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Tenant Solidarity at the Birthplace of Hip-Hop

Posted on Thursday, August 8th, 2013.

Julia Mareano (l) and Rye Love at 1520 Sedgwick in the Bronx, NY.

Julia Mareano and Rye Love at 1520 Sedgwick in the Bronx, NY.

At the beginning of summer, StoryCorps went to 1520 Sedgwick, the residential high-rise building in the Bronx considered by many as hip hop’s birthplace.

During our two-day stay, we recorded stories with residents in the same community room DJ Kool Herc played funky beats in the summer of 1973– giving birth to New York City’s homegrown artform. At 1520 Sedgwick, we were also able to capture stories of long-time tenants who spoke about their kids “rapping” with Kool Herc in the community room in the 1970’s and about changes the building and neighborhood have gone through in the last decades.

At 1520 Sedgwidk, we met Rye Love, a writer, singer, songwriter and former model, who spoke of what it’s like to live in such a notorious building for years. He talked about how as an artist himself he is inspired by those who came before him. Rye Love came to StoryCorps with his neighbor, Julia Mareano, who spoke of the changes in the neighborhood and challenging times living at 1520 Sedgwick since she moved in 27 years ago.

In the 1980’s, as many middle class families were fleeing to the suburbs, 1520 Sedgwick had fallen into neglect in the midst of urban decay so prevalent in other Bronx neighborhoods. Julia talked about a rent strike tenants organized in 1986 against their slumlord who did little to upkeep the 102-unit high-rise. Julia, who was one of the leading tenant organizers, spoke of the solidarity among residents during the strike and how the their organization set up a bank account to keep all rent funds, hired a lawyer and took the case to court. The case was settled in favor of the tenant association.

Today, that same feeling of solidarity and community is widespread in the building as it goes through an upgrade thanks to a reinvestment project. As 1520 Sedgwick takes on a new life as a historical landmark, it continues to offer an affordable housing option for tenants who are as communal as they are proud to call the building home.

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