Friends and family gather for a birthday celebration on Syracuse’s Eastside.
Young lovers gather as summer’s warmth recedes and winter spreads its first blanket of snow. Exquisite baby showers and birthday parties celebrate new life, as vigils and funerals observe its ending. Black bikers, a tight-knit family bound by a love of riding, are a force for change through neighborhood empowerment and community service work. The disappearance of Black bars means the emergence of underground hangouts. People say, “nothing happens in Syracuse.” Sticking around my hometown after graduating from Syracuse University allowed me to draw my own conclusions. What follows is a photo essay of a variety of Syracuse neighborhoods and communities built on friendship and trust.
Syracuse, Central New York’s rust-belt anchor, led the nation with the highest rate of concentrated poverty among Blacks and Hispanics in 2015. The decline of neighborhood shops, supermarkets, and historic residences illustrates the effects of redlining, gentrification, incarceration, and job loss. Destructive policies include the 1960s decision to build an elevated highway, Interstate 81, through the city, decimating the 15th Ward—a then-thriving Black community, now depicted by images of underprivileged neighborhoods torn by crime, poverty, and violence.
Yet these portrayals fail to recognize unquantifiable riches of human caring. When my college classmate, India, vouched for me in her Syracuse neighborhood, she introduced me to a community’s beauty. I discovered a community-gathering place at the B&B Cocktail Lounge, one of the last neighborhood bars on the Southside, where I became the bar photographer. I started hanging with the Black Dynamites Motorcycle Club before being invited to prospect, buy a bike, and officially receive my biker name—“Kodak.” These stories offer a counter-narrative to a one-dimensional portrayal of a once-thriving city now on the margins.
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A young couple's baby shower at the Chess Club on Syracuse’s South Side.
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Carrie hosts a “sip n slide” party for her 26th birthday.
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Miss Carmen, her son Christopher “Gordo,” and grandson Algenis stay warm inside their Parkside Commons apartment as a March blizzard blasts Syracuse.
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Ellissia Maisonet, a romantic, and her girlfriend Kache Phillips, an entrepreneur focused on work, fell in love in spite of their differences.
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Friends of Arthur “Nunu” Hunter III gather after his funeral to celebrate his life. When Nunu pulled over to service his car on Interstate 90 near Verona, NY, a freightliner truck drifted off the road and hit the back of his car killing him. He was 26-years-old and leaves behind six children.
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Aspiring rapper, Darius Johnson (right), in the VIP section at Studio 54 during Latin night.
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Top Guns and Black Dynamites social club members Nice Nasty, Redbone, and Shorty Doowop gather for a party, posing in front of a tapestry signed by all who are invited to the Black Dynamites' hangout “The Bottom.”
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The Black Dynamites Motorcycle Club hosts their first annual community day for the kids, offering bouncy houses, burgers and jerk chicken off the grill, photos on motorcycles, and rides.
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The Cuse Dawgz Motorcycle Club gathers with friends and family to celebrate their 19th anniversary.
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The Black Dynamites gather with fellow motorcycle clubs in Rochester's 19th Ward in celebration of "Jedi," a fallen member, who was killed in a motorcycle crash in 2018.
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The Syracuse Black Dynamites travel to Rochester to meet up with their sister chapter. With most of the members living in the 19th Ward, they gather there before heading out for the evening to a New Empire MC party.
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People travel from across the states for the Soul Train in Utica, NY. The four hour train ride includes food, a bar, and DJ car.
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Marcos “Jon Jon” Carrasquillo's friends and family gather for a burnout in his memory where he was killed a year earlier, in 2015, at the Parkside Commons apartment complex. His murder is still unsolved.
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Oriana Kyles (center) at “the hooka spot,” an underground hangout in the basement of a convenience store, is one of Syracuse’s best-kept secrets, hosting some of the greatest parties in town before shutting down when it became too popular.
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Heavenlie Angel (first and middle name) took her life ten days before her fifteenth birthday on Mother’s Day, May 8, 2016. She did not leave a note, but it is speculated that she was bullied at school. Heavenlie enjoyed skateboarding and playing softball with her friends.
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Destiny holds a photo of her cousin Heavenlie. The family gathers in remembrance for a suicide awareness event in her honor at the park down the street from the house where she took her life.
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A series of 90-degree days spill into the comfort of night as the high temperatures bake the city of Syracuse. Carla and her son Jaxiel “Che Che” seek relief with an evening swim.
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Oriana Kyles enters her apartment at Pioneer Homes—one of the earliest government housing projects in the United States. Located next to Interstate 81, which splits the city with Syracuse University and Upstate Hospital on the hill above.
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India’s god kids, Yarieliz "Yari," Jaxiel "Che Che," Terry, and Reni’Aliz "China," sleep over at her house. India will take them to visit their godfather Green Eyes the next morning in prison at Cayuga Correctional Facility.
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India Jenkins, a cancer survivor, releases balloons for a breast cancer awareness event at the B&B Cocktail Lounge on the South Side.
Young lovers gather as summer’s warmth recedes and winter spreads its first blanket of snow. Exquisite baby showers and birthday parties celebrate new life, as vigils and funerals observe its ending. Black bikers, a tight-knit family bound by a love o...