We deserve better became more than an Instagram hashtag after Rocking The Bridge. The phrase quickly became a powerful message declared by South Bronx residents standing up to stake a claim in the equity of their communitydriven by Rocking The Bridge organized by Blox NYC and the Third Avenue BID in the Mott Haven/Port Morris section of the South Bronx.

The two bridge cleanups took place under (and on) the Third Avenue Bridge, both occurring in October. The first on Saturday, October 7th and the second on Saturday, October 21st. The bridge overpass was swept and cleaned of garbage and drug paraphernalia, carefully disposed of using the proper protocol. Under the bridge on the Bronx side, volunteers spent the day picking up trash as well as painting and power washing the underpass.

The Third Avenue Bridge is used daily, in high volumes, by New Yorkers of all ages, often by children making their way to and from school in neighboring Harlem. Local commuters favorably received all the improvements.

On Sunday, October 22nd to celebrate the clean bridge initiative, the community came together for the Rocking The Bridge block party. A celebration organized by Blox NYC, The Third Avenue BID, Edible Bronx Magazine and Dancing In The Streets. The event was both a local food festival and community outreach opportunity. Offering programs to combat drug abuse, homelessness, and programming that promoted safe sex and Narcan, an over-the-counter drug that can temporarily block opioids from entering the bloodstream used by civilian bystanders in the case of an overdose. St Ann’s Harm Reduction program provided information on Narcan, as well as their needle exchange program, which launched in 1990, to effectively reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS among South Bronx intervenous drug users.

Local restaurants extended their dining room reach to under the Third Avenue Bridge, creating pop-up restaurants in 6×6 lots, selling their respective specialty food items, each for $5 or less. Participating restaurants included neighborhood favorites Mott Haven Bar & Grill, Ceetay, Habanero, Charlie’s Bar & Kitchen and City Tamale from nearby Hunts Point. With flavors ranging from New American, innovative Mexican, International Gastropub and Asian Fusion,  each offering showcased the diversity and quality of the burgeoning South Bronx restaurant scene.

Local food entrepreneurs included Sol Cacao, Born Juice, Red Hibiscus Bakery, and Check Mate Sweets—each selling locally handcrafted food items. Chef-entrepreneur Jason Alicea, the founder of Empanaology, wowed the crowd with a unique spin on a Latin-American classic, empanadas, serving six out of the box flavors including Truffle Mac and Cheese, Cubano and Red Velvet Tres Leches. 

Event goers enjoyed a DJ spinning Hip Hop and R&B classics as well as top 40 hits, live music and dance performances organized by Dancing in The Street. Various fitness activities and exercise equipment were available under the bridge promoting overall health and wellness. A food canning demonstration provided by The South Bronx Farmers Market, Mott Haven’s local farmers market, prompting a discussion on healthy farm-to-table eating all year long.

With an impressive turn out from both sides of the Third Avenue Bridge, the community came together—dancing, eating and drinking for the cause.

For Rocking The Bridge, this is only the beginning of a movement, much larger than one bridge. According to Blox NYC founder and event organizer Marco Shalma, this “is the first cleanup of five bridges in the South Bronx,” each connects the Bronx to Manhattan, Shalma notes “all of them are in bad condition and need love and care.” Every bridge is used by residents regularly but is rarely cared for by New York City’s Department of Transporation (DOT) responsible for all road and bridge maintenance.

Third Avenue BID director and event co-organizer Michael Brady is hopeful that the cleanup and the Rocking The Bridge event will effectively “bring the conversation of equity to the South Bronx.”

With a powerful message and proactive community behind the Rocking The Bride movement, it is undoubtedly the beginning of positive change and dialogue for South Bronx residents.