Harlem on my mind. Charles Rangel has retired after serving Harlem for many years. We thank him for his dedications and his service. Rangel, who followed Adam Clayton Powel Jr. as the political leaders of Harlem, led Harlem through its most difficult times into the light of a new day. Most of the story tellers are gone, and color in Harlem is being replaced by individuals who come to celebrate and be part of the gem between two great rivers in New York City. The new comers are welcomed, Harlem has always had a multicultured diverse population. The new comers will know how to get the best of the schools and universities located in its historical community. Many great stories sweeten the bitter air of our memories of surviving the harsh, loving and demanding streets of the mother land. Our young people are not interested in our stories or our glories, most attend private or charter schools and are molded to be outstanding sons and daughters of Harlem.

Harlem on my mind

Harlem is not some mythical place. It is not the battleground to fight all the battles of injustice. It is not that sacred streets where imaginary people believe imaginary things happened. Harlem is the seat of capital for over 35 million Black people. Harlem is the place where mental images of millions of people trying to break free from the throws of oppression. It is a place where the black millionaire and the construction worker can join each other for a meal at Sylvias. The images of Harlem and the reality of Harlem are not always congruent. Harlem is not the justification for the feeling of anger and frustration for the unrealized dreams of countless individuals who were never able to work out their soul salvation or the under expectation of their dreams. Harlem is my home.

Harlem is the land and place of my birth. The streets gave nurture and support to the hopes and dreams of many escaping from the oppression of the south. Harlem for many, was the land of milk and honey, it was the promise land for those who had traveled thousand of miles from the Egypt of America. Harlem was the place where school buildings welcomed students from all walks of life, and said sit down and learn.

Harlem was the place where Irish teachers, one step above the poverty line, provided encouragement to individuals seeking to work their way up from the feeling of better, and into the possible reality of better, best. Here was a place where woman could wear their best clothes and furs without a jealous white populations looking at them and wondering who did they think they were trying to be better than anyone else.

Men could strut their stuff in fancy suits and expensive hats cocked at a jaunty angle. It was a happy place, where even through the depression years, black people worked while white people jumped out of tall downtown buildings in despair. Daddy Grace and Father Divine were the major spiritual leaders, rivaling the works of Rev. Moon in addressing the better needs and family values of people. These men not only helped new immigrant families, but provided jobs, which enabled them to support their families. Grace and Divine encouraged hundreds of thousands of followers to organize business systems to care for people’s needs. Harlem straighten the backs of men accustomed to bend slightly in the presence of white men, and stripped the mask of ignorance from those who had to act dumb in order to survive.

The south did not appreciate a smart uppity Black man, and too much education could result in intelligent swinging from the branch of a secluded tree in the woods. Harlem had concrete trees, and they were not used for lynching parties.

Harlem is offered a view into the world of the possible. Harlem had the footsteps of the Langston Hughes, Count Bassie, Duke Ellington, Arthur Schomburg, and thousand of the best musicians and poets in the world. Harlem offered the voices of men and women who did not know that they were deprived or disadvantage, and were therefore on their way to becoming the best of their being. Harlem offered the passion and dedication of Adam Clayton Powel Jr. lifting his voice in a call for economic justice.

Harlem was one of the few places in the country, which welcomed the Ellis Island Immigrant and provided them with an opportunity open up businesses serving the needs of a population with the financial resources to make a business venture possible. The Irish, the Italian, and the Jewish populations, made their fortunes on this population, which made it possible for them to move into the suburbs of the urban centers.

Harlem offered churches as major educational support institutions providing free tutorial programs for youth enabling them to excel in the public schools. The churches also gave daily and weekly support to a people and validated the uniqueness and correctness of their positions. Harlem offered the political battles between the passive theology of Martin Luther King Jr., and the proactive, “by any means necessary” of the my rights Right, and right now, Malcolm X.

Harlem offered the well dressed, gloved and hat young ladies leaving church on Sunday afternoon, and meeting in Snookie’s Sugar Bowl on 7th avenue, to exchange small talk over ice cream and pie. Harlem offered many watering holes and ice cream soda holes where young people could meet and learn the rules of polite and acceptable behavior.

Behavior were shaped and supervised by these watering holes by owners and managers of these Black owned businesses. Harlem offered an opportunity for advancement and change. Paying attention in school would be rewarded with a full scholarship to the City College. Admission into the college was the fastest key to upward mobility. Harlem residents knew that education was the key to the future of anywhere. High schools accepting the Harlem residents prepared them for the world of gainful employment, or the College of academic professional studies. This resulted in mobility. Education means economic improvement and economic improvement often means a chance to try a different neighborhood. The flight of the Harlem educated resulted in a void that was difficult to fill. Harlem welcomed new comers to the neighborhood, but the new comers had no role models.

The height of the renaissance was followed by the flight of the culture code holders of Harlem. The fight for rights in the outer world may have caused a loss of the understanding of the human drive for self-determination. Somewhere along the way, Harlem lost its ability to self governs itself from inside of homes and churches. Somewhere along the way Harlem lost the understanding of the value of education as the key to all dreams.

Somewhere along the way, Harlem gave itself permissions to accept the rejects from the teachers and policemen being given work assignments from the city. Somewhere along the way, some parents decided to enter into battle zones with some teachers in some schools. Somewhere along the way, children caught the idea that to know was wrong, and the ability to demonstrate ignorance was something to be celebrated the streets became the teacher. The music industry influenced the street. Gone were the sounds of romantic love flowing from the pens of creative poets, helping young men express feelings for young women.

In its place came poetry of violence and disrespect. Young men called women negative sexual names, and forced the women to respond to these names. These names were played to a hypnotic beat, which clouded the judgment between right and wrong. The rejects of society were put forth as respected peers and leaders of the culture. Prison wear became fashioned wear. Girls showed their young bodies and young men showed under garments. Tattoo inked signs forced on men in prisons, became fashionable street wear. Harlem let itself be invaded by a cancer, which was worst than poverty. The poor homes of the past turned out individuals with dignity and respect for themselves and their family. The schools sent more and more young people to prison as a result of dumming them down and teaching a fear curriculum to a population no one wanted to upset. These young men learn their identity in prison, and came out, and retaught impressionable young men, whom they were. Churches retreated behind closed doors, and preached sermons to senior citizens preparing to meet their maker. They did not know how to handle this change in the population, and they were not interested in trying.

Somewhere along the way, the politicians and representatives sold out the citizens of that small area for thirty pieces of silver. Somewhere Harlem became the drop in center for opportunist seeking to cash in on an underserved population. Somewhere along the way Harlem decided to take a back to the future trip on its way to the 21st century.

Who was it that discovered this gem surrounded by two rivers? Who was it who discovered that all road lead to and through Harlem going any place in the United States? Who was it that discovered that the grand buildings in Harlem are worth millions, and it would be impossible to duplicate its structure? Who discovered that two major universities are situated in the center of this awesome place?

The politicians who represented Harlem should be ashamed of themselves. They attended the rubber chicken circuit, and promised everything and delivered nothing. Most stood by as the Harlem school system, which at one time was one of the best, became one of the worst school system in the country.

A former Mayor of New York City tried to point out the failure of the school system, and the unfair treatment of minority students, but the teachers union, and the Black community attacked him. Harlem did not see a change until after 9/11, the entrance of Bill Clinton into Harlem, and a sizeable population discovering that it was a nice place to live. Clinton, business and white people came to Harlem, and now Harlem is being restored to its old self. What Black people did not have the courage to do for them, white people are doing for them. White people are showing Black people how to be Black again.

            Somewhere from the heart of the two great rivers running under that stretch of land, the souls of the Harlem cried out and said, remember me, remember my greatness, remember who I am. The soul of Harlem, that soul that lives on forever and passes from generation to generation has found its spiritual voice and the Harlem of all the yester years is coming alive. The voices of its writers, singers, poets, artist, prayers, the voice of the people who have shed tears and blood in its cement gardens cry out to be heard. The sounds are different. They may be mixed with Caribbean, African, Asian, and Haitian; there are some of the old souls from the southern parts of the country who refused to move out of this exciting neighborhood. There are some that were so financially secure, that there housing reflected their financial elegance, and the saw no reason to move. There were the secret millionaires who maintained the quiet dignity, which they had worked for or inherited. There were the churches, which continued to hold the traditional services with the same dignity and grace that is accepted by the folks who know.

There are the multimillion dollar brown stones that have been passed down from generation. The insides of these homes of elegance will never be viewed in the media. These homes are the secrets of the silent majority. These are the holders of the traditions and the richness of this community. The 21st century has ushered in a new period, in this Harlem.

With the slow death of racism, developers are quickly moving in to cash in on this gem between the rivers. Buildings are being planned with views over the gateway to the United States. Someone discovered that racism is not worth billion of dollars. Someone is discovering that Harlem is on the Island of Manhattan and the Island of Manhattan is the financial capital of the world. Someone has discovered that this multi-cultured country is represented in this small but exciting piece of real estate. Harlem is today, as it has always been an interracial, international home to all who love her. As a daughter proud to share her history, I celebrate that Harlem is the place of my birth.

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