“Mott Haven-based organizations have taken a considerate approach to rebuilding the neighborhood by focusing on the strengths of our community, elevating new opportunities and tackling the hardest-hitting issues threatening the South Bronx.”

Adi Talwar

A South Bronx street corner.

For more than a half century, the South Bronx, and specifically Mott Haven, has been the poster child of American urban decay. 

Our neighborhoods continue to suffer from economic inequality and disenfranchisement; almost 40 percent of Mott Haven and Melrose residents live below the poverty line. It was over 50 years ago that the 1967 Kerner Commission acknowledged the severe racial and socioeconomic challenges in areas such as Mott Haven, yet today this divide is more pronounced than ever. 

When COVID-19 first hit, we saw The Bronx’s unemployment rate jump from 4.9 percent to nearly 25 percent—its highest level since the Great Depression. We still haven’t bounced back. Local businesses are suffering and employment opportunities have slumped. 

Elected leaders and decision-makers need to know that we care about what happens to us—and we are organizing for a better future.

Already, a coalition of local organizations including Diego Beekman, Mothers on the Move, Nos Quedamos, South Bronx Unite and the Third Avenue BID have launched a petition to help galvanize community members and implore City Hall to invest in us. 

Community-led plans like the Diego Beekman Neighborhood Plan, which includes proposals to build more affordable housing units for seniors, are already in the works and supported by South Bronxites.

Plans like these—Mott Haven-based, -organized and -run—take a considerate approach to rebuilding the neighborhood by building on the strengths of our community, elevating new opportunities and tackling the hardest-hitting issues threatening Mott Haven and the wider South Bronx community. 

All of this is a direct result of decades of disinvestment, poor leadership and failed policies that have sold us and our communities down the river, robbing this community of its future. 

Instead of investing in resources that will help get us back to the community we once were, the city ignores us, and chooses only to pay attention to our community when they decide they want to build a jail in the middle of our residential neighborhood.

Beyond bringing more crime to our neighborhood and degrading our quality of life, a new jail—which the city seems to be moving forward with instead of providing the resources we actually need—sends a message to our children and community members that their lives and their futures don’t matter. Our children, our seniors, our community’s most vulnerable people deserve better—and we need our leaders at City Hall and all levels of government to hear our voices.

Time is running out. Without additional resources and support, a jail will only bring our community down further. We need real tools to help us rebuild and become the community we know we can be. 

We must confront economic challenges through the creation of additional affordable housing and tackling our rising crime rate by prioritizing family crisis management, youth development, job training and linkages, public health interventions and violence intervention programs. We must focus on uplifting local community services such as mental health treatment and senior services, and investing in our community’s infrastructure and key institutions so we can thrive.

It is critical for us to bring proper green spaces and updated infrastructure to the area in order to reduce the overwhelming heat disparity and air pollution in the South Bronx. Our community members suffer severe health problems—the South Bronx has one of the highest rates of asthma in the country)—and are at higher risk of heat-related deaths because the poor quality of our environment has been overlooked for decades. 

This community deserves support at this level, and we are capable of building it ourselves. We just need the support and investment from our leaders to help us get it done.

I urge our elected leaders and decision makers to walk these streets. Talk to us, learn from us, hear us. You’ll hear that, no, we don’t need a jail. We need housing, better paying jobs, more robust infrastructure and better services for our seniors. We need comprehensive community plans like Diego Beekman’s and more support for local organizations and community groups.

This is a rare, once-in-a-lifetime moment to demonstrate that our community matters, that it is worthy of the right investment and worthy of a brighter future like any other community in New York City, and most importantly for the hundreds of thousands of hardworking people that call it home.

Let’s show our children and the next generation of leaders that we care about their futures enough to invest in them and their livelihoods.

Ambroise Ngande is a South Bronx-based community activist. He serves on the African Advisory Council and the Community Advisory Board at Lincoln Hospital. He was previously a member of Bronx Community Board 1.