“I’m from the South Bronx—born and bred, a poster child for urban blight. We were led to believe that we needed to measure success by how far we got away from our community,” shares Majora Carter, owner of The Boogie Down Grind. She continues, “As an urban revitalization strategist and real estate developer, I realized what were opportunities for our community to come together and to showcase the talent that’s already here. Not something like a community center, but really a place where community happens.” This place is The Boogie Down Grind in the Hunts Point area of the Bronx. It has become a community staple as a meeting space, event spot, or to get a good cup of coffee. The space boasts affordability with nothing on the menu being over $8.00, which is a blessing in the wake of $6.00 lattes. With creative names for items on the menu like the Grand Master Frappe as well as its commitment to community, it’s no surprise Beyoncé wanted to help this establishment “BEYGOOD” through her foundation.
Carter moved back to the South Bronx in the late 90s not because she was trying to save the community, but rather because she needed “a cheap place to stay.” During her time at her parents home she realized that the South Bronx was being used as an environmental repository for all the waste that wealthier communities could afford to avoid in New York City. She shares, “I got very involved in working on project based development around environmental planning and development.” Carter even spearheaded the first waterfront park in her community. She realized that it was a real estate issue as to why her community was being left behind. “What I’ve noticed is that gentrification doesn’t happen when you start seeing white people in a former community of color. It happens when you lead people to believe in those communities that there’s no value there. We [Black and Brown people] tend to sell early and cheap, and we discount our own communities.” Carter, a Wesleyan grad, believed in her community and founded The Boogie Down Grind.
Carter grew up loving hip-hop music and even had aspirations of being a rapper. “I was a really bad rapper, so I realized I couldn’t do that,” she laughs, “My name was DJ Welchy because I really liked Welch’s grape juice! You can see how that wasn’t really what was going to happen.” However, her affinity for music is what led to the concept for her café. She explains, “This is where that culture started. So when I started thinking about a café, it made perfect sense.” The café has been visited by many Bronx legends including DJ Kool Herc and Fab Five Freddy. Little did Carter know that a musical legend would be blessing her in the midst of turmoil.
Many small businesses in the United States suffered during the pandemic, particularly in Black and Brown communities. A report by the New York Federal Reserve revealed that nearly half of Black small businesses had been wiped out by the end of April 2020. In urban populations like New York City, with limited space, the pandemic increased the desire and need for outdoor spaces for people to congregate safely. The Boogie Down Grind closed for a period of time during the first year of the pandemic. Carter recollects, “Infection rates were going up and our outdoor seating was really horrible. It was like we weren’t going to stay in business.”
She had applied for the BEYGOOD grant and forgot about it. It wasn’t until her niece called and told her she had mail. It was a letter from Beyoncé and the NAACP letting her know she was a grant winner. “It was one of those moments. I was feeling so bad. We had to close. And then I got a beautiful little love letter from my hero.” The Boogie Down Grind received a 10,000.00 grant and utilized the funds to construct a piece of art inside an old rail station on Hunts Point Avenue. They partnered with The Soapbox Presents, an organization that celebrates the brilliance of Black and Brown people through art to create a liveable, workable art installation that is quintessential New York City. This isn’t the first time The Soapbox Presents and The Boogie Down Grind have partnered together. Last fall The Soapbox Presents founder Marija Abney reached out to Majora Carter to host the last location of their performance series in the Bronx. “That night back in September, we made magic paying homage to hip hop and the Bronx’s Afro-Latinx heritage. So when they called us to help them build an outdoor space, we were already onboard.
Taking a month to complete, the piece looks like a NYC subway car. The community driven and focused piece will double as an art gallery and an outdoor space for customers of The Boogie Down Grind. “The purpose was to create a space that spoke to the community, a safe space to engage with others from the neighborhood. We wanted to create something that the community felt was part of them, a place where they could showcase their talents to each other and the world,” stated Abney. She continues, “Everyone in Hunts Point knows the 6 express. It’s a lifeline for the community. We wanted to build something that embodied that.”
The Boogie Down Grind not only sells coffee, but also hosts community events ranging from open mics to financial workshops. It’s a staple in the South Bronx. Carter reflects, “I was really taken by the fact that James Baldwin wrote some of his best work in cafes in Paris. And I was just like, ‘Well, who’s the James Baldwin of our generation, within our community, and where are they going to hang out to do this kind of stuff?’” Carter answered her own question through her business. For Carter, the best part of entrepreneurship and her café is “seeing people enjoy the fruits of [my] labor and it doesn’t even matter if they associate it with [me]. ” Since receiving the grant from Beyoncé—her café has gotten a lot more traffic. She squeals, “Sway stopped by the other week!”
Carter is thankful to Beyonce and states, “I really do appreciate her for so many things, but in particular, as a business woman. She totally gets this and knows exactly how to support people. And that’s what I know we needed. We were given the luxury of deciding how to use this extra capital in a way that was going to enhance everything else we did. We would not have been able to build what we did without the grant.” And while Beyoncé has yet to visit the café, Carter hopes she stops by soon. In the meantime, she shares this message to Beyoncé—“Thank you for seeing us and sharing your splendor. We got breathing room and how amazing is that?!” The café is open Wednesday through Sunday from 3P to 11P. If you are in the NYC area, stop by and visit!