I’m the son of Jamaican immigrants, who chose to immigrate to New York City in the 1980s—specifically to the Bronx, a place I’d learn to grow, nurture and cultivate community. As a kid, I don’t think I realized how big of a deal it was to live in NYC. It wasn’t until maybe high school or college that I was able to see the scale of opportunities, rich culture and beauty that lay here.
To back up a little, I’m a proud New Yorker through and through. I was born in the Bronx and resided in a relatively quiet and residential neighborhood called Pelham Gardens. I lived in the same home for a quarter and some of my life. It was there that I found peace and community through my neighbors. Everyone knew each other, looked out for one another and spoke almost daily. One of my fondest memories is creating a lemonade stand with my neighbors where we made a profitable income from the park goers across the street. I learned so much about basketball by playing tirelessly throughout the summer at that park and in my backyard.
My earliest experience of Manhattan was going to work with my dad. My first impression was that the buildings were so tall and there were so many people! To this day, my dad still works in the City, and every time I visit him at work, it’s clear why he loves it so much. The energy is infectious.
This energy is what drew me to go to design school in the middle of Midtown. I felt I hadn’t quite experienced the City in its fullness. In a city where most people stay in the borough they live for convenience, I never cared about the distance or the time it took to get outside of my borough and explore. I was more interested in what I would experience and how people were living within different parts of this melting pot. Walking by the bright lights of Times Square on my way home after school always sparked something inside of me. I can’t fully describe it, but it was a special feeling that was magnifying and made me want to dream bigger and do more.
Fast-forward some years and that spark became clear. I learned to speak through photography and speak louder through it as a profession. This medium helped me rethink my experiences and interactions with the Bronx, leading me to start what is now Bronx Narratives—a publication run by borough locals that tells Bronx stories through our online website and physical publication. I’ve found that many people are misinformed about the Bronx by the way the media portrays the borough or how far it is for some folks. To me, the Bronx has come a long way from the 1970s and ’80s, when it was burning. We wanted to help reshape how people saw the borough and question where some of their notions came from. I’m at peace with folks not seeking to trek it up here. No need to convince someone when you know the greatness that’s present.
Since its inception, we’ve done so many positive community efforts with Bronx Narratives, and I’m grateful for how my team and I have been dedicated to the work of volunteering our time, creativity and moving purpose into something bigger than us.
Thinking about NYC as a whole, I wish people accepted all parts of it. This city is just as crazy as it is loving, gritty as it is welcoming. I’m so grateful that my family chose to reside here. As an artist, I'm forever enriched and inspired by NYC as a canvas.
This past year was devastating in more ways than one, from the local businesses that took a hit to the number of lives that we’ve lost. Truthfully, this all affected me a lot more than I thought. Somehow, someway, NYC stayed resilient, and that’s one of the City’s strongest characteristics. As much as “New York Tough” is a thing, I thought more about what “New York Love” meant during that time and how communities extended themselves to help locally.
The future of New York City, in my opinion, is a stronger sense of community. It’s thinking and cultivating more locally. It’s being a good neighbor and checking in with the people around you and seeing how they’re really doing. It’s less ego and not always toughness—and I hope it will be more leading with compassion.
New York City is the land of opportunity—you get what you put in. Though recent opportunities have led me north to Kingston, New York, I’m still tethered to the City. Whether it’s seeing my family and friends, doing work with Bronx Narratives or making images, I’m down here more often than not. I feel like a dual citizen of Hudson Valley and NYC. Most important, I’m aware of this immense privilege and the responsibilities that come with it.
As I reflect on it, NYC has given me so much and I’m mostly appreciative of the lessons it’s taught me. There’s no city I would’ve rather grown up in or called home. Whenever I drive into the City, I’m reminded of its gifts.
New York City, I love you.
Dondre Green is an NY-based photographer and the director of Bronx Narratives.