8 Million Stories, a series of short video portraits of New Yorkers. Enjoy!
Jerry Reaper was born and raised in Bronx River Houses. The 9 brick buildings that makes up the government housing project has a long history battling gang problems; in the 1970’s one of the more notable gangs was the Reapers. Looking up to his older brother and dedicated Reapers member, Jerry ended up being initiated into the Junior Reapers, the subdivision for youngsters, much to their parents’ dismay.
The Reapers had its Main Division on Daly Avenue and 180th Street, which is also the site of its 1963 founding. The gangs’ membership peaked in the early 70’s with 10 divisions spread out across the borough. The 1st Division ‘turfed’ Bronx River Houses but, with no shortage of kids looking for a way to prove themselves as men, the concrete grounds were shared with other gangs like the Black Spades, Seven Immortals, Supreme Enchanters, and Satan’s Angels among others.
Before Baron, Jerry’s older brother, joined the Reapers he had his own ‘organization’ named P.O.W.E.R. In true 1960’s rebellious fashion P.O.W.E.R. was about People’s Organization War Energetic Revolutionaries. However, that didn’t last and before long its’ former members were engrossed by the Reapers.
Once Jerry began flying the gang colours on the back of his denim jacket, the Reapers’ membership was dwindling and towards the latter part of 1976 the gang had more or less slipped back into the darkness. Many of the older members had left, some joined the armed forces, and the Juniors were becoming more interested in Disco music and what would later become known as Hip Hop. That included Jerry.
One of the key elements in making Hip Hop a soul sonic force to be reckoned with was a DJ living on the first floor of building 1595 in Bronx River Houses. Before joining with the Black Spades 10th Division, the cosmonautic Afrika Bambaataa, was a member of the Savage Pirates, a rather small and childish gang.
For a time in the early 1970’s the Spades were among the biggest gangs in New York City. Once the gangs of that era began to fade out, the Black Spades in Bronx River Houses became the Organization and later the Zulu Nation. The Universal Zulu Nation still exists today and has played an important role in spreading Hip Hop around the planet. It all happened under Bambaataa’s leadership.
There’s of course much more to Bronx River Houses. In 1962 the Chiffons released their all-time classic “She’s So Fine” on Laurie Records. The female group was made up of Bronx River residents. Lola Love, a multi-talented actress who was featured in both “Up The Down Staircase“ and “The Landlord” before she left junior high school, and who performed with the Godfather of Soul Mr. James Brown for 10 years, is also a proud Bronx River Houses native.
Today Jerry still lives in the Bronx. He has for the last couple of years been responsible for arranging the Reapers summer cookout, bringing together x-members and former enemies alike.
If you are interested in learning more about the Reapers story check out these links.
Here’s a link to a pretty amazing Life Magazine article from August 1972 featuring the Reapers:
The photos were shot by price winning photojournalist John Shearer. Here you can read his account what happened back then:
Journalist Gary Hoenig, who now works for ESPN, published his book “Reaper” in 1975. It can be bought online.