Signs of Troubled Times – Pics From the End To End For The 99% March

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”
Muhammad Ali

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Hustle Hard…

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

I find it absolutely absurd and at the same time, cosmically comical, that my whole way of being, my philosophy, the very essence of what I am about, could be described or better yet distilled into a saying on the inside of a fortune cookie. Really? But there it was. God has a sense of humor. But it’s true, right now; that little bit of fortune cookie wisdom succinctly describes my modus operandi. One of my mottos is “never not working”, a concept which I heard through Kristoff via his indispensable, informative and insightful blog, Rebel Socialite. Even though it is not correct English, it is on the money. My life is my work.

At the end of the day, coming from where I’m from, I don’t see any other way. My mom came from the Dominican Republic in the early 70’s with nothing but determination, hard work and hustle and was able to make ends meets for her children as well as the extended family. Now that I am a father of 3 beautiful daughters, I see that my grind not only provides financially but also instills a work ethic to emulate.

The word hustle is at times viewed negatively because it is associated with drug dealing but hustle is not about an occupation or a trade. It is about working hard everyday to make your dreams come true, whether you work in a factory or you own the factory. My mom, who is an old-school Dominican woman that absolutely hates drugs, is a hustler. Latinos in general and Dominicans in particular have hustle hardwired in their DNA. Being that I am a Dominican New Yorker from Washington Heights, aka the hometown of hustle, my hustle is on some mutant ish. I will not be stopped. I can’t, I have too much riding on my success.

So there you have it! Get yours or get yours taken. Hustle hard!

I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at ledblackNYC@gmail.com

Confessions of a Sneaker Fiend…

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

My life-long addiction to sneakers began innocently enough with Kangaroos. You remember Roos; those were the sneakers that had a pocket with a zipper on the side. My friends and I would all keep a dollar in there just in case you had to buy a slice or some lemonheads or something. But the first sneaker that really made an impression on me was the Adidas Shelltoe. My older brother, who is ten years my senior, had a pair with the blue stripes. Those sneakers were about 50 bucks, which at the time was a whole lot of loot. They were so beautiful, a work of art in footwear form. My brother hardly wore his new expensive kicks with the fat shoelaces. I remember one day my mother was in my brother’s room watching her novelas (Spanish language soap-operas) when I decided to make my move. While my mom was engrossed with her show, I took the opportunity to deface my brother sneakers with a magic marker. I still don’t know why I did it. Was it jealously because I couldn’t have those beautiful sneakers or revenge because my brother was a big bully? Well anyway, when the shit hit the fan I blamed my cousins instead of owning up to it. Let me tell you, my cousins got the beating of a lifetime. They still, to this day, remind me of the beat down they received at the hands of my uncle.

Once I hit Junior High, P.S. 143 in Washington Heights, I was a full-fledged sneaker addict. My mom knew how important sneakers were to me, so even though she couldn’t buy me new clothes all the time, she kept my sneaker game tight. Every few months my mom would buy me a new pair of kicks. I started to get recognition for my kicks and I was hooked. I remember, I was the first kid in school who had the blue Air Revolutions as well as the blue and orange Patrick Ewing kicks. The Ewing’s eventually got stolen from my locker at the High Bridge Public pool – so I in turn, stole some other poor unfortunate soul’s sneakers so I wouldn’t have to walk home barefoot. The one sneaker from that era I wish I could get my hands on again is the special edition Run-DMC snakeskin Adidas shoe. They were so next level; I was the only cat in the whole hood to have those.

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The Bust Down: Loosies

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

Loosie [pronounced Lu-See] – noun

A loosie is a single cigarette that can be purchased illegally in some of the bodegas and smoke shops of the neighborhood. But be warned, if the proprietor of the business doesn’t know you or you look like a D.T. (undercover cop), you will not be able to obtain said loosie.

For the most part, a loosie is synonymous with Newports but a few of the smoke shops also offer Marlboros. Back in the day, when I was a kid coming up, loosies were 10 cents. Now that a pack of cigarettes are like a hundred dollars, a loosie can be purchased for the ungodly sum of 75 cents. Some enterprising individuals are buying packs and selling loosies themselves, just to support their habit and make some money on the side.

Another term that is affiliated with a loosie is a bust down. The bust down is when you give someone else the remainder of your cigarette. The way it works is that as soon as someone you know sees you with a loosie, they will shout out – ” let me get a bust down”. But, now that a loosie costs 75 cents folks are much more reluctant to give bust downs. In fact, people are actually smoking their loosies all the way down to Brownsville, which is the very end of the loosie where the tobacco meets the filter.

Related Words: Loose, Stogie, Cancer Stick

Loosie in a Sentence:

A young man walks into a smoke shop after a long day of work and shouts at the Arab man behind the counter, “Yo Habib, let me get a loosie.”

Dominoes = Dominican Chess

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

If baseball is Dominican’s favorite sport then dominoes is our favorite pastime. In the DR everybody, from the youngest to the oldest, male and female alike, spends countless hours playing dominoes. I like to joke that kids here in the U.S. grow up with an X-Box and kids in DR have a box of dominoes. It is that ingrained in the culture, so it is only natural that the love of the game has continued on American shores. Some of my earliest memories are of my mom and dad playing dominoes with friends and family. Before I could even hold all the fichas (domino pieces) in my hand, I was joining along.

To even use the word “playing” might be considered by some die-hard aficionados as sacrilegious because to them dominoes is not a game – it is more like a science. Dominoes is Dominican Chess. That is how serious some folks take it. To watch a game of good players is to observe a highly sophisticated and synchronized contest of wills and intelligence. Never mind the animated banter, insults and biting humor, these people are really in deep concentration with a laser like focus on the game. The barbs and talk is more of a ruse than anything, another way to keep your opponent off-track. Great players think several plays ahead. They know what each player has in their hands without looking.

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The Magnificent Mangu

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

MANGU! The very word makes me and countless other Quisqueyanos salivate. For those that don’t know, mangu is the Dominican breakfast par excellence. Mangu is basically boiled, mashed green plantains with olive oil and a few others ingredients but that description doesn’t properly convey the magic of this staple of Dominican cuisine. Pair the mangu with fried cheese, eggs and Dominican Salami (AKA Los Tres Golpes) and you have a meal that is simple yet sublime. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the vinegar soaked cooked onions that elevate the mangu to a work of gastronomic art.

I find it hilarious that Mangu Y Los Tres Golpes sounds like an awesome name for a band. By the way, there is a forth, less respected member of that group which is longaniza (Dominican sausage). I would also like to mention that some folks enjoy a mangu made from ripe yellow plantains but I do not count myself as part of that contingent. I like my mangu from green plantains strictly. I guess you can call me a traditionalist.

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I Love Platanos!

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

This poem was conceived while I was at a resort in the Dominican Republic a few years ago, feverishly fiending for some Dominican food. It is only so much “international food” one can eat, especially when you are on Dominican soil.

It is a bit over the top with Shakespearian overtones but that is how I felt at the time.

I Love Platanos – An Ode to Platanos

Oh Platano, how we Dominicans love you
You are forever welcome at every Dominican table whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner, entrée or dessert
You delight in all your incarnations; maduros, tostones, asado, mangu or mofongo
Can’t forget the pastellon or the platano con azucar or any of your many variations
I even had a fresh off the boat cousin who made Platano juice,
Umm umm umm, Delicioso
Your versatility never ceases to amaze

Oh Platano, how we Dominicans love you
You are the constant companion, the faithful friend of all Dominicans
Without you, rice, beans & meat is just rice, beans & meat
Who would eat Salchichon without your accompaniment?
You are the muse of all Dominicans mothers

Oh Platano, how we Dominicans love you
Woe be to those who refer to you as green Bananas
That borders on being racist
Bananas are bananas and platanos are platanos
I’m also not too fond of the term Plantain
Words tend to lose meaning when they become anglicized

Long Live Platanos!!!

I Love Platanos is an excerpt from my upcoming book, DR Travelogue.

I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at ledblackNYC@gmail.com

The Led Black Book Club – When Tito Loved Clara

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

Even though I am a voracious reader, I don’t usually read fiction but when I found out that our beloved Inwood, New York City was one of the settings where Jon Michaud’s first novel When Tito Loved Clara takes place, my interest was piqued. Right from the first paragraph I was hooked. By the time I finished the first chapter I knew that I would not really rest until this fascinating and titillating novel was consumed whole. Warning: This book is crack-like addictive. Jon Michaud is a masterful storyteller who reels you in by dropping a bomb on you out of nowhere and then slowly and painstakingly filling in the details. I found myself not being able to put this book down, when I was wasn’t reading it, I was extolling its virtues to anyone that would listen.

Here is the breakdown: Clara Lugo is a Dominican woman who grew up in the hood but does not want to be held back by it. She is firm in her determination to escape her past and by the time we catch up with her; she has moved to New Jersey and is married to an American man, Thomas, who she has a son with and is struggling to conceive another child. By the way, Thomas has a few skeletons in his closet as well.

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Rejuvenation: A Poem, a Brujeria Bath, a Fat Lip and Avatar

BY Led Black (@Led_Black)

“When you really want something to happen, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true.”

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

Its 2010 People

O-9 is in the rearview – old school like moon shine

Get on your grind cuz I’mma get on mine

The present is a present, a gift that is divine

It’s not just another year it’s another decade

The future will be as bright or as bleak as you envision it to be

Tomorrow is always a day away and yesterday is but a memory

Now is the new black

In an ever-expanding universe limits are illusions

A habit of looking back will stop you from moving forward

Paradigm shift is the order of the day

Evolve or become obsolete

It’s now or never – shift or get off the pot

Supernatural selection – Darwin with a vengeance

Succeed or succumb – irrespective of circumstances

Use what you got to get what you want

Excellence is a choice that is yours to make

That poem was written almost 2 years ago, on December 30th 2009 to be exact. At that point in my life, I sensed that I was due for an awakening. I felt that even though I made a decent living and was raising, clothing, feeding and supporting my family, that there was more to life. For someone who came up on a rough block in Washington Heights and saw so many of my childhood friends end up either in jail, on the run, killed or in dead end jobs, I could already be considered a success. I am a self-taught professional, I owned a piece of property and more importantly, I had aspirations of make of a living from my writing, editing and entrepreneurship. For the longest time, I had nurtured a vision of my life that would transcend a day job. One where, I could make a living from being creative full-time, the problem was that it was just a vision – it needed action and elbow grease. Little did I know then, that it would also take blood? But I digress.

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Uptown Gem – The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Center

Words by Led Black (@Led_Black)

Photography by Jay Franco (@_jayfranco)

Video by Amanda Hiciano (@_IamNYC)

Malcolm X changed my life. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley literally put the Black in Led Black. The book which has sold untold millions of copies and influenced everyone from Huey P. Newton, to Spike Lee, to Public Enemy, among many others, seemed to materialize out of nowhere at a crucial point in my development as a person and as a thinker. It was during my years in the Bronx High School of Science that the book found its way into my life and thank god that it did.

Coming from P.S. 143 in Washington Heights, I didn’t know I was poor until I attended Bronx Science. Being that I was the only one from my junior high that year to make it to the prestigious public high school, I virtually had no choice but to make the trek everyday from the hood to Bronx Science. All of sudden I was attending school with kids whose backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses were vastly different from mine. Culture shock was an understatement, which resulted in some existential angst and serious soul searching on my part. I felt adrift and ensnared in a downward spiral of resentment and alienation.

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