On April 8th, 2017, friends and family gathered at Dreamyard, a local community organization, to hear the Morrisania Band Project jam and perform. This Bronx-based band served up covers of classic R&B/Soul hits as well as chicken, lemonade, and a big platter of veritably the world’s best mac n’ cheese. Between sets, people of all ages mingled, a toddler banged happily on a bongo drum and younger musicians quietly plucked away at their instruments.
I came to Dreamyard that night to meet Mike Abner, my collaborator in this oral history. Before he arrived, I met his lovely bandmate Elissa Carmona, vocalist and founding member of the Morrisania Band Project. She introduced me to her daughter Rone, also a talented singer in the band, who has been attending Dreamyard since she was a child. Dreamyard is one of the organizations in the South Bronx working tirelessly to afford youth the opportunity to explore their talents in the arts: acting, music, dance, and visual art, to name just a few. Opened in 1994, Dreamyard “started as an idea sparked by a group of young people who wrote a play about a place where children could go to dream”. Since then, they have expanded their mission: opening the DreamYard Preparatory High School 2006 and in 2009, in collaboration with BronxPro Real Estate, a “multi-arts and digitally integrated” Community Art Center. Their headquarters on Washington Avenue vibrates with positivity and creative energy.
Within moments of meeting Mike Abner, it was clear the man’s a performer. Whether on or off stage, Mike is cracking jokes, poking fun and booming with laughter. Between songs, you could count on him giving a shout out to each and every person who helped to put the event together. He’s been in his craft a long time, playing with the Legendary Escorts for years before joining the Morrisania Band Project. Music has been a fixture of his life since he taught himself to play a plastic guitar as a child just by mimicking the chords he heard on the radio. What follows is his story of growing up in the Bronx.