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Bronxites Plan 'Spiritual Reclaiming' of Vacant Mott Haven Building

By Eddie Small | October 12, 2016 4:57pm
 Activists looking to turn a vacant South Bronx building into a community center will see a preview of the play
Activists looking to turn a vacant South Bronx building into a community center will see a preview of the play "Party People" on Oct. 15 prior to holding a "spiritual reclaiming" of the building.
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Kevin Berne

MOTT HAVEN — A group of Bronxites plan to hold a "spiritual reclaiming" of a vacant building in the borough that they would like to see transformed into a community center.

South Bronx activists have been working for months to turn the city's empty former rehab center at 349 E. 140th St. into a center for the arts, health and education, and they will rally outside of the building in support of this goal on the evening of Oct. 15, according to South Bronx Unite, one of the groups behind the effort.

The event will begin at 8 p.m. at the nearby BronxArtSpace with a preview of the play "Party People" by the theater company Universes, a work that focuses on the complex legacies of the Young Lords and the Black Panthers. About three or four members of the Young Lords will be in attendance, according to South Bronx Unite co-founder Mychal Johnson.

After the performance, attendees will have a procession over to the vacant building, where they will host what Johnson called a "spiritual reclaiming" of the place to help raise awareness of their efforts to start using it again.

"There will be some kind of physical contact with the building," Johnson said. "There will be some words said about the importance of the structure and bringing it back into the fold for the community’s purpose."

He described the speaking portion of the event as an "open mic" where anyone who has ideas about what to use the building for or what it means to the community can talk and said the physical contact would consist of laying hands on the building.

The activists behind the push to renovate the vacant building hope to use it as a place for multiple different community groups in the South Bronx that currently do not have a permanent facility to work out of.

Linda Cunningham, co-founder of BronxArtSpace, said she was thrilled to be hosting the event and believes that making the building a more active part of the community could be a huge benefit to her organization.

"We would love to have that building," she said, "and we would have expanded kind of programming there where people who make art could have a wall for a week or a weekend to put up their own work."

"Party People" focuses heavily on the impact that history can have on the present, which South Bronx Unite co-founder Libertad Guerra viewed as a particularly relevant theme for the South Bronx as residents transition from dealing with neglect to development.

She views the event and the hopeful revitalization of the building as ways to show that groups within the South Bronx can be the ones to help improve the neighborhood.

"This is the front lines of the displacement movement that is happening in the South Bronx," she said. "There are alternative ways in which cultural and health oriented and education initiatives can be embedded in the community, and we don’t have to depend on external development."