Category Archives: Reporting

Free At Last

The Brooklyn Women’s Shelter is a hulking beige compound on a desolate street in East New York. The walls are fringed with barbed-wire and pictures of the outside are actively discouraged by security. Photography of the interior is totally prohibited. Visitors are forbidden too; to sneak inside you would have to disable the electric lock on the heavy doors of the only entrance, creep under the looming arch of a metal detector and weave, somehow unobserved, through a waiting room occupied by wary guards.

For the last two months, Raqibah Basir has shared a room at the shelter with 11 other women. Her nights are often sleepless. A wet towel placed on the wrong bed or a missing toothbrush is enough to spark a fight. She can’t eat the shelter’s food because she needs a low-sodium diet for her hypertension but the disability checks she uses for meals – saltless chicken soup sipped in local cafes and stewed dumplings packaged in polystyrene containers – are resources she could be saving for an apartment.

Two years ago, the state released Basir after 27 years in prison. She had been convicted of murdering her daughter in a fit of rage after the discovery of missing money, a crime of which, Basir insists, she is innocent. She spent four years in Rikers Island, 21 in Bedford Hills and two in Albion. Since her release, she has been shuttled from shelter to shelter.

Now, at 57, Basir is very old to be starting all over again. But that’s the challenge facing a growing number of older ex-inmates thrust into freedom in New York State.

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Originally published at The Journalist as HistorianScreen Shot 2014-05-14 at 7.43.00 PMFROM THE BLOG

In the Court of the Crime Queen of Harlem

By Sumi Naidoo 

This is the last notable series of events in the life of Stephanie St. Clair, the Harlem Renaissance’s queen of the criminal underground. Ever the chameleon, by her wedding day St. Clair had already reinvented herself as a French exquisite, then a black Mafia don, and then a civil rights activist. Despite the considerable risks she had undertaken in her quest to carve out her own little Harlem world, St. Clair continued, somehow, to come out on top. Until, that is, she married perhaps the only person in Harlem as enigmatic as herself: Sufi Abdul Hamid.

A Wedding and A Court Case

Three shots rang out in the third floor hall of 309 West 125th St in Harlem, less than a block down from the newly reopened Apollo Theater. It was 3:10 p.m. on Tuesday, January 18, 1938. Outside, the .38 revolver’s booming report most likely lost itself in the chatter of the bustling crowds and the metallic rattle of the Kingsbridge, Broadway and Tenth Avenue streetcars that ran up and down 125th Street, carrying passengers from Manhattan to the Bronx and back. No one who had been outside the office block admitted to hearing the gun go off — not the first, second or third time. But inside, the noise ricocheted off walls and slithered down staircases, looking for a willing host. It found two. With their ears, if not their eyes, elevator operator Clarence Dade and housewife Nettie Roach bore witness. On that otherwise ordinary Tuesday, they heard Stephanie St. Clair shooting her once husband-by-contract, Sufi Abdul Hamid.
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Immigration Myths Debunked

Originally Published at

Immigration is a hot button issue in both the U.S. as a whole, and in New York City specifically, at the moment, as Mayor De Blasio hands out ID cards and the president debates immigration reform. Here are a few “facts” about NYC immigrants that you might want to reconsider (with handy dandy graphs!)

MYTH: Immigrants All Vote Democrat

In a speech during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held in Maryland this March, billionaire and reality TV embarrassment pundit, Donald Trump, made the argument that  a vote for immigration reform was a vote for liberals.


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Straight, Asian American and Alone

Originally published at: Newcomers of New York

It’s 2014, and the dating habits of New Yorkers, always cosmopolitan, are now more visibly diverse than ever. While Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda were once the (white) faces of big apple romance on the small screen, a new generation of fictional daters are making multiracial love mainstream – like OB/GYN Mindy Lahiri, played by South Asian actor Mindy Kaling on Fox‘s Manhattan-based comedy, “The Mindy Project”.

With over 50 percent of New Yorkers unmarried, and approval ratings of interracial dating at an all-time high, it seems like it’s going to be a good year for the newest non-white New Yorkers looking for love.

Unless, that is, you’re an Asian man, says Vietnamese American, former engineer and current dating coach, JT Tran.

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Lonely and growing lonelier, older Harlem residents struggle with HIV/AIDS

Originally published at NYCInfocus and Manhattan Times


A senior resident sits on a bench at King Towers. Photo: Sumi Naidoo/NYCinFocus.

Lemuel Jones, 76, is all alone. At Martin Luther King Jr. Towers in Harlem, where Jones has lived since 1958, there is “no place for old men,” he said.

It wasn’t always like this. Nineteen years ago, Jones’s friend Henry Sherwood asked if he could stay in Jones’s apartment overnight. Chronically unemployed and mired in an alcoholic depression, Sherwood stayed for 12 years. When he was in his mid-50s, Sherwood met a young woman from Brooklyn. At about the same time, he started having unprotected sex with young, substance-abusing women from around the area.  Sherwood’s girlfriend got sick and died soon afterwards.

At 57, Sherwood was diagnosed with HIV. He didn’t tell Jones he was sick until three years later. Within a few months, he was dead.

Now, Jones is left with only his grief for company.

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Being Heard at Forest Houses in the Bronx

Originally published in NYCInfocus

Thomas Hirschhorn's Gramsci Monument in Forest Houses, South Bronx, Photo by Sumi Naidoo/NYCInfocus

Thomas Hirschhorn’s Gramsci Monument in Forest Houses, South Bronx. Photo by Sumi Naidoo/NYCInfocus

At open mic Sundays, residents of Forest Houses in the Bronx crowd onto the Antonio Lounge’s homemade stage. Some belt out Aretha ballads and rap songs. Others listen and clap their hands. DJ Baby Dee, a retired public servant named Harry Drake, emcees here seven days a week and artfully segues from live performances to remixed recordings of the Jackson 5. In a wooden shack behind the lounge, a state-of-the-art music studio streams the program out to the world.

So goes a typical weekend at Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn’s Gramsci Monument – a temporary structure of connecting plywood rooms, dedicated to honoring the life and theories of Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci. Since June, Hirschhorn, supported by the Dia Art Foundation, has run a library, museum, computer room, radio station, bodega and newspaper press from the grounds of a public housing development in the South Bronx under the watchful eye of an ever-present police patrol car.

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