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Opinion: Bronx Working Families Win Significant Victories in State Government

October 7, 2010

Bronx Working Families Win Significant Victories in State Government

By ASSEMBLYWOMAN VANESSA L. GIBSON

In recent months, the working families of our community have won several major victories that will improve the quality of life for thousands of west Bronx residents and their families. Working with my colleagues in the state Legislature, I am proud to have played a key part in this. These historic wins mean that our domestic workers and minority-owned and women-owned businesses will finally have many of the opportunities they have deserved for so long.

One of those key victories was the passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Under this new law, which I co-sponsored as Assembly Bill A. 1470-B, domestic workers will no longer be treated like second class citizens and they will finally be given important labor rights. Employers will now be required to pay domestic workers the state minimum wage, and these workers will be protected against discrimination and sexual harassment. Employers will also be required to give domestic workers at least one day off every week. This important legislation will take effect in the beginning of December.

Working with my fellow Democrats in the state Assembly majority, I am also pleased that we were able to enact several new laws that enhance opportunities for minority-owned and women-owned businesses. One of these new MWBE-related laws, Assembly Bill A. 11525, will expand the number of state contracts available and double the amount a state agency can purchase from an MWBE without being required to go out to bid. Another piece of legislation that became law, Assembly Bill A. 11526, will strengthen the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws and eliminate many of the stumbling blocks that have blocked MWBEs from competing effectively for contracts with state authorities.

These new MWBE laws will open the opportunities for commerce in New York State for many Bronx-based businesses and encourage creation of the types of long term employment opportunities that the adults in our community need and deserve. It will also help level the playing field so that companies affected by discrimination will now have a more equitable opportunity to compete.

Along with these significant new laws, I have joined with my colleagues to support legislation which would raise the pay and improve the working conditions for west Bronx residents who work in the service industry. For years, many of those workers – including janitorial service workers, doormen, groundskeepers, gardeners and security service employees – have not been paid fairly and have not been covered by New York’s prevailing wage laws even though they perform jobs for public agencies and should be included under the protection of those laws. Unfortunately some companies have used contract agencies and other gimmicks to avoid paying service workers the wages they deserve. It is time to stop this practice and bring fairness to the workplace for these New Yorkers.

I have been a strong supporter of the legislation, Assembly Bill A. 10257-D, which addresses this issue and would provide the prevailing wage protections that our workers need. This important legislation passed the state Assembly on July 1st and I will continue advocating for this important reform.

These issues continue to be very important to our community and the families I represent in the state Assembly. I will remain a strong and vocal advocate for this and other legislation that will make a positive difference for the people living in the Concourse, Clarmont, Highbridge, Mount Eden and Morris Heights communities.

Assemblywoman Vanessa L. Gibson represents the 77th Assembly District which includes the communities of Concourse, Claremont, Highbridge, Mount Eden and Morris Heights. Her district office is located at 930 Grand Concourse, Bronx, New York 10451 and can be reached at (718) 538-2000 or via email at gibsonv@assembly.state.ny.us.

Opinion: Join the Fight to Prevent MTA Service Cuts

March 5, 2010

By ASSEMBLYWOMAN VANESSA GIBSON

Thousands of west Bronx residents use mass transit every day and those services are vital to the quality of life we all share. Whether it is the young people traveling to school and tutorial programs or the many adults who take buses and subways to get to work, medical appointments and shopping, access to affordable public transportation is crucial to all of our families.

I am a strong supporter of the transit services our families need and have been working in the state Legislature to protect local bus and subway routes from the absolutely unacceptable cuts proposed by the management of the MTA. These cuts will cost many families hundreds of dollars a year by dismantling the existing student MetroCard program and would harm our residents by completely eliminating the BX18 bus route which travels through Morris Heights. The service cuts proposed by the MTA would also impact many west Bronx residents by reducing the number of hours of the BX32 bus route runs, eliminating the BX41 and making major changes to the Access-A-Ride program.

The elimination of student MetroCards would place a toll gate in front of the doors to our schools as many low income and working families in the west Bronx struggle to pay for the cost of access to an education for their children and I am working with my colleagues in the state Legislature to force the MTA to restore this essential program.

I was one of the first state legislators to take action to support the student MetroCard program, and three months ago, on Dec. 17, I wrote a letter to Jay Walder, the executive director of the MTA, asking him to reconsider this devastating policy. I have also introduced state legislation that would require the MTA to have a free fare student MetroCard program for our children so that the kids in the west Bronx and throughout New York City will continue to have access to the quality education they deserve.

I am taking a leading role in supporting continuation of bus service on the BX18 route as well. This bus service is crucial for residents of the Highbridge and Morris Heights communities and is an essential transit link for many families living along Sedgwick and Undercliff avenues. Without the BX18, those residents would be forced to walk along potentially hazardous streets and would be virtually cut off from more eastern portions of the south Bronx.

The MTA’s own data indicates that the BX18 has a significant number of passengers with 1,780 weekday and 1,130 weekend riders using this valuable bus service. Many of those passengers use the BX18 to get to work and eliminating this service would cause substantial hardships for them and other families in our community.

Now is the time for every resident to help in this important fight to protect bus and subway service in the west Bronx by signing one of the many petitions circulating in our community or by writing to: MTA Community Affairs, 347 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10017.

Working together we can speak with one voice in defense of the public transit services that are essential to our community. I am committed to standing up for the residents of Claremont, the Concourse, Highbridge, Mount Eden and Morris Heights and ask you to join me in the fight to restore these essential bus and transportation services to improve the quality of life in Bronx County and the State of New York.

Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson represents the 77th Assembly District.

Opinion: BCC Must Rethink Decision to Evict High School

February 5, 2010

By ROLAND LEGIARDI-LAURA

Rebecca Thomas’ thoughtful article requires elaboration:

1) Bronx Community College claims rapid growth in enrollment is the single cause forcing it to expel University Heights Secondary School (UHHS). This is an unstable basis for a specious argument. Several years from now, when the economy recovers, and students return to four-year institutions, BCC will become a ghost town. It’s illogical to evict a successful high school for what is only a temporary aberration.

2) BCC doesn’t use its own space efficiently. Classrooms and entire buildings sit empty because of poor planning or poor maintenance. The successful educational culture of UHHS must not be sacrificed because BCC’s administration is near-sighted and verging on incompetence. If, as one UHHS student pointed out at the recent town hall meeting, BCC claims they will have nearly 4,000 new students, how will they seat them all by capturing one building that handles 400—one tenth of their purported growth? BCC will gain marginally by commandeering this building but the impact upon the high school will be devastating and permanent. An independent entity must be mandated to survey the entire campus, and offer an alternative plan.

3) BCC Vice-President, Mary Colman, is outrageously trying to pit the students of BCC against UHHS students. To argue that BCC must choose between either their “own” students or those of the high school, is an attempt to force a wedge between people who are all in the same boat. BCC doesn’t have to sacrifice one group of deserving kids to serve another. With thought, both can be well served on this huge 56-acre campus.

4) UHHS has been successful (three consecutive A ratings from the Department of Education, putting it in the top 13 percent of high school citywide; millions of dollars in scholarships won annually by its students) for two very important reasons:

a) Studying on a college campus not only inspires youngsters to strive toward higher education: a high percentage of UHHS students take college level courses at BCC. This engenders a high graduation rate: 85 percent in 2009 compared to roughly 60 percent citywide and between 36-52 percent in the Bronx – depending upon whom you believe. The most important fact supporting this assertion: The vast majority of UHHS graduates – 81 percent – go on to college.

b) The campus is a safe haven in the most dangerous borough in New York City and the poorest urban county in the United States. Students don’t pass through metal detectors or suffer the indignities of being wanded entering their building. If you attend a school that feels like jail and treats you like a prisoner, you are more likely to behave like a prisoner than a scholar.

5) The DOE must help solve this problem. If BCC has its heart set upon full 24-hour use of Nicholls Hall (current home of UHHS), then the DOE should build a new state-of-the-art high school on the BCC campus for the University Heights community. Once it is up and running and UHHS is moved in, Nicholls Hall can be reprogrammed for BCC’s needs. UHHS must remain on this campus. It is the only high school in this council district. In the meantime, BCC and UHHS can share Nicholls Hall. The building is only used by the high School during normal school hours. What about evenings for college students? What about weekends? This is a workable interim solution while building the new school.

6) Where is the Teachers Union (UFT) in this battle? Many dedicated teachers have spent their entire careers working at UHHS. It is unconscionable to allow the city to squander the work of these successful pedagogues who have labored for decades building a strong school. Inaction by the union won’t be tolerated by its rank and file. The UFT must protect its teachers from reprisals by an ungrateful or embarrassed DOE.

7) Finally, UHHS’ school community— parents, students, alums, teachers, staff and many former students now attending BCC, spoke unequivocally at the meeting – “We will negotiate in a public forum. But we will not be moved!” As Captain John Parker said to his small band of Minutemen on Lexington Green facing the better-armed British army on April 19, 1776—“Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a way, let it begin here.” We know who won that war.

Legiardi-Laura has been a guest teaching-artist at University Heights High School for the past eight years.

No one likes an F

November 5, 2008

By JUDY NOY

With reference to the “Local Schools Get Graded” article in your October 2008 issue, no, no one likes an F. Several schools receiving failing grades have been subject to closing or replaced with other schools, some with different staff.

In your article, Chancellor Joel Klein is mentioned as having said in a recent interview with reporters that the yearly grades are a fair and accurate reflection of how each school has performed. Apparently there are differences of opinion since the article also reports that PS 79 teachers called their school’s grade “grossly unfair.” And how can grades be deemed “fair and accurate” when the test scores of students whose first language isn’t English are included when the DOE decides what grade to give the school?

Imagine being in a class in a foreign country and being required to take an exam in a language you didn’t know. While various factors are taken into consideration when grading a school, it’s possible that the more ELL students a school has, the higher the possibility that school will receive a lower grade.

In an August 2007 article, the New York Teacher reported how it was good news that 45.6 percent of eighth graders passed their State math exams. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was quoted as being “ecstatic” over the results. But how is this good news? This translates to mean that almost 55 percent failed. Forty five percent shouldn’t be cause for celebration.

This August, the Daily News reported that “state tests released this summer showed that only 43 percent of eighth graders are proficient in reading.” Even if these percentages are higher than the previous years, it is still a dismal showing. We read about teachers being required to teach the tests (math and reading), sometimes at the expense of other subjects. And still many students are unable to pass.

Some are blaming teachers for students’ poor results. This is totally unfair. While teachers are drumming the subject matter into their students’ heads in class, studying should be the job of each individual student outside of school.

But teachers themselves can only do so much. In some cases, they have felt so pressured that they’ve been caught giving answers during exams. Others have changed failing grades to passing so the student wouldn’t be left behind. This isn’t doing the student any favors since, if they’re passed through to the next grade without sufficient knowledge of the subject matter, they may fall further behind. Passing students through who aren’t ready may be one of the reasons for the high dropout rate by the time they get to high school.

As an incentive to do better, students are being paid to do well on their exams. According to an article in the New York Teacher in August 2007, City

Hall announced the launching of a new two-year pilot program last fall for low  income families from several New York City neighborhoods, offering money to participating parents and students, giving cash to students who did well on the state standardized tests, and to their parents.

When I was a young student attending school, graduating on time and passing all tests and Regents were expected and even taken for granted. It’s shocking that some of today’s kids and their parents have been given monetary incentives and rewards. Has anyone even considered how the students who consistently do well and their parents feel who do not receive compensation?

It may be helpful to keep students together in classes who are at similar academic levels. If students are placed into homogeneous classes, not only could this make a teacher’s job easier, but the teacher can more easily focus on what to spend extra time on. The school should subsequently receive a better grade since there’s a better chance of the students improving their grades.
After all, isn’t that the ultimate goal?

Judy Noy is proofreader for the Mount Hope Monitor.  She resides in Norwood.

My Space: A Waste of Space

May 8, 2008

Not too long ago, I was at a neighbor’s house helping her translate a few documents while she studied for her citizenship exam. Her grandson was there, sitting by the computer, looking at MySpace. “Nothing new there,” I thought. But when I came to leave a few hours later, I noticed he was still glued to the screen. I decided to ask him about it. He told me that he spends three to four hours a day surfing through MySpace, and double that on Saturdays and Sundays. So in total he spends 30 to 40 hours a week on MySpace. That’s like having a full-time job!

I spoke to his grandmother, and learned that he is doing poorly in school, and may end up repeating a grade. Could his MySpace addiction account for his poor performance?

It’s stories like this one, that lead me to believe that time on MySpace is time wasted.

It gets in the way of schoolwork, and it discourages students from attending after school programs, as many can’t wait to get home and turn on the computer and “talk” to their friends. MySpace, then, has become the new “hangout.” When you log in, you can see which of your friends is online at that moment. Then you can start chatting, and chatting, and chatting…

MySpace

Hanging out, therefore, no longer requires being outside. Some parents like that. Better my kids are inside, they think, than out on the street experimenting with drugs or committing petty crimes like vandalism. And I see their point, to an extent. But kids can still get into trouble online. For MySpace brings with it a whole new set of problems. Outside, 14-year-old girls rarely engage with 30-year-old men. But online no one’s monitoring who’s talking to whom, so a child can freely talk with an adult. The concept of “hanging out” at home is not as safe as some parents may think.

MySpace can be even worse than television. Many parents purchase computers for their children in the hope that they will become computer savvy and attractive to employers in today’s technology driven job market. But what are they really learning if all they do is visit MySpace? At least some TV channels are educational. MySpace exists purely as a network for social gathering. It is a means for one to advance his or her social network and cultivate existing relationships. Some even use it to arrange intimate encounters. There is nothing educational about it.

What’s happening is that our children are in danger of becoming the next generation of lazy adults. They cannot focus on a task for any period of time because they lack the discipline and training to think creatively and critically. Their brains are only receptive towards information that is for entertainment purposes – information like MySpace. Surfing the internet for hours on end is not an experience that will prepare youth to be tomorrow’s leaders. Instead, we’re creating a new generation with limited working skills, meaning our community will continue to battle with high crime and poverty.

Some of the problems derived from using MySpace lie with parents. In low-income communities like ours, working class parents often hold more than one job, so the last thing they want to do when they arrive home is to engage with their children’s nonsense. They are tired and the computer serves as a means to keep their children busy, consequently limiting interaction between them and their children. Parents, however preoccupied, need to become more involved in their children’s development. Allowing a child to spend 30 to 40 hours a week on MySpace could be seen as a form of neglect.

The picture I just painted of young people forever surfing the Internet is a sad one. But it’s one that is easily corrected – even if that means parents telling their children: “No more MySpace under my roof’s space.”

Jose Roman is a regular contributor to the Mount Hope Monitor. He lives in Mount Hope.

Graffiti: An Organized Crime

March 5, 2008

By JOSE ROMAN

When we walk up and down Burnside and Jerome avenues, we see graffiti work illustrated on the walls of our community. Yet we rarely witness this graffiti being produced. It’s something we see everywhere in the Bronx, but we don’t know much about it.

Graffiti Some residents claim that graffiti makes the community beautiful; others think it makes it ugly. But these opinions do nothing to advance our knowledge of the graffiti subculture. For while graffiti is both art and vandalism, it’s also something else: a basic level of organized crime.

All Graffiti Writers Belong to a Group

The graffiti subculture is a basic level of organized crime because, similar to traditional organized crime, members belong to a group. Take, for instance, the Italian Mafia of New York City. All Mafiosi belong to one of five families. Similarly, each Bronx graffiti writer belongs to a group within the subculture. These groups are known as “crews.” An example of a crew active in the Mount Hope neighborhood is D.F.A., which stands for “Down for Anything.” All of the members of the crew support and rely on each other, as do the members of individual families within the Italian Mafia.

Graffiti Writers Scheme

The graffiti subculture is also a low level of organized crime because of the way the tools of the trade are obtained. Traditionally, organized crime groups obtain the tools they use to commit their crimes illegally and strategically. For example, members of the Mafia buy drugs and guns, and they do so strategically to avoid arrest. Graffiti writers also get their spray paints in a strategic fashion. Graffitists refer to this process as “racking” – the process of obtaining paint through shoplifting or other means. One strategy is traveling to states where laws governing the purchasing of spray paint are more lenient. In such a state, Connecticut for example, the graffitists will purchase one spray paint but steal many more. SKID, a graffiti writer who co-founded D.F.A, says: “You never rack in the city. That’s why I go out of state to rack my paint.”

Graffiti Writers Plan Their Crimes

The graffiti subculture in the Mount Hope area is also a basic level of organized crime because, like organized crime groups, they plan ahead before they execute their crimes. In organized crime, individuals engage in illegal activities such as gambling and prostitution, racketeering, and human trafficking. Because they’re well planned out so as to avoid detection, many of these crimes go unnoticed by the general public. In the same way, graffiti writers execute their graffiti work all throughout the neighborhood, and yet personally go unnoticed by the local residents and property owners. “We bomb late when everyone is sleeping,” SKID says.

“Bombing” is the process of writing one’s tag on numerous buildings, walls, and fences, and the like, all at one time, without being noticed or caught. As such, when a graffitist goes out to produce his work, he will be accompanied by one or two other writers from his crew. As one writer executes his work on a property, the others are on the lookout. DOLT, another graffiti writer from the D.F.A. crew, says, “When we go bombing, we always carry our cell phones and have each other’s back. I have their back, and they got my back.” The graffitists call each other if someone is coming in the direction of the writer who is producing the work. That way the writer avoids being arrested and charged with vandalism.

In the Bronx graffiti subculture, from joining a crew to becoming an active member, all of these activities are thought out and planned. As such, the graffiti subculture is a basic level of organized crime, whether or not the members of the subculture recognize it.

Jose Roman, a regular contributor to the Mount Hope Monitor, is currently completing a master’s thesis on the politics of graffiti. He lives in Mount Hope.

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