African American Studies


Talibah Roberts was born in 1966 and grew up on Crotona Park East in the Bronx. Her father was African-American and her mother was born in Puerto Rico. Growing up Talibah identified herself more as a Puerto Rican because she was primarily raised by her mother, although her father lived nearby and was involved in her life as well. Her mother moved to Crotona Park East in 1965 right around the time of the November 1965 blackouts in that neighborhood. Her parents both worked as a sort of informal catering business for the community to bring in some extra income until they separated around 1972.

Talibah recalls the burning of buildings while she was growing up but did not actually see the burning, but did see the results. As a kid, she and her friends would play in the abandoned buildings, break dancing and doing flips off of the mattresses. Even with all of the burning buildings and such she still felt safe in the neighborhood. Perhaps it was not safe for outsiders, but she did not feel threatened.

While growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, DJ’s spinning on turn tables and the emergence of hip hop was a very large part of Talibah’s life. She described how people would play music outside of buildings or out windows if they had a good system and the jams she and her friends would attend. Many times these jams would result in a shoot out, but it was never a violent situation where anyone was killed. She attended many shows for Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five and the Cold Crush Brothers.

She was definitely aware of the presence of gangs while growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. Her brother was a member of the Peace Makers and she was familiar with the Black Spades. She also describes the conflict between Crotona Park North and Crotona Park East. This was around the time when she was in junior high and the fights were more throwing things like rocks, eggs, berries etc. from long distance than up close physical fighting. She put together the Master Brothers, which was a guys group originally with her being the only girl, and later more girls became a part. She described how they all had red sweatshirts with lettering on them. This was their East Side group.

Talibah attended Talent Unlimited High School in Manhattan, which was a school for the performing arts and went on to attend Lehman College before transferring to Fordham University. Much of the interview is centered on her experiences growing up in the Crotona Park neighborhood. She believes the sense of community that was felt growing up at that time has disappeared due to the emergence of technology because it keeps kids and families from spending time doing things together. She thinks that kids now have more technology but this puts them at a disadvantage socially.

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