A plate of the Bronx Salad made of a mix of baby greens tomatoes, red peppers, kale and selection of toppings on the side like mangos, black beans, avocado, red onions, corn, plantain chips and Honey Dijon salad dressing. Photo by Keziah Tutu
Can a simple salad transform the eating habits of the unhealthiest county in New York State?
That’s the goal of the Bronx Salad, a dish created by a group of nonprofits to convince South Bronx residents to make healthy food choices. The South Bronx has been dubbed a “food desert,” and three groups are attempting to change that stereotype, but face a battle when even well-laid plans collide with real life.
Take Zoesha Rosa, a 24-year-old South Bronx native, who juggles being a full-time student at Lehman College and two part-time jobs. Finding the time to plan, shop and cook is one challenge. Another, is the savory foods she grew up eating as a Dominican, which her mom, who she lives with, loves to cook.
“Rice, beans and fried foods are a part of the Latin culture,” she said. “Trying to eat healthy now, is hard because I get tired of the same things. Fish, chicken, fish, chicken that’s boring.”
After a long day, Rosa must resist the urge to grab a quick bite from the many fast food restaurants along her way home from the 5 train at the Third Ave-149th St. station.
Her biggest temptation so far has been the Wendy’s just two blocks from her building.
“There is a McDonalds, Burger King or Pizzeria on almost every corner but looking for a salad bar is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo,” said Rosa. “After a while it becomes exhausting so you give up.”
For the first time, Rosa recently tried the “Bronx salad” with a variety of baby greens, kale, red peppers, tomatoes and a selection of toppings like mangos, black beans, avocado, red onions, corn, plantain chips and Honey Dijon salad dressing on the side.
“This right here is good but it could use some grilled chicken,” she said as she plated a second helping of the salad she bought from the XM Café at the Bronx Museum.
The Museum is one of a list of 20 locations that offer the salad on their menu including the Bronx Tavern, Fine Fare Supermarket on 459 east 149th St., Mottley Kitchen, on 402 east 149th St. and other Bronx locations. These restaurants serve it intermittently, each with their own twist.
The salad was launched in 2016 after a Robert Wood Johnson report ranked the Bronx number 62 out of the 62 unhealthiest counties in New York State. The salad was created by the combined efforts of Bronx Health Reach, a non-profit that markets the salad, United Business Cooperative (UBC), an organization of local restaurants and SoBro (South Bronx), an economic development organization.
Henry Obispo the president of UBC and creator of the Bronx salad, says the salad is only the beginning of the borough’s healthy food transformation. This month, Obispo will be launching 20 healthy items in 20 restaurants and most will be vegan. He says the idea behind this is to create access to health.
“We’re going to have Bronx granola bars, cold press juices and more,” he said. “I want to give the Bronx things it hasn’t seen or have.”
Michael Mcnamee, the community planner and program manager at SoBro, works closely with Bronx Health Reach to conduct surveys to study the eating habits of the customers who buy the salad at participating restaurants.
“One of the biggest things we noticed, when we asked people why they choose the food they eat, the biggest things are taste and price,” he said.
The price of the salad varies. The restaurants are given some leeway so it ranges from $5 to $16 depending on the restaurant.
For many residents $16 is too expensive for a salad.
“The South Bronx has been home to poverty, food deserts, unemployment and so on,” said Brandon Diop a 23-year-old SoBro instructor who teaches middle schoolers how to grow food hydroponically.
As well as ranking as the unhealthiest borough, the South Bronx is also ranked the poorest district in the nation, with 38 percent of its residents living below the poverty line and 49 percent of children living in poverty.
While Joseph Diaz, 45, the owner of Da Boogie Down Café and carrier of the Bronx salad, features the salad on his menu for $7.50, he knows he’s facing cheaper competition.
“The only drawback is with all the McDonalds, Burger Kings and other fast food restaurants its easier and cheaper to go get something for five bucks and be full. A salad can only keep you full for how long,” he said.
Da Boogie Down Café customizes the Bronx Salad with a variety of proteins and vegetables. The salad generally sells for $7.50 or higher depending on what’s added.
“People who have tried it generally like it,” he said. “Then again, the person who’s going to order it is already a salad eater. It’s a good thing but I think it needs to be pushed a little more.”
The three partnering organizations hope to do just that by introducing the salad to more local food spots like bodegas that don’t typically carry many healthy options.
Once a month the salad is offered to 600 kids in the after school programs at BronxWorks Carolyn McLaughlin Community Center.
Obispo says naming the salad after the Bronx was part of a strategy to change the stigma of bad health and other negative stereotypes surrounding the borough, while also recognizing the food heritage of the almost 60 percent Latino/Hispanic population.
“The salad does represent the strong Latin culture here in the Bronx and it’s made up of ingredients most families would find in their kitchens but wouldn’t necessarily put together,” he said. “We wanted to use familiar ingredients so they [Bronxites] know this is something made for them.”
Editing by Kristen Torres and Stella Levantesi
Reporting by Bowen Li, Justin Ratcherford, Monay Robinson Justin Hicks, Amy Zahn, Lisa John Rogers, Polina Meshkova, Keziah Tutu, Lauren Garry and Farnoush Amiri.
Douglas Schifter, a black car driver and advocate for taxi and limo drivers, committed suicide on the steps of City Hall.
On the morning of February 5th, on the steps of City Hall, a black car driver named Douglas Schifter killed himself with a shotgun. Schifter wanted his death to be as public as possible to expose the hardships he faced as a driver.
“I am not a slave and I refuse to be one,” the 61-year-old wrote earlier that morning in his Facebook suicide note. “I hope with the public sacrifice I make now that some attention [be given] to the plight of the drivers.”
Schifter, like many New York City cab drivers, worked himself to the bone. He drove an average of 120 hours a week, but this still was not enough still not enough to survive.
Since 2014, Schifter had written for Black Car News about the deteriorating quality of life that drivers faced. He wrote about the ways to alleviate the sharp decline in wages, the longer hours, and the rapid devaluation of taxi medallions. These were the permits necessary to pick up passengers – once valued at $1.3 million, now only worth a fraction of that figure.
“When smart drivers are united, and they share the wealth, nobody can beat them,” Schifter said in his last column.
He believed a union would be able to grant protections to drivers and fix the growing problems but also believed corrupt New York politicians would stand in the way.
“Let’s face it, for someone to commit suicide there’s an underlying mental health challenge,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in response to the suicide. De Blasio, alongside former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo were frequent targets of Schifter.
After his death, Mohammed Gangat, a worker’s rights lawyer, became focused on creating a network of drivers within New York City. He formed, StopforChange, which is focused on organizing drivers, discussing the issues they face, and eventually building collective bargaining power within the industry.
“Every single group out there that is doing something now is obviously not doing enough,” Gangat said. “For me, I think we need a revision of what an organizational effort looks like.”
StopforChange utilizes social media to reach out to drivers and other established groups.
“We’re now seeing the effects of not giving people what they need, tragedy,” Gangat said.
But Schifter was not the first taxi driver tragedy in New York City.
On December 20th, Danilo Corporan Castillo, a 57-year-old cab driver, leapt from his Manhattan apartment. This was in response to a dispute he was in with the Taxi & Limousine Commission. Castillo, a livery driver was accused of picking up an illegal street hail. He faced the loss of his professional license. This, combined with mounting fines, lead the husband and father of two to commit suicide. Days later, a letter would come to his home clearing him of all charges. Under a union, Castillo would’ve been afforded more protection in his legal case.
“They’re so scared of unions,” Jason Bitton, a driver and StopforChange member said of industry leaders. “They’re trying their hardest to push each driver down, keeping our rates low, so that we’re so exhausted that we can’t form a union.”
Bitton, 29, is member and the son of an Israeli immigrant who came to New York City in 1987 and worked as a driver. Back then, Bitton said his father made between $300 and $400 per day, driving for eight hours, not adjusted for inflation.
“When I told my father what I was making,” Bitton said, “He couldn’t believe what I was saying.”
Driving today, Bitton makes between $1,000 and $1,100 per week, working roughly 50 hours. The drastic decline in wages the father and son face is similar to the decrease in wages that Schifter faced over the 37 years he drove.
The landscape of driving in the city has changed drastically in the last 30 years. Most notably through the introduction of rideshare apps like Uber there are more for hire cars than ever before. As of 2017, Uber outnumbered yellow cabs 4 to 1 in New York City.
The oversaturation of drivers is what caused drivers like Schifter to lose wages over the years. Despite reports of the overcrowding in the city, politicians have not responded.
“Right now Uber is paying off your politicians,” Gangat said. “You don’t think judges are rubbing shoulders with politicians?”
Thurgood Marshall Academy is a pretty typical high school in Harlem. A little more than 500 kids go there and the majority are low-income. But it turns out, it’s also a great example of how the New York City’s “AP For All” plan to increase college access may be misguided.
Monica Sibri is on the advisory board of the CUNY Dreamers, where she oversees activity and initiatives that those with protected and unprotected status engage in. Photo by Farnoush Amiri
Monica Sibri is a Dreamer who isn’t protected by DACA. Not because she didn’t apply or because she was “lazy,” as members of the current administration have stated, but because she came to the U.S. from Ecuador three months after her 16th birthday, making her ineligible for the program.
The term “Dreamer” originally came from the DREAM Act, which was a legislation proposed by representatives of both parties. In 2012, Barack Obama’s enactment of DACA was a compromise based on the proposals of the act and they, too, called themselves “Dreamers.” Young people like Sibri, although not protected by DACA, have used the word as a way to empower themselves.
“The way someone reacts to you when you say you’re a ‘Dreamer’ than when you’re undocumented is completely different,” Sibri, 25, said.”By saying that you’re undocumented, it assumes that you’re not in school or you’re this person who’s working in cleaning or you likely crossed the border, but when you say you’re a ‘Dreamer,’ people assume differently.”
According to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank that studies global immigration patterns, an estimated 3.6 million people were brought to the U.S. before their 18th birthdays, making the focus on the almost 800,000 DACA recipients seem like an overlook of the larger issue of child immigration.
Sibri’s father decided to uproot their family when Ecuador’s currency changed in 2000 from the Ecuadorian Sucre to the U.S. Dollar, and he lost his managerial position at a candle company.
Her parents came to the U.S. to establish a life in Staten Island, separating the family for five years.
“I became an adult really young,” Sibri said. “I had to take care of my two younger sisters.”
When she learned she was undocumented and about the negativity surrounding it, she started calling herself a “Dreamer.” Sibri said that this helped her to confidently pursue higher education at the College of Staten Island where she graduated last year with a degree in American politics, policy and advocacy.
Since the law does not require one to disclose their immigration status, especially in educational facilities, Sibri maintained this persona, but never received any actual funds or special resources because of it. She explained that it created a shield against the stereotypes placed on undocumented individuals.
“My passion for creating a network of support begun with talking about the barriers I experienced myself. In college, I was often questioned about my immigration status and when letting them know that I was undocumented I got concerned looks, followed by a list of questions as to how I was in school,” Sibri said. “When talking about this, I learned through speaking to the network that this was happening in all spaces, from the school’s scholarship to the academic department, from the registration office to the office of financial aid, from the classroom to the soccer field.”
Sibri’s solution to this was to create the City University of New York Dreamers, an organization for those with protected and unprotected status in the college system. Today, she serves on the advisory board for the program and has gone on to help initiate a larger group for “Dreamers” after she graduated from college and realized the same resources weren’t set up to foster undocumented individuals after graduation.
“DACA recipients often assume that I am a DACA recipient because of my work, and often when they learned of my status, they share tears with me,” Sibri said. “We just cry together.”
She said that she knows other undocumented students who have adopted the identity “dreamer” or assumed the societal benefits of a DACA recipient, but that it becomes much more complex upon graduating from higher education.
“(Post-grad), undocumented students begin to realize there are some things they have to navigate around and that there are potential barriers to achieving their dreams,” said Cristina Velez, staff attorney for the Immigration Defense Fund at New York University.
Sibri has been pushing against that narrative through her work at a nonprofit called Ignite, which aims to empower college-aged women to become active in their community and eventually run for office.
“I thought to myself, I’m undocumented, I might be in the process of getting deported. What do I do in the meantime?” Sibri said. “Democrats and Republicans in office are not representing me so I have to train the next generation to represent their communities like they’re supposed to.”
Now, Sibri and the more than 11 million undocumented individuals in the U.S. have nothing to do but wait — wait to see if a clean DREAM Act is passed or if they have to bargain a possible road to citizenship and protected status with Republican efforts to get a border wall and an end to “chain migration.”
“I think there is a glimmer of hope right now that if DREAM Act does pass then some (undocumented individuals) would finally have some opportunity to work in the United States and to have status,” Velez said. “For them, probably seeing the benefits of DACA for their peers must be very destructive and difficult at times. And I’m sure it would be even more of a blow if the DREAM Act did not come to pass.”
For Sibri, it will be more than a blow. She is part of what she calls a “mixed-status” family; her younger brother is a U.S. citizen while the rest of her family is undocumented. As the March 5 deadline approaches for congressional agreement on the future of “Dreamers” and consequently undocumented individuals alike, Sibri and her family are at peril of being separated once again. Deportation has become more of a reality for undocumented individuals than ever before. Sibri, said she constantly lives in fear of deportation and options may be running out.
“As much as I would love to continue fighting, my timeline in New York is dependent on us getting some sort of legislation in the next five years. If not, I will have to self-deport,” Sibri said, referring to undocumented individuals leaving a country where they could face deportation before ICE reaches them. “What else can I do? We are living day by day without being able to look ahead.”
Chinatown tenants today began a hunger strike in an ongoing fight for their homes. It’s the latest development in a two-year battle between the tenants of 85 Bowery and their landlord, Joseph Betesh.
Two weeks ago, the Department of Housing and Preservation issued a vacate order for the 75 people living at 85 Bowery. City officials deemed the building uninhabitable because of an unsafe central staircase. They required Betesh to make repairs before the tenants would be allowed back in.
Meanwhile, tenants have been living in nearby hotels and shelters because Betesh missed the city’s deadline to complete the repairs.
Tenants say that Betesh is using the lack of repairs as a tactic to force them out and raise the rent with new tenants.
E-Joo Young was at home with her grandchildren, a four-year-old and a newborn baby, when she was forced out of her apartment.
“I’ve lived in the building for twenty-some years, but they kicked us out in two hours,” she said.
Joe Betesh, the owner of 85 Bowery, said in a statement, “Our team is working diligently each day to repair and replace the severely damaged infrastructure of 85 Bowery and make the building safe for habitation.”
The strike began on the eve of the Chinese New Year, which starts on February 16.
Sarah Ahn, an organizer with the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, said the holiday focuses on the importance of family and people’s homes.
“The new year for the tenants is very symbolic,” she said. “It has a lot to do with home.”
Without access to their apartments, the tenants can’t use their ancestral shrines to properly celebrate the new year.
“We are supposed to be celebrating the lunar new year,” said E-Joo Young. “Instead we are out on the street.”
Six tenants say they will continue the hunger strike until the city pressures Betesh to make the required repairs and allows the tenants back in their homes.
Daud Nashid, 51, at his desk at Exodus Transitional Community in Harlem. By Amy Zahn
Daud Nashid is 51. He wears leather shoes, crisp button down shirts, and size 30-30 jeans — when he can find them.
“No one caters to us like that, men with smaller frames,” he said. “Even when I get a 30-30, sometimes I have to get it taken in.”
Nashid spends his weekends shopping. Downtown, he said, is where he’s able to find things that fit his 5’’6’ frame. He likes to patronize smaller establishments, ones that don’t feel as corporate.
“I’m kind of finicky with the shopping,” he said.
That’s because for 28 years, he wore nothing but solid green uniforms day in and day out, what he calls “prison greens.”
There are 51,000 people imprisoned in the state of New York, but Nashid is no longer one of them.
“The biblical parable is that, ‘Can anything good come out of Jerusalem?’ We can use that to say, ‘Can anything good come out of prison?’’’ he said.
New York City has slashed its jail and prison populations by over half in the last 30 years, while the rest of the country’s incarceration rates have only climbed. But the shrinking of the city’s prison population has given rise to a different kind of population — people trying to find their way back into society after spending time behind bars.
According to the Department of Justice, the average first-time prison sentence is just two years. Fifty-five percent of the prison inmates in the state of New York are on their first felony conviction, meaning they’ll be out soon.
Julio Medina is the founder and CEO of Exodus Transitional Community, an organization that connects formerly incarcerated people with the necessary job and life skills to re-enter society. According to Medina, aside from housing and employment, the biggest struggles a formerly incarcerated person may face are reconnecting with family and basic resocialization.
In the five years since he’s been out, Nashid has struggled with both.
“My mother’s glad that I came home,” he said. “But my mother was one of the first ones to say that I deserved to be punished.” Nashid began selling drugs in seventh grade. He wanted to make some money for his family — he, his mom and his brother.
“I made a lot of money selling crack cocaine and damaging my community, something I’m not proud of today,” said Nashid. “I didn’t manufacture the drugs, but I could have decided not to do it.”
But that life of lawlessness, he said, eventually led him to something much worse.
When Nashid was 18, he kept a safe at his mom’s house. Before it was stolen, the safe contained $27,000, some crack cocaine and a handgun. The week after the theft, Nashid confronted the robber at a park.
“I had a handgun, a small, little .25 caliber handgun. It just happened so quick. After five or six seconds, I took the handgun and shot him. I remember him turning and running, and I was still shooting as he ran,” Nashid said. “And that was that.”
The victim’s name was James Drummond, and he and Nashid had been friends their whole lives. They lived in the same building. They’d gone on trips together.
“I shot and killed my childhood friend over drugs,” he said. “He robbed me of some physical things, some tangible things, but I robbed him of an opportunity to see his mother get old, to have a career, to see his daughter grow up.”
Nashid was sentenced to 25 years to life, and was paroled after 28. His mother was there for him through it all, but Nashid hasn’t forgotten that people in his life, including her, had been close to James Drummond, too. People who came into his life after prison have also had a hard time accepting his past, including Carmen, his girlfriend of several years.
“She’s not good with it,” he said.
Carmen is the daughter of a retired police officer, and according to Nashid, grew up with a “certain perspective” of people who broke the law. Nashid is far from the only former prisoner who’s had trouble reconciling his past with the people in his life after getting out.
Medina said connecting with family and friends after serving time can be a monumental task, and can contribute to a host of other issues a former prisoner is likely already facing, like difficulty finding housing and employment.
“I think some of the discrimination is inherently ingrained in our system,” Medina said. “We need this sense that someone has to be evil,” he added, in order to have been incarcerated.
While Nashid was able to find a job unusually quickly — two weeks after being released — it didn’t come without difficulty. At his first post-prison job, his coworkers at the clinic he worked at circulated a petition about him. They didn’t want to work with a convicted murderer.
“They took it to the CEO,” he said. “And the CEO was like, ‘Get out of here, I hired him. I think he deserves a second chance.’”
Nashid has been working to earn that second chance ever since.
“A person’s lost their life, and I’m responsible for it,” he said. “In accepting full responsibility for it, I’ve decided to move my life in a different direction. I’ve decided to honor the memory of my victim by committing to resolving violence peacefully.”
Nashid has worked at Medina’s organization for the past two years, where he runs skills workshops in prisons throughout the state and recruits parolees to come to Exodus and use their services.
“Despite what a lot of people think, that nothing good can come out of prison, we’re proving them wrong. We’re doing it daily,” Nashid said.