Big Bronx energy boomed at the launch of Boogie Down Crawl for Change, a pilot for a walking tour of South Bronx-owned businesses, where locals got to know six creative business owners in their neighborhood over free empanadas, brunch and Afro-jazz.
Local small businesses like Sankofa Haus, Bronx Native and Raze Up teamed with nonprofit organization Ideas 42 to design the crawl, which aims to showcase the talent and innovation of South Bronx business owners and to collect community insight on what city policies could improve the neighborhood.
Locals and business owners said it’s the first time they had ever seen an organized crawl, which took place on March 25, through the neighborhood’s businesses. Many owners, like Amaurys Grullon of Bronx Native, expressed the need to put the creative entrepreneurship of the area under the spotlight.
“I was born and raised on Longwood, Hunts Point, and my whole life I heard negative things about my home, my borough,” said Grullon, who runs a shop for apparel and art on Lincoln Avenue. “These were narratives that I grew up with, but I have another idea. For me, the Bronx is the most beautiful place on Earth.”
Grullon has run Bronx Native, a small, graffiti-adorned store for apparel with Bronx logos, since 2015. He says his mission is to represent the power of community-based arts and combat the negative narratives that Bronxites face daily.
“The Bronx is the unhealthiest county out of all, it’s the poorest congressional district, these are stats that we live through every day,” Grullon said. “When I think about the Bronx, I’m thinking about the phoenix coming out of the ashes, I’m thinking about disenfranchised communities that didn’t get the right resources to continue growing and elevating.”
Even among local residents who live just a few streets away, many had not heard of several of the businesses, which includes a new one up the street on Lincoln Avenue, RazeUp Smash Therapy, that opened in September 2021 to provide Bronx youth a therapeutic space to release stress after the pandemic.
“We saw that it was something missing in the community. There was a lot of stress, but no outlets to really let go of that stress,” said co-owner Q Vessel. “We came up with the idea to focus on the youth. Some people come because it’s fun, some people come because they really need to let out trauma.”
Vessel says the business, which dresses participants in protective gear before leading them into ‘rage rooms’ where they can smash glass bottles with bats, is a way to provide therapy and also an opportunity to collect bottles and clean neighborhoods in the Bronx and Harlem.
“We were able to find where we can clean up the city and recycle once we’re done. One of the rewarding parts of it is seeing the look on people’s faces as they come out,” said Vessel.
Resident Andrea Myers, who lives near 149th street and Southern Boulevard, said she discovered both spots for the first time and is relieved to know about more activities for her children, nephews and nieces.
“I have two toddlers and there’s not a lot of stuff to do in the Bronx with them, so we always travel to Brooklyn and Queens because there’s a lot of activities there,” Myers said. “I have two nieces who are seniors and they just feel like it’s too much at this point, so the RazeUp spot is definitely a place that I would bring them to release stress and frustration.”
Beyond that, Myers said that the visits to the local businesses made her realize the strength of the Bronx community: “They make you feel like we belong here, that the things that were started in the Bronx are still here.”
The sponsor for the crawl, Ideas 42, aims to shift harmful and negative narratives about six cities across the country. With offices in Manhattan, Washington, D.C.,, East Bay/Oakland, Detroit, Memphis, and Jacksonville, it works to bring attention to city policies and systemic failures that cause and perpetuate poverty. Funding for its work in the city comes from Wells Fargo.
The nonprofit has networked with Bronx residents and youth for three years, and holds workshops on zoom to have conversations about what kind of policy changes in areas like affordable housing, cost of living, healthcare, education and systemic violence Bronxites want.
Nicole Russo, a principal behavioral designer at Ideas 42, said that more affordable housing has come up frequently. “We asked everyone to bring a friend, and it created a nice, natural flow of ideas to have conversations that tease out what kind of policy change Bronxites want,” said Russo.
The crawl was designed through these zoom sessions to bring more attention to the thriving culture of Bronx leaders. “The Bronx is full of talent and innovation, for us, it was how do we support and elevate the work they’re already doing,” said Russo.
Ideas 42 addresses misconceptions about poverty, namely the beliefs that poverty could be avoided if those experiencing it worked hard enough and that poverty is an inevitable result of capitalism. Russo says such misconceptions often shift the responsibility of poverty to those who experience it, rather than the systemic failures that cause it.
The last two businesses included two run by Bronx-born entrepreneur Majora Carter. At the Boogie Down Grind, a hip hop cafe on Hunts Point Avenue, crawl participants enjoyed free samples of beer and sandwiches before heading to Bronxlandia, a prior train station that Carter turned into a performance space. Bronxlandia opened for the first time this season for the finale of the crawl.
The nonprofit encouraged participants to record reflections and take photos during the crawl, and will use that feedback to plan prototypes that could expand the event in the future.