May 28, 2023
914 Spotlight

2021 Black History Month Series: The BROY – Black Renaissance of Yonkers

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During the 1920s, a Black cultural phenomenon filled with art, music, activism, literature, and self-awareness took place in New York. This beautiful event in history has come to be known as the Harlem Renaissance. Augusta Savage, A. Philip Randolph, Dorothy Dandridge, and Arturo Schomburg represented Black Brilliance during the 1920s. A century later, activists Mariah Cameron, Shanequa Benitez, Hector Santiago, and Jonathan Alvarez define a new renaissance. One that I call, The BROY: The Black Renaissance of Yonkers.

The Singer: She’s a triple threat. She sings, dances, and she acts. Mariah Cameron (@M.E_Cameron) is Afro-Latinx, Queer, and Non-Binary. When she’s not singing or filming, she passionately works around equity, specifically through environmentalism. She’s a business owner who runs Trash Treasure Chest, a thrift and repair jewelry shop. Through her business, she’s “actively seeking not to throw people away.” She told me, “just like I’m not trying to throw the jewelry away; I’m not trying to throw the people away.” She’s also currently co-leading Yonkers Assembled.

Advice: “You are here for a purpose… no matter who tries to tell you otherwise.”

The Artist: You’ve probably seen her artwork somewhere across the country. Inspired by her father and many other artists, Shanequa Benitez (@SocialIcon) has had her artwork displayed everywhere from Yonkers to Harlem. A person of color who wears her city on her back, Shanequa proudly told me, “I am Yonkers.” She represents Yonkers, and the town represents her. Her Yonkers representation was evident during her Art Exhibition Never Conform, a smash hit in the city. Despite her successes through art and her self-made clothing brand, Shanequa told me that she’s “only scratched the surface” with her work.

Advice: “Be confident and be proud of who you are.”

The Connector: Founder of the Stop & Shake Initiative, Hector Santiago (@PeoplesMayor), is one of the leading activists in Yonkers. Yonkers Voice described the initiative as one that “encourages members of the police department to avoid miscommunication with [the] community by reaching out and introducing themselves through a common greeting.” When asked who he is, without hesitation, Hector says, “before anything, I’m a dad. I’m a dad who became active for my kids.” Santiago is “a mediator and a consultant for the Yonkers community.”

Advice: “Save money and learn as much as possible.”

The Mentor: He’s a youth advocate and a motivational speaker. Founder and Director of 914United, Jonathan Alvarez (@Visiona1re), is making a name for himself by mentoring young adults across Yonkers. Jonathan changed his life, so he could help change the lives of others. In an interview with me, he said that he wants to “help steer our youth into a promising future.” Jonathan’s thriving to create a full-on youth mentorship organization that supports those returning home from incarceration, amongst other things.

Advice: “Learn financial literacy to secure financial freedom.”

BW Guest Columnist Dennis Richmond, Jr., M.S.Ed. is a Freelance Journalist and author of “He Spoke at My School: An Educational Journey.” He is also the Founder and Director of the NYNJ HBCU Initiative and  as well as the founder of the Dennis E. Richmond Jr. Scholarship for Black Excellence. His byline also appears in The Yonkers Rising.

Born in Yonkers, New York, on February 11th, 1995, Mr. Richmond is a graduate of Claflin University and Sarah Lawrence College. When he is not helping students with the college process, he works as a substitute teacher in Yonkers, who goes by the name of Mr. R.

The New York-New Jersey HBCU Initiative prepares students throughout New York and New Jersey by exposing them to educational opportunities only found at #HBCUs.

Follow Dennis and the NYNJ HBCU Initiative on Instagram and Twitter.

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