METROFOCUS: FEBRUARY 7, 2020

We have an inside look at the world’s most recognized neighborhood as it commemorates the centennial of its artistic and cultural revolution, The Harlem Renaissance. In the 1970s, 80% of the South Bronx burned to the ground. Now, one resident activist is uncovering the untold story behind the fires and the community that chose to resist, remain and rebuild.

Aired on February 7, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> TONIGHT ON 'METROFOCUS.'

CELEBRATING HARLEM.

THE IMPACT OF THE ARTISTIC AND LITERARY EXPLOSION THAT BECAME KNOWN AS THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE IS STILL BEING FELT TODAY.

AND NOW IT IS ALSO BEING CELEBRATED.

WE HAVE AN INSIDE LOOK AT THE WORLD'S MOST RECOGNIZED NEIGHBORHOOD AS IT COMMEMORATES THE CENTENNIAL OF THAT UNPRECEDENTED CULTURAL REVOLUTION.

THEN THE BRONX DECADE OF FIRE.

IN THE 1970s, 80% OF THE SOUTH BRONX BURNED TO THE GROUND.

WHO LIT THE MATCH AND WHO BORE THE BLAME?

OUR RESIDENT ACTIVIST UNCOVERS THE UNTOLD STORY BEHIND THE FIRES AND THE COMMUNITY THAT CHOSE TO RESIST, REMAIN AND REBUILD.

> THOSE STORIES AND MORE AS 'METROFOCUS' STARTS RIGHT NOW.

THIS IS 'METROFOCUS' WITH RAFAEL PI ROMAN, JACK FORD, AND JENNA FLANAGAN.

'METROFOCUS' IS MADE POSSIBLE BY JAMES AND MERRYL TISCH, SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III, THE SYLVIA A. AND SIMON B. POYTA PROGRAMING ENDOWMENT TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM.

BERNARD AND IRENE SCHWARTZ, ROSALIND P. WALTER, BARBARA HOPE ZUCKERBERG, AND BY --

> GOOD EVENING.

WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

HARLEM IS ARGUABLY THE MOST RECOGNIZED NEIGHBORHOOD.

A MECCA FOR BLACK CULTURE, IT IS PERHAPS BEST KNOWN FOR THE EXPLOSION OF ART, POETRY AND MUSIC OCCURRED THERE IN THE 1920s AND CONSTITUTED A MOVEMENT KNOWN COLLECTIVELY AS THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE.

NOW OVER 40 HARLEM INSTITUTIONS ARE COLLABORATING ON THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE 100.

A YEAR-LONG CELEBRATION OF THE HISTORIC CENTENNIAL.

IT AIMS TO BRING TO THE PUBLIC AN EXTENDED GROUP OF PERHAPS AND ACTIVITIES ALL HIGHLIGHTING THE PAST AND THE FUTURE.

JOINING US NOW TO TELL US MORE ABOUT THE CELEBRATION, THE PRESIDENT OF THE HARLEM ONE STOP.

A COMMUNITY BASED NONPROFIT AND TOUR OPERATOR THAT IS SPEARHEADING THE PROJECT.

AND JOHN REDDICK, A HARLEM HISTORIAN PARTICIPATING IN HARLEM RENT SANCTION 100.

WELCOME TO BOTH OF YOU.

WHAT EXACTLY WAS THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE?

THERE WAS A LARGE ARMISTICE PARADE.

THEY WERE A SIGNIFICANT PLAYER IN THAT GROUP.

THEY WERE VICTORIOUS IN SENDING OUT THE MUSIC THAT WOULD BECOME THE JAZZ RHYTHMS FOR THE RENAISSANCE PERIOD.

SO WE'RE CELEBRATING THAT KICKOFF AFTER THE WAR AND WHAT STARTS TO BE THE PROHIBITION WITH THE RENAISSANCE.

WHO ARE SOME OF THE PEOPLE ASSOCIATED WITH THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE?

IT IS VERY INTERESTING.

THERE WAS AN EARLIER GROUP THERE, A RAG TIME ARTIST THAT VERY FEW PEOPLE KNOW.

BUT THEY INFLUENCE PEOPLE LIKE GERSHWIN.

THE SECOND LARGEST JEWISH COMMUNITY IN NEW YORK.

SO THE AMERICAN SONG BOOK COMES OUT OF THE INTERSECTION OF THESE TWO GROUPS.

SOME INDIVIDUALS THAT OUR VIEWERS MAY KNOW.

PAUL ROBE SON?

JOSEPHINE BAKER.

THEY GOT THEIR STARTS IN HARLEM AND BECAME INTERNATIONAL CELEBRITIES.

THEY BECAME THE AMBASSADORS OF THE CULTURE.

LOUIE ARMSTRONG.

NO MATTER WHERE YOU WERE IN AMERICA, IF YOU WERE A BLACK ARTIST AND INSPIRED, YOU CAME TO HARLEM.

YEAH.

WHAT WAS THE GENESIS OF THIS AMBITIOUS PROJECT?

HOW DID IT COME TO BE?

AMBITIOUS INDEED.

THIS IS AN EXCITING TIME MANY HARLEM WITH ALL THE CHANGES, THE GENTRIFICATION, NEW RESIDENTS MOVING IN.

SO IT IS EXCITING AND WE WANTED TO INTRODUCE HARLEM AND WHAT IT MEANS TO THE COMMUNITY AND TO THE WORLD.

WHO IS WE?

YOU AND A FRIEND?

HERE'S AN IDEA.

WHY DON'T WE SPEND A WHOLE YEAR OF OUR LIVES PUTTING TOGETHER THE MOST IMPORTANT ORGANIZATION?

SO WE THOUGHT IT WAS IMPORTANT TO COMMEMORATE THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE AND NOW MORE THAN EVER, IT WAS IMPORTANT TO NOT LOSE THE CULTURAL ESSENCE OF WHAT WAS HARLEM, WHAT IS HARLEM.

DO YOU THINK THAT'S A POSSIBILITY IN.

WELL, THERE IS A POSSIBILITY.

NEIGHBORHOODS CHANGE.

PEOPLE FORGET THEIR HISTORY AND THAT IS ANOTHER REASON FOR HAVING THIS CELEBRATION.

SHE GROU UP IN JAMAICA, I GREW UP IN PHILADELPHIA.

BUT HARLEM WAS A BEACON.

WE'RE POST CIVIL RIGHTS ERA.

THE PASSION THEY'VE GIVEN US, WE WANT TO SEND THAT BACK OUT IN WAVES.

SO THERE HAS BEEN GENTRYIFICATION.

I DON'T LIKE TO PEWS WORD BECAUSE IT IS RESOURCES FOR THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE.

REASURGENCE, YOUNG PEOPLE.

I WAS TALKING TO THE STAFF HERE ABOUT THE RESTAURANTS IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD.

THAT'S WHAT WE WANT TO REVITALIZE AND GET THE WORD OUT.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ORGANIZATIONS INVOLVED?

I MENTION AD COUPLE OF THEM.

YOU MENTION THAT HAD THERE ARE OVER 30, 40 ORGANIZATIONS.

IT INCLUDES THE LARGE AND SMALL ONES.

THE APOLLO, FOR ONE, THE SCHAUMBURG, THE NEW YORK HIS, TOAL SOCIETY.

ALTHOUGH THEY'RE NOT BASED IN HARLEM BUT THEY HAVE A PLETHORA OF AFRICAN CENTRIST PROGRAMS WHICH REALLY SPEAK CURRENTLY NOW TO THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE.

AND YOU'RE GOING ON INTRODUCE SOME ORGANIZATIONS --

THAT ARE LESSER KNOWN.

TO NEW YORKERS.

YES.

THE COURSE OF DOING THIS PROJECT, YOU'VE BEEN AT IT SINCE THE BEGINNING.

WHAT HAVE YOU DISCOVERED ABOUT HOW MUCH NEW YORKERS KNEW ABOUT HARLEM?

THE RENAISSANCE?

NOT ONLY NEW YORK AND THE COUNTRY BUT THE WORLD.

SO VERY LITTLE.

IN TERMS OF HARLEM, ONE OF THE MAIN MOTIVATIONS AT THAT TIME WAS TO GET AWAY FROM THE WHITE STEREO TYPE OF WHAT AFRICAN NEGRO OR BLACK AMERICAN LIFE WAS.

TODAY WE WANT TO TELL WORLD THAT HARLEM IS STILL HARLEM CULTURALLY.

THE ENERGY AND THE VITALITY STILL EXISTS.

I MENTION THAT HAD IN THE INTRODUCTION.

THIS IS NOT JUST LOOKING BACK AT HISTORY.

IT IS THE UNDERPINNING.

I MENTIONED THE HOP HOP WRITERS CAME BEFORE GEORGE GERSHWIN.

WE WANT TO HAVE THIS INTERACTION.

THIS IS A WAY TO BRING A LIGHT TO WHAT'S GOING ON.

CERTAINLY NOT JUST ABOUT THE PAST.

THE PAST AND THE FUTURE.

SO THIS HAS ALREADY STARTED.

WE'VE ALREADY STARTED THE CENTENNIAL.

TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE EVENTS OUR VIEWERS MIGHT HAVE TO LOOK FORWARD TO GOING ON OVER THE COURSE OF THE YEAR.

WELL, THERE IS THE PROGRAM THAT HUGE SCALE, IT INCLUDES 100-PIECE CHOIR.

AND IT FEATURES DAMIAN SNEED, THE COMPOSER AND ARTIST, RECORDING ARTIST.

THERE IS AN OPEN HOUSE AT THE APOLLO WHICH FILMS INCLUDE FILM SCREENING AS WELL AS PERFORMANCES.

AND WE HAVE ON THE KAENL DARR HARLEM'S JAZZ ICONS, GEORGE GERSHWIN WHO IS NOT PARTICULARLY KNOWN FOR JAZZ.

BILLY STRAYHORN.

THAT'S JUST SCRATCHING THE SURFACE.

ON.

YOUR BACKGROUND IS IN ARCHITECTURE.

I WAS WONDERING, TO WHAT DEGREE DID THE ARREST TEXTURE OF HARLEM INSPIRE THE ARTISTS --

WELL, COMING FROM PHILADELPHIA AND READING ABOUT THE ARM STIS PARADE AND THE BLACK SOLDIERS MARCHING UP FIFTH AVENUE.

AS AN ARCHITECT, I CAN NEVER COME UP FIFTH AVENUE AND REALIZE, NOT ONLY HAD THOSE SOLDIERS FOUGHT IN EUROPE AND SEEN PARIS, BUT THEY REALIZED THE DISTRICT LOOKED LIKE PARIS.

THE BROAD BOULEVARDS AND THE SENSE OF HE WILL POWERMENT.

IT IS NOT CATFISH ROW.

IT IS A BEAUTIFUL NEIGHBORHOOD.

EVERYONE GOES, OH, WE DIDN'T REALIZE IT WAS THAT BEAUTIFUL.

IT HAS BEEN THAT BEAUTIFUL OVER 100 YEARS.

SO THE HEIGHTS IN CENTRAL HARLEM AND THE BROAD BOULEVARDS, WE WANT PEOPLE TO COME EXPERIENCE THE VITALITY, THE ENERGY THAT MAKES PEOPLE FEEL LIKE THEY'RE IN A SPECIAL PLACE OF THE.

DO YOU FEE LIKE I WAS EXAGGERATING IT IN THE INTRODUCTION?

I SAID THAT HARLEM IS ARGUABLY THE BEST KNOWN NEIGHBORHOOD IN THE WORLD?

I TRAVEL ALL OVER THE WORLD.

YOU MENTION HARLEM.

YOU CAN MENTION A $5 MILLION HOUSE AND THE NEXT CONVERSATION NONGS BILLIONAIRES WILL BE ABOUT THE NEIGHBORHOOD.

WHAT DID THE OPPRESSED FIND AS A MECCA?

IT TURNED INTO THIS GLORIOUS PLACE.

IT IS A BEACON FOR ANY GROUP LOOKING THE PUSH THEIR CULTURE FORWARD.

AND I WOULD LIKE THE ASK BOTH OF YOU THIS QUESTION.

IT IS CLEAR, THE IMPACT, THE EFFECT THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE HAD ON BLACK HISTORY AND CULTURE.

IT HOMELESS A PROFOUND EFFECT ON THE HISTORY AND THE CULTURE OF AMERICA OVERALL.

ON TELL US HOW THAT IS.

MUSIC GOES OVER THE WALL.

SO HIP HOP, ALL THOSE BEATS.

IF YOU GET THE BEAT, YOU GET THE CULTURE.

AND I THINK AFRICAN-AMERICANS WERE SYNCING IN A MUSICAL WAY THAT BROUGHT OTHERS ON BOARD AND YOU STILL SEE IT IN THE HIP HOP.

THEY DIDN'T HAVE MUSIC IN THEIR EXCUSE.

YET THEY FIGURED OUT A WAY TO MAKE MUSIC THROUGH SAMPLING.

THERE IS A GENIUS THAT WE DON'T PUT FORWARD.

WE FEEL LIKE THE KEEPERS.

SO WE WANT YOU TO FEEL IT FIRST.

WOULD AMERICA BE THE SAME IF THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE HADN'T HAPPENED?

I DON'T THINK SO.

JUST THE DEVELOPMENT OF JAZZ.

JUST THE JAZZ AND THE LITERARY ART.

IT WOULDN'T BE THE SAME.

IT WOULDN'T HAVE THE ENERGY AND VITALITY.

WE WERE TALKING ABOUT THIS BEFORE THE CAMERAS STARTED ROLLING OF THIS SHOULD BE TAUGHT IN HISTORY BOOKS, AT LEAST IN NEW YORK CITY.

AFTER THE YEAR IS OVER AND YOU'LL FINALLY BE ABLE TO REST FOR 24 HOURS, WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO HAVE ACCOMPLISHED?

WELL, A GREATER APPRECIATION AND AWARENESS FOR HARLEM AND THE SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPACT WORLDWIDE.

AND ALSO, A SENSE OF EMPOWERMENT.

ESPECIALLY FOR YOUNG KIDS.

AND ORGANIZATIONS PARTICIPATING, BIG AND SMALL, A CHANCE FOR THE SMALLER ONES TO SEE WE CAN REALLY PARTNER TOGETHER AND PULL THINGS FORWARD AND GET ATTENTION.

A LOT OF SMALL GROUPS, AS GOOD AS THEY ARE, LIKE THE AIRING OF THE SHOW YOU'RE GIVING AS YOU CHANCE TO GET THE VOICES OUT.

I THINK THAT WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

AND EACH ORGANIZATION WAS INVITED BECAUSE OF THE VARIOUS ELEMENTS OF THE HARLEM RENT SANLS THEY REPRESENTED EXTREMELY WELL.

MUSIC, LITERARY, DANCE, JAZZ, SO WE'RE VERY EXCITED.

WE HOPE EVERYONE WILL COME UP TO EXPERIENCE IT.

I'LL BE THERE.

ALL RIGHT.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

OUR PLEASURE.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON HARLEM RENAISSANCE 100, YOU CAN VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT METROFOCUS.ORG.

> IN THE 1970s, THE SOUTH BRONX WAS LITERALLY ON FIRE.

THE SCALE OF THE DEVASTATION DURING THAT DECADE IS HARD TO FATHOM.

40 FIRES A DAY ACCORDING TO ONE ESTIMATE.

A CONTINUOUS BLAZE THAT WOULD END UP DESTROYING 80% OF THE HOUSING STOCK IN THE AREA, REDUCING ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOODS TO RUBBLE.

BUT JUST WHY AND HOW WAS THE SOUTH BRONX ALLOWED TO BURN TO THE GROUND?

IT IS A QUESTION THAT STILL TROUBLES LONG TIME RESIDENTS AND THE SUBJECT OF A DOCUMENTARY ON INDEPENDENT LENS.

DECADE OF FIRE FOLLOWS A BRONX FOREIGN ACTIVIST AS SHE UNCOVERS THE UNTOLD STORY BEHIND THE FIRES, REVEALING SHOCKING NEGLECT AT EVERY LEVEL OF GOVERNMENT.

HERE'S A PREVIEW.

I GREW UP IN THE 1970s.

LANDLORDS WERE BURNING OUR BUILDINGS FOR PROFIT AND THEY DIDN'T HAVE TO REBILLION-DOLLAR OUR HOLES OF A, OUR HOPES.

ER THESE WERE OUR HOMES.

THIS WAS OUR NEIGHBORHOOD.

SNS AS PART OF OUR CHASING THE DREAM INITIATIVE, CO-PRODUCERS OF DECADE OF FIRE, VIVIAN VAZQUEZ AND GRETCHEN JOIN US NOW.

WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU.

THIS WAS SUCH A POWERFUL DOCUMENTARY.

VIVIAN, I WANT TO START WITH YOU.

TELL ME HOW DID THIS FILM COME INTO EXISTENCE?

WE, JEWEL I CAN'T ALLEN AND I WHO IS OUR CO-PRODUCER WORKED TOGETHER IN THE BRONX DURING THE EARLY PART OF 2000s.

WE WERE PART OF 21st CENTURY SMALL SCHOOLS MOVEMENT.

WE WERE WORKING THE CBO, IN A CBO, I'M SORRY, TO START A SMALL SCHOOL.

WE WANTED TO WRITE A CRITICAL LITTLE FOR BRONX HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS SO THEY CAN LEARN ABOUT THEIR HISTORY IN THE BRONX.

BUT WE KEPT TALKING ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED IN THE SOUTH BRONX DURING THE 1970s.

I KEPT TALKING ABOUT MY EXPERIENCES, HOW I GREW UP, AND JULIA ENCOURAGED ME TO WRITE ABOUT IT AND THEN EVENTUALLY SHE ENCOURAGED ME TO WORK ON FILM.

SHE INTRODUCED ME TO GRETCHEN AND THEN WE BEGAN FILMING FRIENDS AND TELLING OUR STORY ABOUT HOW WE GREW UP IN THE SOUTH BRONX.

WHAT THE CONTEXT WAS OF THE DAY.

FOR MANY OF US, WE HAD A GREAT TIME LIKE ALL KIDS HAVE A GREAT TIME BUT THERE WAS THIS BACK DROP OF DEVASTATION AND NEGLECT THAT WAS EVER SO PRESENT IN OUR MEMORIES.

I WANT TO SAY, I FOUND IT SO ENGROSSING ABOUT THE FILM.

YOU WERE ABLE TO GET SO MUCH FOOTAGE THAT MADE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU WERE THERE.

HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO PUT TOGETHER ALL OF THESE PIECES THAT REALLY BROUGHT THE AUDIENCE INTO THE SPACE THAT I THINK FOR MYSELF, I DIDN'T GROW UP IN THE CITY.

I WASN'T THERE.

YOU FEEL LIKE IT THOUGH WHEN YOU WATCH IT.

WE FIRST STARTED WORKING ON IT IN 2008.

IT WAS A TEN-YEAR PROCESS.

WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT, THAT WAS OUR END GOAL.

BUT IT DEFINITELY WAS A HUGE AMOUNT OF WORK AND WE WORKED TOGETHER COLLABORATIVELY.

WHILE I WOULD BE DOING THE FILMING OR THE ED ITTING, WE ALSO TALKED EVERY WEEK ABOUT THE STORY.

THERE'S A HUGE AMOUNT OF AMAZING FOOTAGE AND I CAN TELL YOU MORE ABOUT WHERE WE FOUND THAT.

I THINK WHAT DRAWS YOU IN, WE SPENT SO MUCH TIME TALKING ABOUT HOW TO LET THE VIEWER EXPERIENCE THIS STORY THROUGH VIVIAN'S EYES.

SO OFTEN THE BRONX IS PORTRAYED BY OUTSIDERS AS THIS OTHER PLACE.

YOU WOULDN'T BELIEVE WHAT'S HAPPENING THERE AND WE WANTED TO BRING PEOPLE INTO THAT EXPERIENCE.

THE ACTUAL LOVE THAT PEOPLE HAD FOR THE BRONX AND FOR THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS THERE.

IT IS WHAT ENTICED THEM TO STAY AND FIGHT FOR IT.

SO IN ADDITION TO THE HEART AND SOUL OF YOUR STORY SPECIFICALLY, THIS IS VERY MUCH A HISTORY LESSON.

AND YOU LEARN A LOT ABOUT, AS I'M SAYING IN THE INTRO, THE FAILURES OF GOVERNMENT AT EVERY SINGLE LEVEL.

LET'S GO BACK TO ONE OF THE BIG ISSUES.

THAT WAS THE RED LINING.

THE CREATION OF THE SOUTH BRONX, IF YOU WILL.

WHY WAS IT SO IMPORTANT TO MAKE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND, FIRST OF ALL, WHY THIS NEIGHBORHOOD WAS INTENTIONALLY CREATED THE WAY IT WAS?

SO RED LINING BEGAN IN BROOKLYN IN THE 19, THE BEGINNING OF THE 1900s.

AND IT STARTED OFF IN NEIGHBORHOODS THAT BANKS OR POLICY MAKERS JUST WANTED TO KIND OF GET RID OF.

SO WHEN IT CAME TO THE BRONX, IT BASICALLY CAME, THE WAY THAT I INTERPRETED IT WAS, THIS NEIGHBORHOOD IS A BAD BET BECAUSE WE NOW HAVE A GROWING NUMBER OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN AND PUERTO RICAN PEOPLE LIVING IN AND IT THERE IS NO USE IN SUPPORTING THIS NEIGHBORHOOD.

THESE FOLKS DON'T KNOW HOW TO TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES SO WE MIGHT AS WELL LEAVE THEM THERE.

SO WHAT THAT MEANT IN PRACTICAL TERMS BALTIMORE FOLKS WERE NOT PROVIDED WITH ANY LOANS.

THERE WERE NO RESOURCES TO HELP BUILD OR RESTORE OR MAINTAIN THE BUILDINGS.

WHICH WAS REALLY IMPORTANT.

THESE WERE PRE-WAR BELIEVES.

A LOT OF THE ELECTRICAL WIRING WAS OLD.

THEY COULDN'T SUPPORT THE NEW ITEMS COMING INTO PLAY, HAIR DRYERS AND HEATERS AND THINGS LIKE THAT.

ON THERE WAS NO WAY TO GET NEW SERVICES.

WHAT RED LINING MEANS, YOU DRAW A RED LINE AROUND A COMMUNITY AND THEN YOU DECIDE NOT TO PROVIDE, THE GOVERNMENT DECIDES ALONG WITH PRIVATE ENTITIES, DECIDE THAT THEY'RE NOT GOING TO PROVIDE ANY ECONOMIC SUPPORT TO THAT AREA.

AND THAT DEVASTATED THE COMMUNITY.

WE NEEDED ECONOMIC SUPPORT.

EVERY COMMUNITY NEEDS A LEVEL OF ECONOMIC, POLITICAL, SOCIAL SUPPORT.

WHAT THAT DID, WHEN SOMEONE BUYS A HOME NOWADAYS, YOU GET A HOME.

YOU WANT TO FIX IT.

YOU REFINANCE.

YOU DO SOMETHING.

THERE WAS NO ECONOMIC INCENTIVE TO SUPPORT THE SOUTH BRONX.

AND OF COURSE, THE FILM ALSO ADDRESSES THERE WAS NO ECONOMIC INCREMENTIVE ON THE PART OF THE LAND LORDS TO SUPPORT.

HAS THERE EVER BEEN PROVEN BEYOND A SHADOW OF A DOUBT THAT LANDLORDS WERE BURNING THESE BUILDINGS?

OR IS THAT SOMETHING THAT HAS BEEN COME TO BE UNDERSTOOD?

WHAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO KNOW DURING THIS PERIOD IS THAT THE CITY WAS CUTTING BACK FIRE SERVICES ACROSS THE CITY.

SO THE ABILITY OF THE FIRE DEPARTMENT TO RESPOND TO FIRES AND THEY CUT DRAMATICALLY THE NUMBER OF FIRE SHALS.

WE TALK ABOUT THIS IN THE FILM.

FIRE MARSHALS SHOW UP TO INVESTIGATE A SUSPICIOUS FIRE.

THE NUMBERS VARY OVER TIME BUT IT WAS WOEFULLY UNDERSTAFFED.

SO THE VAST MAJORITY, IF THEY WERE RECORDED AT ALL, MANY WERE NEVER REPORTED, THEY WERE NOT INVESTIGATED.

SO IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO KNOW THE CAUSES OF MANY OF THESE FIRES BECAUSE THEY HAPPENED FOUR YEARS AGO AND NOBODY EVER TOOK DOWN RECORDS ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED.

BUT THERE WERE A HANDLE OF PROSECUTIONS AND THERE WAS A FEDERAL INVESTIGATION BY FEMA, ACTUALLY.

INTO THE PRACTICES OF LAND LORDS AND THE INSURANCE COMPANIES AS WELL.

WE FOUND THIS RESEARCH BY VIVIAN GOES TO DIFFERENT ARCHIVES AND DIGS IT UP.

IT IS NOT OUT THERE.

IT IS NOT IN THE PUBLIC MIND THAT THIS IS SOMETHING THAT WAS A PRETTY WIDESPREAD PRACTICE BY A CERTAIN TIME.

ANECDOTALLY, IT WAS WELL KNOWN.

SO MANY REASONS WHY THIS FILM IS SO IMPORTANT AND IT ADDRESSES THE ISSUE THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE IN THE NEIGHBORHOODS IN THE SOUTH BRONX INTERNALIZED AND BLAMED THEMSELVES FOR THE FIRES.

AND THERE IS ALSO ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE OF THE CITY OFFICIALS AT THE TIME.

SAYING IT WAS THE FAULT OF THE PEOPLE IN THE SOUTH BRONX.

THIS FILM LAYS OUT A CASE FOR WHY IT'S NOT.

WHY THE PEOPLE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD SHOULDN'T BE BLAMING THEMSELVES.

WHY WAS THAT SO IMPORTANT?

BECAUSE IF YOU LOOK AT THE CURRENT DAY, YOU WALK AROUND.

I WORK IN YOUTH DEVELOPMENT WEST SEE YOUNG PEOPLE CARRY A LEGACY THAT DOESN'T BELONG TO THEM.

THEY COME FROM THE SOUTH BRONX.

THEY COME FROM A POOR NEIGHBORHOOD.

THE NARRATIVE THAT IS CONVENTIONAL WISDOM IS THAT POOR PEOPLE ARE POOR AND THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS ARE RUN DOWN BECAUSE THEY DON'T KNOW HOW TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS.

THAT'S WHAT WE OFTEN HEAR.

THAT'S WHAT WE OFTEN HEARD.

WE WERE TOLD, THE PEOPLE THERE THE SOUTH BRONX.

IT WAS ARSON.

AND THE PEOPLE IN THE SOUTH BRONX BURNED THEIR BUILDINGS.

THAT'S WHAT WE OFTEN HEARD.

THAT IS A VERY NEGATIVE AND INTERNAL EMOTION.

THAT IS A MESSAGE THAT MANIFESTS ITSELF IN ANGER OR FEAR.

OR SELF-BLAME OR EVEN LIKE SELF-ESTEEM.

PLENTY OF US, WE KNEW LANDLORDS WERE BURNING THEIR BUILDINGS BUT WE WERE BLAMED.

I TALK ABOUT THIS WITH FREEDOM THE SOUTH BRONX OR MY FRIENDS.

ANYWHERE I GO, IF I SAY FRYMAN THE SOUTH BRONX, PEOPLE SAY OH, DO YOU CARRY A KNIFE?

IS IT SAFE?

THERE IS ALWAYS THAT STIGMA.

WE HAVE INTERNALIZED THAT.

THAT'S THE MESSAGE WE'VE RECEIVED FROM THE OUTSIDE WORLD AND EVEN WITHIN OURSELVES.

WE WERE LIKE, OH, YEAH.

WE WERE THE ONES WHO BURNED IT BUT THAT'S NOT THE CASE.

FOR ME, IT WAS SO REVEALING TO REVEAL THE FACT PORES RED LINING DID.

WE DIDN'T HAVE A CHANCE.

URBAN RENEWAL.

WHITE FLIGHT.

THE IDEA THAT FIRE HOUSES WERE CUT AT A TIME WHEN WE WERE BURNING?

AND THEN WE GOT BLAMED FOR THAT.

BUT WE THE PROTECTION WE NEEDED.

BUT WE GOT BLAMED FOR BURNING OUR NEIGHBORHOODS?

THAT'S VERY IMPACTFUL.

I THINK PEOPLE WALK AROUND THINKING, I DON'T LIVE IN A SAFE NEIGHBORHOOD.

I'M FROM THIS PLACE CALLED THE SOUTH BRONX.

PEOPLE DON'T WANT TO HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH ME OR THEY SEE ME IN A CERTAIN WAY.

WE NEEDED TO FLIP THE SCRIPT.

DEFINITELY THE FILM DOES THAT.

NOT ONLY DO YOU LAY OUT THE REASONS REQUEST THERE SHOULDN'T BE SELF-BLAME BUT THE RESILIENCY OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD AFTER THE FIRES.

HOW PEOPLE CAME TOGETHER AND SAID, IF WE'RE NOT GOING TO GET HELP, WE'LL REBUILD OUR NEIGHBORHOODS.

RIGHT.

WE WEREN'T RESPONSIBLE FOR IT.

WE ACTUALLY SAVED THE SOUTH BRONX.

ALL RIGHT.

LADIES, I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR THIS FILM.

IT IS SUCH A CRUCIAL RETELLING.

IT HASN'T BEEN GIVEN THE ATTENTION THAT IT SHOULD SO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS FLIP.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON DECADE OF FIRE, VISIT US AT METROFOCUS.ORG.

'METROFOCUS' IS MADE POSSIBLE BY JAMES AND MERRYL TISCH, SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III, THE SYLVIA A. AND SIMON B. POYTA PROGRAMING ENDOWMENT TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM.

BERNARD AND IRENE SCHWARTZ, ROSALIND P. WALTER, BARBARA HOPE ZUCKERBERG, AND BY --

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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