Saturday, August 09, 2008

Preserving El Barrio: Marina Ortiz
Monday, June 30, 2008

Anyone who is in NYC's El Barrio, probably knows Marina Ortiz, an independent journalist, local community activist and resident. She is usually armed with a camera, shooting and documenting many of the people, stories and events in East Harlem.

This boricua is founder of East Harlem Preservation, a community advocacy group that monitors large-scale development, supports preservation, and fights privatization of public parkland. Ortiz is a watchdog of the rapid changes going on in El Barrio because of gentrification. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently interviewed Ortiz on her push to save El Barrio, the so-called crown jewel of Puerto Rican and Latino culture in New York City."I was inspired to begin efforts to preserve the rich history, culture and architecture of Spanish Harlem and the greater East Harlem when the inevitable footprint of gentrification began to take its hold on our community," Ortiz was quoted as saying.To read the article published in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Spring 2008 Diversity Scholarship Program Alumni Newsletter,

To learn more about her work with the East Harlem Preservation, check out her site at, Ortiz also runs another important community project: Virtual Boricua. This is a website that focuses on Puerto Rican news, issues, culture, events and activism. To visit, go to It is a must see site for anyone interested in Puerto Rican culture, especially boricua New York. -- Clarisel Gonzalez

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Zulu Nation, Popmaster Fabel "Shukri," and My Journey to Islam
By, Khalil Al-Puerto Rikani
August 5, 2008

I hardly speak about my days of jahiliyyah (ignorance). For those of you who are not Muslim, I am refering to my days before my acceptance of Al-Islam.

However, today I just want to shed some light upon my experience with the hip-hop organization know as the Universal Zulu Nation (UZN). I remember when I was sixteen years old and going to that park on the Upper West Side. It was the Rock Steady Crew's (RSC) Anniversary. I would later learn that this very park was a historical place in hip-hop. This was where the RSC would practice, hang-out, and battle other crews back in the late '70s and early '80s.

At this event, I picked up an application for the UZN. I was told about the universal (meeting) that was held at the Bronx River Houses in the South Bronx. This place, as well, I would later find out was also a historical place in hip-hop history. At this meeting and many others to follow, I would become part of a new generation of youth in New York City who would become part of the UZN. The UZN would spark my interest in different religions; promote positivity for Black, Puerto Rican, Latino; and other inner-city youth, and encourage seeking knowledge.

It was through the UZN that I would come to an understanding of the "Oneness of God." Before that time, I was engrossed in '70s politics and had become an atheist. I liked the way that Zulus promoted a positive form of hip-hop. This was refreshing at a time when hip-hop was at the height of "gangsta" rap. I would learn from speakers, such as hip-hop legend Crazy Legs, that hip-hop was not just the deviant commercialized rap industry. Hip-hop is a culture that has four elements to it - mcing (rapping), djing, breaking (and other urban dance forms), and graffiti.

Another thing I remember about the UZN was that there were many Latino (mostly Puerto Rican) youth who were members. Black and Latino unity was always stressed. The role that New York Puerto Ricans played in hip-hop was not hidden or overshadowed by the role of Black-Americans. The number of members who attended these universals were about 75% Latinos.

In these universals there would be a prayer at the closing of these gatherings. Usually, the prayer would be Al-Fatihah. I remember hearing the Quran for the first time at that very first universal. I can still remember hearing Mr. Wiggles (a fellow Boricua) of the RSC reciting Al-Fatihah. The UZN definitely inclined me towards Islam.

I can remember many times going up to Bam's apartment. He is known to most of the world as Afrika Bambaataa. He is the founder of the UZN and one of the "godfathers" of hip-hop. It was at his jams at the Bronx River Projects, in the early '70s, that all the elements of hip-hop would come together. At Bam's parties, youth could forget about their gang colors and enjoy themselves. Bam, himself, was the head of one of NYC's notorious gang - the Black Spades. They were the predecessor to what would become the Zulu Nation. It was at Bam's jams that these youth would give birth to a musical and cultural movement. We would discuss such topics as culture, religion, blackness, latinidad, politics, and many other vast topics. Afrika Bambaataa indeed embodied the the link between the Civil Right/Black Power Movement and hip-hop.

One brother that would speak at many of the universals was Brother Jorge "Fabel" Pabon. He is known in the hip-hop world as Popmaster Fabel, the Vice-President of the RSC. At the universals, he would speak about Islam, Latinos, and the roots of Muslim Spain. I would learn a lot about the virtues of Al-Islam and the connection to Latino roots and culture, and the hidden Islamic connections. Alhamdulillah, I thank Allah for my experience with the UZN. I thank Allah for my exposure to those who I have met. After thanking Allah, I thank Brother Fabel "Shukri" who is a true Muslim brother. I am still in touch with him. Unlike many in the UZN who were not really Muslim, he adheres to Islam. There were many like Bam, Mr. Wiggles, Afrika Islam, and others who lean towards Islam, but are not really Muslim. Groups and individuals, however, may (with Allah's success) lead some like me to go and actually learn about what Islam is. I do not agree with the close ties that the UZN has with groups like the Nuwabians and the NOI, but I understand the link that they have with my past and my present.

May Allah reward Brother Shukri "Fabel" and guide those who know about Islam, but have not yet accept it yet - Amin.

Some may ask why I have chosen to speak about this past of mine. I will say that it is my intent to share with others my experience in the hope that perhaps someone can relate, and do like I did and go and learn more about Islam.