Friends and family gather for a birthday celebration on Syracuse’s Eastside.
“The Town” is a nickname for Syracuse created by its Black residents.
“When you from the town, it’s a town thing,” said André “Ralow” Wilson, a neighborhood griot. Late-night summertime block parties, exquisite baby showers and birthday parties celebrate new life, as vigils and funerals observe its ending. The disappearance of neighborhood bars means the emergence of new underground hangouts, like “the hooka spot.”
Ralow first heard of “the town” while incarcerated in NYS. “I think it started in prison and ended out in the street and it just stayed in the street,” he said. “Even though Syracuse is small it’s still big enough that everybody don’t know everybody, so when you see an individual that you never see before that look familiar you be like, ‘You from the town?’ If they from Syracuse they gonna be like, ‘Yo, I’m from the Town.’”
In local and national media, Syracuse is often known for the high rate of concentrated poverty among Blacks and Hispanics1 and the decline of neighborhood shops, supermarkets, and historic residences resulting from decades of redlining, gentrification, incarceration, and job loss. Systematic racist policy paved the way for blight. In 2017, Syracuse’s poverty rate (32.4%) tied for ninth in the nation with Bloomington, Indiana and Dearborn, Michigan.2
Commonplace images of underprivileged neighborhoods focus on crime, poverty, and violence, failing to recognize the unquantifiable human dimensions of care and solidarity abundant in Syracuse. This project attempts to capture the sacred everyday lives of people from The Town. Arguably, these vibrant pockets of community represent the invisible Syracuse not seen by outsiders. My art is nothing without them. I hope that these stories offer a counter-narrative to a one-dimensional portrayal of a once thriving city now on the margins.
1Weiner, Mark. “Syracuse has nation’s highest poverty concentrated among blacks, Hispanics.” Syracuse.com, September 6, 2015.
2Breidenbach, Michelle. “Syracuse makes list no one wants to be on: Top 10 U.S. cities with highest poverty.” Syracuse.com, September 13, 2018.
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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.
“The Town” is a nickname for Syracuse created by its Black residents. “When you from the town, it’s a town thing,” said André “Ralow” Wilson, a neighborhood griot. Late-night summertime block parties, exqui...