Longtime advocate wins anti-corruption award
It’s difficult to get more than a few sentences from Ronald Topping before he stops to check in with a passerby, making sure his tenants have school supplies for their kids and that everyone has enough to eat. Topping has been the tenant association president of John Adams Houses in Melrose for two years and has spent a year as president of the advisory board for BronxWorks.
On Oct. 2, Topping was one of four activists nationwide to receive an anti-corruption award from The New York City Independence Clubs, a group whose stated goal is to promote non-partisan politics and grassroots activism. Previous recipients of the award, which is intended to honor activists who fight injustice in their communities, include former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who received the award in 2010 for his attempts to bring non-partisan elections to the city.
“Ronald has stepped forward to become a leading voice in his community and citywide, fighting back against the NextGen plan that undermines public housing,” said Cathy Stewart, the Independence Clubs’ citywide coordinator.
NextGeneration NYCHA is a controversial plan launched by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2015. Although the objective of the initiative was to protect and preserve the city’s public housing, many have criticized the plan, saying that it benefits developers at the expense of public housing residents. The plan calls for raising funds to pay for maintenance of existing public housing complexes and construct new units. The mayor’s office has expressed concern over threats of federal budget cuts in 2018 that would result in an estimated $320 million cut to NYCHA’s funding.
To draw attention to tenants’ concerns, Topping called for and helped organize a march for affordable housing to take place in the South Bronx on Oct. 7, the city’s third march this year.
“Ronald is doing what every tenants’ association president who cares about the fate of their community should be doing,” said Dr. Lenora Fulani, the march leader and former Green Party candidate for vice president.
Topping grew up in the John Adams Houses and returned home to care for his mother—who has lived in the complex since 1964—after time away. In addition to the march, Topping has organized health fairs at Adams Houses, and a family day in September to make sure his tenants had school supplies. With help from BronxWorks, he was able to provide turkeys for residents last Thanksgiving and knocked on doors to personally deliver presents last Christmas.
“I advocate for my tenants when the elevators are broken, when my tenants can’t afford their rent,” he said. As tenant association president, he also secures rent reductions and rent credits for fellow residents.
Staying active in community affairs is a lifelong passion for the Melrose native. As a student at Mark Brown College in Tennessee, he was a boxer, played and coached basketball and sang in the traveling choir. In addition, he served as a Black College Fund Ambassador, where he spoke in 70 cities on behalf of Historically Black Colleges. In September, he took a group of tenants to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the African American Civil War Museum in Washington D.C. to learn about the role of African Americans in the development of the nation.
Running a tenant association is a new challenge for Topping, but one he is likely to excel in, said a colleague.
“He’s a new TA president not well versed in the ins and outs of NYCHA, but he’s willing to learn,” said Danny Barber, tenant association president at the Andrew Jackson Houses and close friend of Topping.
Topping says he is eager to start working with young men from two rival gangs, the Young Gunnaz and the Jack Boys, to divert them from drugs and gang violence. Adams Houses has been the scene of gun violence in recent years, including the high profile murder of a young mother who was killed in 2016 when she was gunned down by a stray bullet while shielding her children.
“This cannot be a one-man show,” he said. “It has to be a community effort.”