The Bronx throws a party for Earth Day’s 40th birthday
Legendary emcee Grandmaster Caz has been packing parties in the South Bronx since 1974, but none quite like the one at St. Mary’s Park in Mott Haven for this year’s Earth Day on April 24. .
Soundslide by Nick Loomis
By noon on the beautiful spring day, the crowd was already dancing to the Staple Singers’ “I’ll take you there”–courtesy of DJ Jazzy Jay on the wheels of steel.
“Aw yeah, that’s what we’re gonna do,” boomed Caz’s amplified voice. “We’re gonna take you to a greener planet!”
One of the founding fathers of hip-hop, Caz said he was honored to be the emcee for the third annual GetGreen South Bronx Earth Fest in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.
On the first Earth Day in 1970, few would have imagined that the South Bronx would not only celebrate environmentalism, but, in many ways be taking a leading role in the green revolution.
Among the organizations represented at the Earth Fest, were Melrose-based Nos Quedamos, which has led the way for Melrose Commons to become the first neighborhood in New York State to be honored by the U.S. Green Building Council for its environmentally-sensitive business practices.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has just honored another participant, the Hunts Point-based Sustainable South Bronx, which pioneered the creation of the South Bronx Greenway. When it is completed, it will be a recreational trail dotted with new parks extending from the Bronx River to the Port Morris waterfront and a bridge to Randall’s Island.
More than 40 other local organizations and businesses set up tables at the event. To encourage children to visit and learn, each child who came by got a stamp that could be cashed for prizes like reusable water bottles, pens and plants for community gardens.
Four live birds attracted crowds throughout the day to the Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy table. The birds, all found near the city’s waterways, drew flocks off children.
“The idea here is to try to inspire kids to think about nature a little bit,” said Ludger Balan, the conservancy’s executive environmental program director. “There’s nature in our urban environment, and we’re teaching them a way to appreciate it, learn about it, and hopefully inspire them to become some of the future stewards of this environment.”
“We think that children are at the prime age to absorb this information and teach their parents,” said Andrea Schaffer principal of CityMatters LLC and the event’s chief organizer. “But you have to start young so that it becomes ingrained, second nature to recycle and reuse materials instead of consuming and throwing out.”
Jehlani Bowers, 6, of Mott Haven got the message. She attended GetGreen for the second year in a row with her mother, Nedra Bowers. Jehlani bounced from activity to activity with a painted face, accumulating enough stamps for a plant for their community garden.
“It’s actually helping her out in school because they’re going through, with Earth Day, how we recycle and how we save and how we reuse. So she’s making that connection with being here today,” her mother said.
Participants in a SoBRO after-school program climbed on stage to compete in a “Music Gets Me Green” contest, performing a song they wrote accompanied by a music video. “I like music and I found the opportunity,” said Lenny Nivar, 14, who is in the 10th grade at Green Dot New York Charter School. Along with Ricardo Korsah, 16, Nivar, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic when he was 9, performed a rap song with some verses in English and others in Spanish.
SoBRO provided the prizes, as well—four cardboard trophies in the shape of trees. It took 30 students in its Education for Life program two weeks to make the trees, said Evalina Ruiz, a 22-year old who is working toward her GED at the community organization. “You have to cut, you have to paste, you have to just really be dedicated to it,” she said.
As the Bronx Borough President’s Office and the city’s Office of Recycling Outreach and Education teamed up to hold a recycling drive to collect old cell phones, computers, printers, TVs, used clothing and sneakers, the music continue on stage.
One group in the music competition ended its performance with a variation of a chant as old as hip-hop itself, and almost as old as Earth Day.
“When I say ‘get,’ ya’ll say ‘Green.’”
Alex Green IV contributed reporting to this story.