated set of issues and it has been a long road. There were cooler artists a year or two ago but people got drummed out because of the laws.”

With some artists unable to sell because of the first-come-first-served basis, many have turned to other alternatives.

“I used to sell art on the street but because I am from Staten Island it was hard for me to travel out so early every day,” says Rocco Miraglia, the owner of Stay Great Apparel, who creates cartoon drawings that are screen-printed onto shirts, sweaters, shoes and hats. “I turned to the Internet and I accomplished way more than I ever thought I would. It is such a great outlet for free promotion and now my work is known all over the world.”

As some street artists have given up or turned to other outlets, many refuse to give up, taking the city to court.

“When you sell on the street and get complimented on your artwork it really motivates you and gives you the confidence to want to go further,” says Kaye. “It is so great but it is being taken away by the City of New York. So even if I am not going to sell anymore, I will continue to fight for other artists that have the right to come out here, sell and show their art. I know that it will give them the opportunity to do something they love.”

In the Bronx’s West Farms, Families Struggle for a Better Life and Worry About Their Children

Story and media by Carlos Canela

Eight-year-old Kayden Montes, who lives in the West Farms section of the Bronx, has great respect for “El Cuko,” the imaginary monster he hears when night falls.

“When it’s dark outside the Cuko comes out with all his Cuko friends and I hear them from my room all the way up here yelling and screaming all the time,” Kayden says. “My mommy says that if I don’t do good in school, that’s how the Cuko gets you and makes you follow him too. That’s why she doesn’t let me play outside.

What Kayden doesn’t realize is that El Cuko and its friends are actually neighborhood delinquents, and his mother is trying to protect him from becoming just another “hood rat.”

Patricia Hernandez, 26, Kayden’s mother, keeps him close to home and school.

“This place isn’t a good environment for kids to grow up in, if it isn’t gun shots, it’s ambulances or police sirens waking you up in the middle of the night,” said Hernandez, a single mother who also has a daughter, Kailin Montes.

Parents in West Farms, in the central Bronx, north of the Cross-Bronx Expressway and south of the Bronx Zoo, look to after-school programs as a means of keeping their children on track for a better life. But plans for extensive cutbacks to those programs have left parents fearful.

Long-time West Farms resident Maria Merejido, 54, remembers what it was like raising four boys in the neighborhood, “I always had to stay on top of them and make sure they did all of their work, I let them watch TV after but there was no way I was gonna let them play outside in that mess,” she says.

The mess she referred to was a neighborhood embroiled in gang wars during the late ’80s and early ’90s. With all of her children grown, ranging now from ages 26 to 34, Merejido recalls putting them through college, “It wasn’t easy but I always on top of them about their work. Around here college is a dream, but too many of these kids give up on it. So many of these kids get stuck doing the wrong things and it’s hard once you start down that road.”

West FarmsAn area primarily consisting of low-income housing, West Farms is one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City, with 34 percent of its households making $15,000 or less, according the Census Bureau. The hundreds of families on their way to the zoo seem all but oblivious to the seedy orange five-story buildings they pass.

The neighborhood’s crime rate has dropped 65 percent since 1993, according to CompStat, the police department’s database. Yet West Farms remains one of the more violent areas in the city. With a population mostly too poor to live anywhere else, the residents consider the two fastest ways out of the neighborhood to be getting an education or getting thrown in prison.

The city’s plan to close 10 schools in the Bronx includes at least three that will affect the West Farms neighborhood, and parents and teachers are all feeling the stress. “All of my friends that still teach in the Bronx are saying similar things, they feel underappreciated and under attack when they are not to blame,” laments Annette Garb, 28, a former third-grade English teacher.

The Panel for Educational Policy, led by Chancellor Dennis Walcott, decided that these schools could not be kept open any longer: after considering test scores, graduation rates, and evaluating the leadership. (The closings are being challenged by the teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers.) All the schools being shut down have received a grade of D or F in the last round of evaluations.

After-school programs, on the other hand, are suffering from a tightening budget. With more than $170 million in cuts in children’s services cuts proposed in the 2013 budget, more than half of the after-school programs in the city will end. Now many children will have to go straight home and wait for their parents to arrive from a long day of work, in the hopes that they can help.

But in areas like West Farms it’s never that simple, says after-school advocate Angela Johnson. “A lot of these parents want to be more involved but either they have to work all the time or they just aren’t capable of helping, so it comes down to programs like these and people like us to give these kids a chance.”

Johnson’s analysis is hard to contest, “These kids have it hard enough living in this neighborhood,” she says. “It’s our responsibility as adults to make sure they have every chance to make it out.”

‘Linsanity’ Hits the Chinese Community in Queens

Story and media by Bing Wu

Linsanity

Asian players in Kissena Park in Flushing, Queens.

When Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks suddenly and unexpectedly emerged as a star, in Flushing, the Queens neighborhood that is home to the city’s second-largest Chinese population, “Linsanity” was a phenomenon the residents embraced.

Restaurants were filled with patrons cheering him on, the area’s basketball courts were filled with more Asian players than usual, and those who have never watched an NBA game suddenly became fans.

To the people of Flushing, Lin — whose quick rise to fame was cut short by a knee injury — brought out passion, pride and a fair measure of hype.

“My father, he never watched basketball before, now he started watching,” says Steve Lam, a Knicks fan even before Lin. “Now it’s just more exciting, I’m more looking forward to every Knicks game.”

As much as the excitement he brought to the community, Lin brought controversies as well. People on the street argued over Lin’s ethnicity.

The Chinese said Lin was Chinese, but the Taiwanese said that since his parents were from Taiwan, so he should be considered Taiwanese. And then the conversation would then turn into a larger debate about whether Taiwan is a part of China.

On YouTube, videos like “Jeremy Lin – Taiwanese Pride” or “Asian Pride” attracted tons of comments.

For many fans, that Lin attended Harvard was secondary. He was the underdog. More than that, he looked different from everyone else on the court, yet seemed so comfortable and confident.

Many people in Flushing’s Asian community admired such a confidence, whether it was found in the younger generation or the older generation. They all understood how difficult it is to be different.

Ming Wong

Ming Wong, 24, admires Lin’s mental strength.

“Lin is for real!” says Ming Wong, a 24-year-old college student who has been a fan of basketball for more than 12 years. “To perform well for one game is easy, a lot of players have those days, but to perform well continuously is hard, especially under such a huge public attention and pressure, you have to be mentally strong to do that.”

People just loved watching Lin; whenever the Knicks played, the sports bars and restaurants in Flushing were packed. Watching Lin with families and friends became a must-do thing.

Dante Claure, the manager of Applebee’s in Flushing Sky View Center mall, spent $5,000 just to make a Chinese version of his menu to accommodate the new wave of customers who were mainly there to watch Lin.

“It’s definitely worth it,” he said. “When people started to notice Jeremy Lin, they started coming here little by little, and when he became famous, suddenly we were a full house.”

Those who couldn’t make it to the bars and restaurants watched games at home with their families. “We don’t have cable before, but after Jeremy Lin, we just install it and watch him,” said Li.

Unfortunately, “Linsanity” was cut short by a knee injury, and the Knicks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, losing four games to one to the Miami Heat, as Lin sat on the bench in street clothes.

As much as the fans want Lin to be back to the Knicks next season, nothing is certain in this world of professional basketball. But wherever Lin goes, the community’s love for him will follow.

Gay Christians Find Home in Welcoming Churches

By Jhaneel Lockhart

When Juanita Kirton joined Riverside Church in the early 1980s, she was a single mother looking for a church that would accept her not just as a black woman but as a lesbian. There, she found comfort in the Inspirational Choir, and in Maranatha, the church’s LGBT ministry that is made up of openly gay members, as well as straight people allied with the cause.

“It took me about 10 years later before I even came out and felt comfortable in the church within my own skin,” says Kirton. “But Maranatha helped foster that and support me in that coming out process.”

Maranatha is one of a growing number of programs created by churches in New York City to provide a welcoming home for openly gay, lesbian and transgender Christians, defying a tradition in many houses of worship that shuns homosexuality.

Through its LGBT ministry, Riverside Church, just north of Columbia University on the western edge of Harlem, focuses on the needs of its gay members by hosting events like an annual Christmas party and participating in the New York City Pride Parade each year. By preaching a message of inclusion for all, churches like Riverside help gay members feel that they are a part of God’s family, though many of them have heard the complete opposite for much of their lives.

At the Park Avenue Christian Church, at East 85th Street and Park Avenue, the message of the day is diversity. It’s posted by the signature bright red doors at the church’s entrance and on almost all the printed materials they hand out, from a brochure for the Couples Ministry to an introductory pamphlet for new members.

“A phrase that we like to use is the ‘divinity of difference,’ that difference is not a deficit or deficiency, but it’s to be celebrated and embraced,” says Rev. Alvin Jackson, the pastor.

The Park, as it is often called, was one of the first churches in The Disciples of Christ denomination to call an openly gay pastor to service, according to Jackson. And in the late ’70s, the church passed a resolution that it would be open and affirming to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.

“It’s not a matter of political correctness, but it’s theological correctness,” says Jackson, whose church has gay members in both the congregation and leadership positions and has performed several weddings.

Metro Baptist Church in midtown Manhattan has not married any same-sex couples, but the pastor, Tiffany Triplett Henkel, says this is not because it is unwilling to do so, but because their space is so small and the church doesn’t do a lot of weddings in general.

“I don’t think there has ever been a time when someone of any sexual background or sexual orientation would not have been welcome and affirmed here,” says Henkel. “But I think in the early ’90s, we became a little bit more intentional about presenting ourselves in that way, and even more than that, more intentional about saying ‘OK, we say we’re a church where all are welcome, we need to practice that in every way we can.’”

With that, Metro has taken several small steps toward promoting an image of openness. It has joined the growing number of churches that participate in the New York City Pride Parade each year, and there are gay members in the congregation and in leadership positions, according to Henkel.

“Our policy is that we are open to all, ‘a church for all’ is sort of the phrase that we use often times,” says Henkel. “Metro Baptist church, a church where all are welcome.”

Metro is in the minority of Baptist churches that do not condemn homosexuality. “This is the way that we understand what it means to be people of God, people living out the gospel of Jesus Christ and that is that our doors are supposed to be open and that we fully believe that those that walk through the door are created by God,” says Henkel. “And instead of trying to squelch them or change them in any way, we believe that we should actually encourage them to be more of who they are.”

Other churches see the issue as one that doesn’t need discussion.

“Honestly it’s just not even a dialogue,” said Mother Shelley McDade, pastor at the Church of the Ascension at West 11th Street. “We all know that we are open, it’s who we are, so coming together it really is much more about God and the music and worship. We just don’t segregate people out.”

There are no special committees or programming at the church, where more than half the congregation is gay, lesbian or transsexual, according to McDade.

Church of the Ascension, which was once called The Open Door, is part of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which does not allow its bishops to perform same-sex marriages. But bishops can “bless” civil marriages, meaning they can hold a ceremony after the marriage has been performed by a government official.

Tricia Sheffield, an associate minister at Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village, remembers when the New York State Marriage Equality Act passed this summer.

“I thought we were all going to cry and laugh and scream; it was fantastic,” says Sheffield, whose church had been marrying gay couples long before the law passed, and had invested a lot of time and effort lobbying in support of the law. The week after it passed, three couples were married during Sunday service, drawing cheers from the entire congregation.

A thin strip of paper pasted on a bookshelf in Sheffield’s office reads, “You’ve been called by God to love people. That’s all,” giving insight into why the church supports people of all backgrounds and interests.

“I think it’s pretty clear,” says Sheffield. “How could we reject anybody? When you say you’re going to hurt someone, and to hate someone, and to reject someone, then you’re not living out the gospel of Jesus.”

It’s this kind of diversity and acceptance without distinction that Kirton, who met her wife at a routine Second Sunday meeting, appreciates most at Riverside.

“They’re accepting everyone, and when they said everyone, it meant that I could come in as a gay person and there’s no sign on my forehead,” says Kirton.

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