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‘The People That Are Within These Frames’: A Community Offers Self-Portraits

Founded in 2011, the Bronx Documentary Center is a gallery and teaching space in the Melrose neighborhood that offers screenings, exhibitions and education programs in documentary film and photography to members of the local community. The aim, said Bianca Farrow, the center’s education manager, is to help people use photography “as a tool to be confident in themselves, in the stories they have to tell, and creating a community interested in exploring their own histories.”

As part of that mission, the center operates the Bronx Junior Photo League, a nine-month photography and college success program, and the Bronx Senior Photo League, courses for older adults held at senior centers in the borough. Over the last year, the pandemic ruled out in-person instruction. But the center adapted: It offered classes virtually or as phone calls, and sent each student a camera, which they used to document their own lives as the world shifted around them.

Earlier this year, The New York Times asked both the senior and junior leagues to make self-portraits; how they defined self-portrait was up to them. Their photos are included in a year-end exhibition at the gallery, now on display until June 20. For more, visit bronxdoc.org.

“Each day I draw the curtains of the living room window to let the morning light in. Before the pandemic, I did it to nurture the house plants, but I realize that it’s a ritual that nurtures me as well.”

“I am an optimist and believe in the power of karma, always remaining grateful for everything I have. These values have guided me through my journey as a Mexican immigrant living in the United States. Taking this class I feel more confident, and photos evoke a lot of emotions in me.”

“Quarantine forced me to pick apart everything; my community and my joy were stripped away, and I realized a truth I had ignored. Accepting myself as a queer teenager was the only good thing to come out of this.”

“Study your surroundings. Study them as if it’s the last time, making sure you won’t forget anything. Study every wrinkle on her face when you make her smile, the sound of her laughter, the way she grips your hand to show her affection.”

“I relive my middle school days. Ostracized for my unibrow, my self confidence was compromised. Untamed body hair dying a silent death. Razors, threading, waxing — anything to preserve a beauty that existed beyond physicalities. Womanhood, a place that feels strange no matter how many times I encounter its path.”

“Recently I reflect on darker moments, locked doors, and drawn curtains due to the pandemic. I find myself gazing at my baby’s breath thinking about recuperating after surgery and what the future holds for me. Soon, I will leave my shadow behind to finally reach my destination.”

“There’ll soon be an end to Covid-19. While at home, I learned to play the piano to keep busy. My reflection and myself were often my only company. Until I found new friends and adventures in virtual reality.”

“The world turned upside down; it wasn’t about having fun anymore because it was time to be serious. I couldn’t go outside and have fun with my family like we did before the Covid-19 pandemic. I miss the people that are within these frames.”

“I stand looking at the municipal parking lot the city sold that gave way to gentrification in my community. As I pass this cherished place, I think about the laughter of my family after a Sunday of shopping, something that me and many of my neighbors can no longer enjoy.”

“My name is Aminata, Ami for short. I am 15 and the second-born of four children. I’m quiet and live in my own little bubble. With my photographs, I hope to give other people insight on what it’s like to live in my head and experience thought, image and reflection.”

“I like to photograph people, nature, sundown, shadows created by celestial bodies and man-made structures. I remember taking my first self-portrait in 1962 in a hotel room in Baltimore. Since that selfie back in 1962, I’ve become aware of the beauty in the world which I took for granted all these years.”

“I love photographing my 3-year-old granddaughter, Najimah. I take care of her when her mom has to go to work and day care is closed. It is a blessing to see a child when they are born and see them grow up. The love of a grandmother is double the one of parent and child.”

“I lost my grandpa April, 5th, 2020, due to Covid. Dancing cumbia, zapateados, and to Mexican rock was a way we connected. The way my whole brown family connects. In this picture I’m releasing anger, sadness, and combating my depression with dancing. I know he’s right next to me watching me laugh. Every spin and stomp makes me feel free.”

“I am reflecting on a hard time period in my life when me and my entire family had Covid-19 for about 3 months. I will always remember those long nights, telling myself not to give into the sickness and try to fight it off.”

“The coronavirus lockdown tangled itself into my life. During a time of uncertainty, the Serenity Prayer grounded me. I dedicated myself to my crafts and escaped into the stories in my DVD library. Once my friends and I were vaccinated, we drank a cup of coffee together. Planning ahead feels liberating.”

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Regionales

Major Moments From the Final Democratic Mayoral Debate

Weather: Sunny again, with a high close to 80.

Alternate-side parking: In effect through tomorrow. Suspended on Saturday for Juneteenth.


Five days of campaigning left.

With Tuesday’s primary fast approaching, Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City sparred over matters of public safety, schooling and homelessness last night as they shared their closing arguments in the final debate before the vote closes.

The early voting period lasts through Sunday, and the ranked-choice system has injected a large degree of unpredictability into the race. Still, Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, remains a consistent front-runner in the sparse available polling.

[Read more about the debate and the candidates’ visions for New York.]

Here are a few of the standout moments:

This week, Andrew Yang, a former presidential candidate, received the endorsement of the Captains Endowment Association, the union that represents police captains. When asked at the debate to explain why he was the candidate best equipped to tackle a rise in shootings, Mr. Yang pointed to the endorsement.

“The people you should ask about this are Eric’s former colleagues in the police captains’ union,” Mr. Yang said.

Mr. Adams tried to dismiss the endorsement, suggesting that he had not even asked for it. Mr. Yang accused him of lying.

Mr. Yang sounded alarms around matters of mental health and homelessness, saying that the issues were impeding the city’s recovery and that homeless people needed to be introduced to a “better environment.” He said he would rebuild “the stock of psych beds in our city.”

Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, shot back: “That is the greatest non-answer I’ve ever heard,” he said, discussing a need to create tens of thousands of units of “truly affordable housing.”

The question encouraged contenders to sling a little mud, and Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams again targeted each other. Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner, ripped the “defund the police” movement. Maya Wiley challenged Mr. Adams on policing.

“The worst idea I’ve ever heard is bringing back stop and frisk and the anti-crime unit from Eric Adams,” said Ms. Wiley, a civil rights lawyer. “Which, one, is racist; two, is unconstitutional; and, three, didn’t stop any crime; and, four, it will not happen in a Maya Wiley administration.”

Mr. Adams responded that, if he was elected, the abuses of stop and frisk would not return.


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A Black feminist writer from Harlem. The first Black woman to have a play produced on Broadway. An actress and singer who lived in Manhattan and broke ground for Black performers.

New York City officials announced on Wednesday that 16 parks across the five boroughs would be named for those figures and other Black leaders who made significant contributions in areas from education and entertainment to civil rights and community relations.

“Our goal is to represent the culture and diversity of New York City,” the city’s parks commissioner, Mitchell J. Silver, said at a news conference at Mullaly Park in the Bronx. The roughly 15-acre park in the Concourse neighborhood of the borough was a focus of local activism as protests arose to push for officials to change its title, citing concerns about the record of its namesake, who published attacks on the Emancipation Proclamation.

“For years, the community has expressed discontent and a desire to rename this beloved green space,” Mr. Silver said. A new name that honors the Rev. Wendell Foster, the first Black elected city official in the Bronx, will be adopted in September 2022, he said.

The move comes amid a larger push to change some names of monuments and landmarks in New York and elsewhere, sometimes to leave behind references to figures with racist pasts and at other times to honor Black New Yorkers. Several top Democratic mayoral candidates have suggested they would support renaming sites including streets named for slaveholders.

As for park spaces, those that will take on new names include the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn (changing to Lena Horne Bandshell); Hell’s Kitchen Park in Manhattan (to become Lorraine Hansberry Park); and St. Albans Oval in Queens (to be renamed Musicians Oval in honor of influential Black jazz musicians).

It’s Thursday — get outside.


Dear Diary:

My mother loves Denzel Washington. So it was only natural that we would go see him in the “The Iceman Cometh” when she visited a few years ago.

My legs were stiff and my mouth was dry after the four-hour production ended, and I was ready to go home. But my mother loves Denzel Washington. So we waited outside the stage door for the cast to emerge.

My mother was easily the oldest person there, but she was grinning like a teenager about to meet her hero.

“Do you have a pen?” she asked me nervously.

“These actors always carry pens,” I said with confidence. “Don’t worry.”

Soon, though, I was frantically asking everyone around us for a pen while my mother continued to wait for the star to emerge.

When I got back to where she was standing, I overheard her chatting with other members of the cast.

Denzel Washington never came out that night, but my mother still proudly tells everyone back home how she invited half the cast of a Broadway show to visit her in Colorado.

I’m glad I didn’t have a pen.

— Sid Gopinath


New York Today is published weekdays around 6 a.m. Sign up here to get it by email. You can also find it at nytoday.com.

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Regionales

It’s Not Too Late to Discover Louise Meriwether

“My uncle and father were always politically involved,” she said. “And I was with them, so I became politically involved, too.”

Credit…Fern Gillespie

In 1965, Meriwether earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California, Los Angeles. After three years at The Sentinel, she left the paper to become the first African American story analyst at Universal Studios, a job that entails reading and providing feedback on scripts. Around this time, she also joined the Watts Writers Workshop, a collective by the screenwriter Budd Schulberg, where she began writing “Daddy Was a Number Runner.” “I remember asking myself: This woman is a great writer. What is she doing in a workshop?” the poet Quincy Troupe said in an interview. “She was way above everybody else.”

When Troupe reminisces on their friendship, he recalls a moment in which he is convinced she saved his life. Driving home from a poetry reading, he was stopped and searched by police officers. Meriwether happened to be on the road with a friend who was a lawyer. When she saw Troupe, she stopped her car and went to question the officers, asking for their badge numbers.

“I said, ‘I’ve got your numbers, and that’s my attorney over there,’ in case they tried to shoot me,” Meriwether said. “That sort of defused the situation, you know?”

In 1969, Meriwether, who had divorced, returned to New York to care for her ailing mother. As she did in Los Angeles, she dove into New York’s artistic and political scenes, starting Committee of Concerned Blacks, an anti-Apartheid group, in 1972, and joining the Harlem Writers Guild, a group whose founders included the writers John Henrik Clarke, Rosa Guy and John Oliver Killens. Her circle of friends encompassed still more writers, including Maya Angelou and Sonia Sanchez.

“I think one thing you can get from Louise is loyalty, support, and undying love for her people,” Hill, her friend and caretaker, said.

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Regionales

Why This Overlooked Residential Island in N.Y.C. Wants Tourists

When Med Abrous, a restaurateur behind trendy establishments in Los Angeles, Nashville and Seattle, got the call about opening a restaurant on Roosevelt Island in New York, he almost hung up the phone.

“The last time I was at Roosevelt Island was probably in the third grade for a class trip, where we took the tram, ” said Mr. Abrous, who grew up in New York City. “All I remember is we learned something about smallpox, and then I never went back.” (In the 1800s the island, now a quiet residential neighborhood, was the repository for several city asylums and hospitals, including one for smallpox, as well as a prison).

The restaurant would be part of Graduate, Roosevelt Island’s first hotel, which opened this month. The property is on the campus of Cornell Tech, a hub for cutting-edge graduate students in tech, design, law and business, which opened four years ago. Although the university has been a boon to the community — which was redeveloped starting in the mid-20th century and has plenty of dated architecture to prove it — would a stylish hotel and restaurant really work out here?

“People who have lived in New York City for 20 or 30 years have never been to Roosevelt Island,” said Ben Weprin, the founder and chief executive of Graduate Hotels. “That is the biggest challenge, to educate people on how close and easy and fun Roosevelt Island is.”

Mr. Abrous and his business partner agreed to at least visit the site, and he was immediately impressed. “I was taken aback just being in the middle of the East River,” he said. New high-rises were plentiful, and the rooftop of the hotel offered views of several New York City landmarks, from the United Nations building across the river to One World Trade Center farther south.

He signed on to create the Panorama Room, a bar and lounge with the very same rooftop views that seduced him, and he is aiming for a splashy midsummer opening. The idea is to make the restaurant a destination unto itself. “I’ll go into deep Brooklyn or Queens for a great meal,” he said, adding that he wants Roosevelt Island to be a destination, too. “We want this place to have the same weightiness as the Rainbow Room or Windows of the World,” he said.

In a way, the combination of Cornell Tech’s opening and the pandemic’s hitting the city has given Roosevelt Island a new chance at the spotlight. In addition to the hundreds of graduate students who have moved there, other New Yorkers in search of green space and affordable rents have gobbled up real estate. Several longtime residents are recommitting to the area, opening yoga studios and restaurants. And then there is Graduate, with its rooftop bar.

“It’s funny, having lived here so long, to see something so artsy and modern and hip coming to the neighborhood,” said Amanda Baehr Fuller, 48, an illustrator who has lived on the island for 15 years. “In the past we used to hear about things possibly opening, and years would go by and it would never happen,” she continued. “Now it’s getting better.”

Although many locals are thrilled about the attention the island is getting, the population of around 14,000 is still not enough to keep these new businesses thriving, said Shelton J. Haynes, the president and chief operating officer of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, which functions like a local government.

“These small businesses definitely need tourists to come in,” he said. “Many were hit very hard during the pandemic. Especially now, they need a hybrid of residents as well as tourism to stay alive.” The corporation is considering a series of free tours, both on foot and by bus, to bring in more people, Mr. Haynes said.

So it all hinges on foot traffic. The island battles an unfair reputation as being hard to reach despite access from the F train, the ferry, the Queensboro Bridge and of course the island’s unique tram. “We are still in the middle of the East River, and I am reminded of it all the time,” Mr. Abrous said. “This may have been a completely crazy idea,” he said of his decision to commit to Roosevelt Island.

In these late-pandemic days, the appeal of the area is obvious. It’s possible to walk through its parks and not see another human. Families, especially, appreciate the open fields, tree-lined promenades and playgrounds. Later this summer, Southpoint Park will open on the southern tip of the island. “It will be similar to Brooklyn Bridge Park, where you can walk right up to the water,” Mr. Haynes said.

For people interested in living here, there is currently a wait list for three-bedroom apartments, which is unprecedented, according to Chris Schmidt, a senior vice president at the real estate firm Related Companies, which owns eight (and soon to be nine) buildings on the island.

Last summer, Paul Krikler, 60, who owns a consulting and business coaching business, moved to Roosevelt Island from the Upper East Side of Manhattan with his three teenage children. “It’s so calm and peaceful and quiet,” he said. “There is green everywhere and water everywhere and public benches everywhere. During the pandemic having that space was just lovely.” He likes how people bring hammocks and hang them between the trees.

An adjustment for him, however, was the lack of amenities. “There’s very limited shopping here, so you have to use Amazon and make the most use of your time when you’re on the mainland,” he said. “For example, there is no bike shop.” Mr. Krikler is working to change this by getting a mobile bike shop to visit the island regularly.

Before the pandemic there was one of everything, said David Kramer, who oversees Related’s retail spaces for Roosevelt Island. “There was a pizzeria, a Japanese restaurant, a Greek diner, a Chinese restaurant and a supermarket,” he said.

In the past year, however, more specialty offerings have arrived. Wholesome Macelleria, a high-end butcher shop, opened over the winter. Last September came Granny Annie’s, a restaurant that became a go-to spot for cocktails. And this summer, Graduate will introduce two new restaurants overseen by Mr. Abrous.

Jax Schott, who has lived on the island for over 12 years and is a yoga and barre instructor, is opening the island’s first dedicated yoga and barre studio, Island Om, this summer. She’s transforming a 2,000-square-foot space on Main Street that used to be a makeshift batting cage. “We have a lot of wellness people on the island, and I am trying to figure out how to bring them together and make this a sort of hub for the community,” she said.

The hope is that the 224-room Graduate Hotel will lift up the other businesses. The property has gone out of its way to be bold. In the lobby is a 12-foot statue by Hebru Brantley, an artist known for his Afrofuturist style, as well as 5,000 square feet of shelved vintage textbooks. There is a meeting room inspired by the Tom Hanks movie “Big,” with a giant piano mat and a Zoltar machine.

“We need people to come and be, like, ‘Holy shoot, I can’t wait to bring my friends here,’ ” Mr. Weprin said. “We have to make this a landmark of the city.”

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