The Mountaintop: What Bronx Community College’s Campus Means

Did you know that Bronx Community College occupies one of the highest points in the whole Bronx?  Do you know how it got there?  2014 is the 40th anniversary of Bronx Community College’s (BCC) first full year at the campus we know today.  A distinguished African-American educator oversaw the move from an assortment of buildings headquartered at 184th Street and Morris Avenue, near Jerome Avenue, to the high and architecturally distinguished place it now occupies.  His name was Dr. James A. Colston! 

Dr. James A. Colston

Bronx River Sankofa believes it’s crucial to find connections among the many strands of Bronx African-American environmental history.  Historic preservation and place making are key to us.  1974 was a year of growth and change in society.  Examples connect the Bronx like a constellation:

BCC received public funds for a series of ten seminars on the Bronx River,

Bronx River Restoration Project, Inc., the first civic group since the 1920s to dedicate themselves to continuous river recreation and rehabilitation, began under the leadership of former Catholic missionary Ruth Anderberg (then recently retired from Fordham University),

Mid Bronx Desperadoes (now MBD Housing) who rebuilt much of the central Bronx began,

North West Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition began,

Hostos Community College students occupied a former financial services building at the Grand Concourse & 149th Street to demand CUNY acquire it to bring facilities closer to an equal level with other CUNY campuses elsewhere throughout the city…and they won, plus

Jose E. Serrano first ran for elective office in the NYS legislature when Evelina Antonetty refused popular wishes she fold her successful activism into political office!

Colston Hall plaque

Dr. Colston has been honored with the dedication of the westernmost Marcel Breuer-designed building long known as Colston Hall where major civic events often fill the space in the lower level cafeteria.  We’ll return to the architecture of this great American college campus in part two of this Bronx River Sankofa blog.  Now, let’s read Dr. Colston’s thoughts on the meaning of this beautiful campus (modeled much later below) from a time when it was newly acquired from New York University,

“The Commencement that will honor your graduation this year is significantly different from all previous such ceremonies in the college’s history.  It will be held outdoors in a beautiful, park-like campus setting to mark a new era at Bronx Community College.

BCC Bird's eye view

You have been fortunate to have experienced the excitement and thrill of moving to a “new” campus, and it is my sincerest wish that the uplifting experience you have had during this first year at the University Heights campus will provide the impetus to your post-BCC phase, be it at a four year college or in the world of work.  I hope you will come back to visit us and bring that “special” feeling you have as the first graduates of the Heights campus to a reinvigorated Alumni Association.

Of course, we hope to welcome you back not just as alumni but as subscribers to the life-long learning process.  Your degree does not close the book on benefits you can derive from BCC.  There are many programs and courses, both credit and non-credit, that can help you toward a better career and a better life.

All of us cherish fond memories of the “Old Building” [pictured below] and the mad dashes under the Jerome Avenue El to get to class on time.  In those widely separated facilities, we created an inner campus of “spirit.”  Even though we now have a real campus, we have all profited from the fortitude that enabled us to transcend our surroundings and achieve education and closeness.  You are special because you have experienced the best of both worlds.

Original BCC @ 184th St.

If there is any lesson to be drawn from your unique experience, it could be that a consciousness of one’s past is the only reference point for determining the future.  A life motivated in escaping the past, no matter how humble, will abort any real sense of purpose.  We release ourselves from the enslavement of escapism by recognizing the essential connection between past, present, and future.  [4/4/74]”

Sankofa symbol


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