Polo Grounds. A Photographic Essay

Levar Henry //

Ten things you get out of looking at these photos:

  1. While waiting for the elevators it’s human nature to check out the City’s advertising for adults and children in the Polo Grounds of NYCHA, the New York City Housing Authority. Nonetheless, a disturbing advertisement. You are made to wait. You are made to watch. 
Photograph by Levar Henry

2. Fortunately, these monitors work. Unfortunately, in a building thirty stories high, only two out of six strongly-urinated elevators work. The staircases are heavy on #2 (floors one to thirty). The homeless man is living on the eighth floor, and the pregnant black girl and white boy were living on the terrace. NYCHA spent the money on the monitors, so you have to watch. Forget your health. In times like this, a happy-looking family living in a car would be better than the single-mom and three children (her “babies”). You have no choice but to watch the monitor on the opposite wall.

Photograph by Levar Henry

3. This young mother and three children don’t live in Polo Grounds. Nobody knows the family. They have to be models. The authentic Polo Grounds single mom would probably have bags under her eyes from crying. Not only because there’s no dad in the picture, but because of these three babies she would have got to look nice. Honestly, nine times out of ten one of these babies likes burning paper, eating matches, throwing stuff out the window: ashtrays, toys, cats. Furthermore, who knows if one of these babies is autistic. The picture reflected by NYCHA could mean more than its looks, like it’s a psychologically negative image , as if NYCHA cannot see Black fathers anywhere.

4. Do you think a young mother is having a hard time raising three little kids? They all may have different fathers. One dad of any color should be present in the picture of the Polo Grounds family. 

5.  One morning, a masked lady said, “Why show a picture with no father and all the kids look like half siblings?”. She saw some of what I saw. 

6. Is this picture telling a little boy, girl, or uneducated parent that it’s natural for a dad to be out of sight/out of mind? 

7. Promotions of a single-family household. Automatically informing the boys that they are the “Lil man” instead of a boy. The elision of Black fathers. I personally thought I could talk to many young teen boys several months ago. Maybe this vision of no man to respect is how they felt about me when they informed me that they were big boys. However, with no school during the COVID-19 lockdown these same boys were forced to grow up fast. Recently, a boy was shot in the face in this NYCHA building. Respect to that family. He had no dad, just men like me, that they pushed away and/or “transformed on” (came together to show me they were not afraid of a grown man with older neighborhood blood coming home). 

8. Is the dad incarcerated or at work? Why did they not show him in this picture? I would have settled for a jail visit picture, like the one painted in New York County Family Court. 

9. Living for housing and becoming a housing worker is every kid’s dream? What happened to pictures of two-parent, hard-working project-families ? A picture is worth a thousand words, okay, I get it. 

10. Posting building numbers so delivery people don’t end up in the wrong place. Brighter numbers on buildings. Ask anyone, they will say that they would like to get their food on time, and they would like the Chinese restaurant delivery person to make it to them with their food unscathed. The building numbers should be in lights, a glowing map, so visitors don’t get lost, so, therefore, they don’t become the target of project-boys with nothing to do but be in adults’ way by acting as adults. The pandemic doesn’t make it easier to tell a boy “he’s not-a-man-yet.” Sadly, NYCHA is not fixing anything or bringing anything good to strong dads. Realistically, I know a young father who lives in the same building with about eight children (ages four – twelve). The little ones get pulled in the red truck to the store. I know they wait and watch. When they see me, I shake their fathers’ hand and give out singles or change. While I was incarcerated maybe things like this were shown to my kids and to uneducated family members who don’t know the powers of advertising. We are living in a time where TV is everything, including school. 

Some of these photos I took during lockdown. This is posted on 2991 8th Avenue.

Photograph by Levar Henry

There should be a lighted case there, so people can understand the value of the property where they rest and celebrate holidays, similar to the fans who sat through those games—good, bad, and ugly games. The plate has seen more bad times than good times. Look at the championships, they were very rare. That’s the energy of the other three buildings. The building that covers the home plate is the old IV Bldg., 2991, or the toughest building in the ‘hood. This was home to NYSDOCCS inmate Tyrone Winston. He is now serving twenty-two years to LIFE. Shortly after my October 31, 2019, release, his Mom died. Unfortunately, nearly days later our friend Freddy (White Bread), also from 2991, died in a car accident. Flower and candles hold up the building for both families and friends. I grew up in the system with both home-plate men. In conclusion, always with them, never forget them. 

What I see is very different because I’ve lived it, and I can be very honest about the below. What’s shocking is that adults who live here agree. The message is this.

Photograph by Levar Henry

Completed in 1968, Polo Grounds Towers includes 4 buildings containing 1,616 apartment units. It is located in Washington Heights, Manhattan, and is bounded by Frederick Douglass Boulevard, West 155th Street, and Harlem River Drive. (Please see links). The complex gets its name from the stadium that previously occupied the site, Polo Grounds IV, which was used by the New York Giants baseball team prior to the franchise moving to San Francisco and also, for shorter periods, by the New York Yankees and New York Mets baseball clubs. Find out more about Polo Grounds here and about their current location and condition here.

Levar Henry,

JIE Scholars Program, Cohort 2020

Author bio: Levar Henry was born in New York City, November 2,1977. He has an Associate Degree in Entrepreneurship Management from North County Community College (2019), is a successful Pro Se Litigator, and the President of GSMEEMA 03450 LLC. He is an inventor interested in Research and Development, and the author of When Mommy Sleeps/Where My Daddy At? © (2011), a children’s book that helps interpret the world to children of incarcerated parents. Currently, as a JIE Scholar, he is looking forward to taking classes in business, law, writing, and the humanities, on the way to earn a Bachelor’s degree. He is the father of four children and lives in New York. 

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