A group of clergy, community leaders and neighborhood advocates in the Bronx has gotten tired of the nice speeches and other rhetoric sentiments that follow every time a young life is lost to gun violence but never followed through with action that brings about change.
The group converged on the first day of 2021, at the Bronx Supreme Court steps to commit themselves to bringing about the much needed change in the borough plagued by gun violence.
The task force that hopes to save lives in the community by putting a stop to gun violence made a commitment through the Bronx Declaration.
The group that consists of 61 members, each representing a neighborhood in the Bronx, immediately made an urgent call for all Bronxites to stop infighting and put their collective resources and intellect to use in the elimination of the common enemies: Poverty, crime and violence.
A number of high profile individuals attended the launch of taskforce, among them were Brooklyn Borough president and New York City aspiring mayor Eric Adams, city council members for District 14 Fernando Cabrera and his counterpart from District 16 Vanessa Gibson both of whom are vying for the Bronx Borough president, Sammy Ravelo also eyeing the borough presidency, TBS New Direction founder Marion Frampton, Bishop Angelo Rosario, Sheikh Musa Drammeh, the coordinator of the National Community Peace Building Commission (NCPC), Eve Hendricks whose son Brandon Hendricks-Ellison was shot and killed on June 28, 2020 was also in attendance.
In her remarks, Hendricks said no mother should have to go through the pain of losing their child.
“Let us pray and hope for a better tomorrow. Don’t just make promises but walk the talk. Be a brother’s keeper. It is only action that will save lives. All this crazy madness led up to me losing my baby,”
Hendricks said. “I have no love in my heart, no forgiveness, no feelings because the day I found out my son got hurt, everything inside me stopped. There is no emotion. I just want him back but because I can’t get him back, we have to save all the boys and girls so that we can have a beautiful tomorrow.
"So that the parents can say thank God we made it. This is the Bronx. We need to work together by loving each. We need to show love to the Bronx, the best borough. We need to get it back.”
Hendricks said all the efforts of ending gun violence in the Bronx will not yield any results if parents don’t play their parental role in their children’s lives.
“Parents have to start being parents. Stop being your children’s smoking partners, drinking partners. Be a parent. Your kids should not parent you. My kid would never ever dare to say but… We need to get back to old school,” Hendricks said.
“You need to know who your kids’ friends are. They should not be hanging out with grown up people that hang out in the streets and as a parent you know that and think it’s okay. We need to do better.
"We need to hold each other’s hands. We need to be more courteous with each other. This is not the way we are supposed to live. I shouldn’t have to live with this pain inside of me. It hurts. It’s painful. I don’t know who to trust except God.”
Hendricks said she lost a large part of her following her son’s death.
“We had an undying love. He got shot three times in his neck. I always ask God why? He had dreams and encouraged his friends to do better. He stayed out of trouble. It is either the devil was too jealous of a young man or God simply said Brandon it is time for you to come home, your mother is going to be okay,” she said..
“I get up every morning and the first person I look for is my son because there is just something wrong, something that is not right. Now all I keep looking at are the pictures. People keep telling me to move. I will still be hurting because he is in my heart.”
Born July 7, 2002, Brandon, who just graduated from James Monroe High School was a basketball standout and was looking forward to playing basketball in college.
He was shot in the unintended shooting in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx and a suspect Najhim Luke, 22, was taken into custody in July.
“As a father of a 14-year-old boy, the last thing you want is a knock on the door that your child is not coming home,” Brooklyn Borough President and aspiring New York City mayor Eric Adams said.
“I cannot tell you the number of times someone said oh God! tell me it’s not true. There is nothing natural about a mother burying her son or daughter. That is one of the most abnormal things that can happen. There is no term in the dictionary that defines when a parent loses a child because it is unnatural, unsettling and should never happen."
Adams said the problem faced in New York and the US in general was the intentional destruction of black and brown boys.
“Remove the number from black and brown boys from the figures of those who are the victims of crime and you no longer have a crime problem in the city. Remove the number of those who are accused of discharging guns; you no longer have gun violence in the city. Remove the number of black and brown boys who fail in school, you no longer have an educational problem in the city. Remove the number of black and brown boys who are unemployed, you no longer have an unemployment problem in the city,” Adams said.
He said black and brown boys usually get broken and turn out to be drunken black and brown men which lead to a destruction of black and brown families.
“This movement is about firmly articulating what we are up against. If we want to change the narrative, we have to change the narrator, different voice, different vision,” Adams said.
“The dysfunctional destruction of the black and brown boys is linked to the foundation of the destruction of this entire city and cities across America. I know this too well. I spent 22 years as a police officer watching that destruction.
"I see it as a borough president for the largest borough of the city of New York. I don’t know about others who all over a sudden have decided it was popular to run for a city office that is going through a devastating period. We can’t circle out the same inequality that created this mess in the first place. It is time for a leader that has gone through a lot to be there for people who have gone through a lot. I am with you.”
Drammeh said achieving equitable socioeconomic development in the Bronx will not be possible without reducing its level of crime and violence.
"A house divided cannot stand on its own," Drammeh said.
“Together, we will find what the real culprits of these crimes and violence are and address them. No matter what they are, they must be addressed and they will be permanently addressed.
"We will not put bandages on them. We will not make excuses in addressing them. We will not blame anyone for them. But we will finally hold accountable responsible parties for them in the Bronx. Race, religion, politics, ethnicity, language or neighborhood variations must not deter us from focusing on our collective socio-economic progress, especially when the Bronx has all elements to be a preferred destination for families, entrepreneurs, investors and tourists. Unity in purpose doesn't require uniformity. We are one diverse human family.”
Drammeh through the taskforce of NCPC, which hopes to be holding monthly meetings, vowed to no longer normalize crime, tolerate violence or accept extreme poverty in the Bronx.
“The tale of two cities must be in the history books not our future. Bronx being the first in all things bad and last in all things good must be reversed and shall be reversed. It's all about attitude, tolerance and acceptance,” he said.
Drammeh said NCPC will implore the five borough presidents across New York City, to immediately adopt its action plan.
“We have no doubt about the immediate impact this would have in the city. Since the tragedy of 9/11, we have constantly advocated grassroots public safety prevention to all New York elected officials.
"Today, not only do they embrace it but they are also funding it. Prevention works. Things won’t change until we come together and say enough is enough. We spend more money on fighting each other than peace building. Today we are declaring a new day in the Bronx,” Drammeh concluded.
NCPC’s mission is to harmonize racial, ethnic, religious, cultural and socioeconomic differences nationally.
Bishop Rosario emphasized the need for more youths to be engaged in vocational training.
“The public school system needs to face reality about vocational training. I pray that the next leaders in the city will follow through with introducing vocational training in schools,” Bishop Rosario said.
Cabrera said what he had observed as a district leader and pastor during his 33 years of ministering in Bronx was that young people just needed opportunities and the path to success.
“This is why I am looking forward to the next leadership that is going to come and be able to create those opportunities for our young people. We need to restart the peer counseling that is no longer existent in schools,” Cabrera said.
Gibson said the Bronx Declaration speaks volumes of what must happen in the borough.
“We have to come forward with a renewed sense of commitment, compassion to transform the borough of the Bronx,” Gibson said.
“We have to get to the root cause of why the youth engage in gun violence in the first place. We have to give them community centers. They need to be given a heads up and motivate them so that they know that they don’t have to be a part of the destruction that we see. We cannot begin this New Year with the same violence from last year. There has to be innovative ways of addressing gun violence. We all have a responsibility.”
Ravelo, a former undercover cop said, “We have to ask ourselves why young people look at each and shoot each other. We should be up in arms.
"The kids need opportunities and jobs. I am ready for the job as borough president.”
Carlton Berkeley, an aspiring council member for district 11 in the Bronx, said contrary to the general perception in the NYPD that he was against them because of his advocacy for the law that requires the defendant to be availed with evidence by the prosecutors, he was not.
“I am a law and order guy. We have to fix this crime situation. The moment we started wearing masks, crime went up because these kids know that when they’re wearing masks it is difficult to recognize them,” Berkeley said.
Meanwhile, Frampton, a former gang member, said through his organization TBS New Direction, he has been actively involved in community works aimed at addressing gun violence.
“We are trying to make a difference in our community and we need to come together as one. I work throughout the Bronx, as a former gang member in the 1970s; I have all kinds of people reaching out to me. We need to reach out to the young people if we are to achieve our goals. Until we make a difference, we are going to be seeing the same problems and our children will continue to die,” Frampton concluded.