BMHC Black History Month Celebration

Have I ever mentioned how much I love the Bronx Culture Trolley? In addition to learning something new and amazing about the Bronx every time I’m on board, the looks people in the neighborhood give this vintage trolley rolling the South Bronx are just priceless.

Saturday, the Bronx Music Heritage Center hosted its Black History month celebration consisting of a trolley tour of historic music locations in the Bronx, an artisan market, a presentation by February’s subject of The Spotlight, Morgan Powell, and a performance by Malang Jobarteh.

The trolley tour was led by Dr. Mark Naison (a.k.a. Notorious Ph.D), an African American studies professor at Fordham who has also studied the musical history of the borough. It included stops such as the Big Pun mural, unofficial block party hub P.S. 99, and Maxine Sullivan’s house.  The trolley moseyed along to an energetic soundtrack featuring songs from Elmo Hope to Tito Puente to Luther Vandross and Aventura.

The Bronx was once home to many famous jazz clubs such as Hunts Point Palace and the Blue Morocco. People, myself included, tend to know a bit more about the Bronx’s hip hop roots, but would be surprised to learn about the borough’s rich jazz history.

Dr. Naison attributed the borough’s astounding music history to the shared cultural interactions in the borough. ” People [referring to the rest of the U.S] can look to the Bronx to see how people can live together,” he said, noting that creativity can bloom in what may seem like the least likely of places.

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As mentioned above, the trolley tour ended back at the BHMC lab where local businesses Natures’s Garden Beauty Supply, ECWM African Market, Island Lunch Box, and Crusticks sold food and a variety of wares.

Mogan Powell treated the audience to a glimpse into the Bronx River’s history and those who have fought to protect the Bronx’s environment and overall health.

To round out the event, Gambian musician Malang Jobarteh performed a collection of melodic tunes on this very unique-looking instrument called a kora (Seriously. Look it up. I want one in my house just so I can look at it.)

BMHC has a bunch of other really awesome events lined up, so make sure you check their website to keep tabs on them.

P.S. The Wall Street Journal did a very nice write up of the trolley tour, which features a video that is worth checking out. (I am in the background looking cute.)

The Spotlight: Morgan Powell

This month’s Spotlight is on Morgan Powell, a writer, landscape designer, and founder of Bronx River Sankofa.


Are you originally from the Bronx? If so, which part? If not, where are you originally from and what brought you to the Bronx? 

I’ve lived in the Bronx since I was 1 year old.  I’ve now lived in three apartments between Gun Hill Road and Pelham Parkway since 1974.

What might Bronxites be surprised to learn about African American history in the Bronx?

Some of the less expected Black Bronx research revelations include over 50 historically important 20th century figures buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, unsigned African burial grounds within public parks, a much richer civil rights heritage than most people seem to have ever considered, numerous business people of note making their stamp on society in these parts and a vastly deeper pre-WW II community profile and journey than most had ever hear of.  My favorite story is of the Jamaican-American Vietnam War Veteran who founded the orchid collection at the New York Botanical Garden and worked there for 19 years.

You chose to include the Akan word ‘Sankofa,’ which means “go back and get it,” describing the journey of drawing on the past for wisdom and strength, to describe your organization. How can Bronxites get involved in this movement? 

Bronx River Sankofa is an environmental and cultural spinoff from a larger effort that will make big news this year.  2013 is the 10th anniversary of the Bronx African American History Project for which many public programs are upcoming. Also, there are great videos, transcribed interviews and more which all may search on the web wherever they geographically.  I encourage all to type our project names in quotation marks into any search engine!

What are your top three favorite places in the Bronx?

It’s hard to isolate just three however I offer: a) hiking trails in Van Cortlandt Park, b) the Bronx Walk of Fame on the Grand Concourse, and c) Feeding Tree Jamaican restaurant on Gerard Avenue just a few storefronts north of 161st Street!

Are there any upcoming events or projects we should look out for?

What’s Good in My Hood?  Beginning time and location: March 9, 2013 11:00 a.m.  Zimmerman’s Park (Barker to Olinville Avenue off Allerton Avenue; 1 block from the Allerton Avenue train station).

This all new interactive walking tour is designed for all ages.  We will explore the joy of lifelong learning by looking at neighborhood parks and landmarks. How many flowers, bushes and trees in your local parks can you name?  Do you enjoy local wildlife like migrating butterflies and birds?  Is there a special building near your home you’ve always wanted to know more about? Great, this tour is designed to empower you to find answers! This program is co-presented by G.I.V.E. (Getting Involved Virginia Avenue Efforts) and the Bronx River Alliance.