Harlem today is the fastest growing upscale uptown area of Manhattan. Poverty has gone or is in hiding, and in it place came young bright ambitious white, Asian, Latino, North African, Middle Eastern men and women, seeking to take part of the American dream. Autism and ADHD are low, children develop the neurological strengths to survive a multicultural environment with strong parenting skills and traditional values and manners expectations. Its history is exciting, and today it was on my mind.

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 the sacred streets where imaginary people believe imaginary things happened. Harlem is the seat of capital for over 40million Black people. Harlem is the place where mental images of millions of people trying to break free from the throws of oppression. The images of Harlem and the reality of Harlem are not always congruent. Harlem is 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. Harlem is the place where school buildings welcomed students from all walks of life, and said sit down and learn. Harlem is 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. Harlem offered a view into the world of the possible. Harlem has the footsteps of the Langston Hughes, Count Bassie, Duke Ellington, and Arthur Schomburg. Harlem offered the voices of men and women who did not know that they were deprived or disadvantage, and were 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 offered the churches, which 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 was shaped and supervised in these watering holes – by Black 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 was the means to economic improvement and economic improvement often meant 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 govern itself from inside of homes and churches – Somewhere along the way – Harlem loss 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 demonstrate knowledge was wrong – and the ability to demonstrate ignorance- in order to be accepted – was something to be celebrated – the streets became the teacher. The music industry influenced the street – Gone were the sounds of – the spiritual – notes of jazz – speaking in – musical tongues and communicating hope to a people- gone were – the 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 homes of the past- even through times of financial hardships – turned out individuals with dignity and respect for themselves and their family. The schools sent more and more young people to prison as result of dumbing 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 re -taught impressionable young men, who they were. Churches retreated behind closed doors, and preached sermons to senior citizens- on salvation and getting to heaven. 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 backwards trip to the future – 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 of dollars – and 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 attended the rubber chicken circuit, and promised everything and delivered nothing.

Politicians stood by as the Harlem school system – which at one time was one of the best – become one of the worst school systems – in the country. Former Mayor Guiliani – tried to point out the failure of the school system, and the unfair treatment of minority students, but the teachers union- organized the Black community to attack . 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 – white people – came to Harlem and transformed the whole area. White people are showing Black people how to be Black again. How to fight for – quality education- and not fight to keep failing schools opened. Quality education is a part of social justice- and because of the nature of power- it requires – black and white- working together for justice. White parents would not accept teachers saying they cannot teach students – using a whole list of excuses. White parents came to Harlem and said- if you cannot teacher all the children- get out of the classroom. ( This is something that New Jersey does- New Jersey demands a qualified teacher in every classroom and are trained to put students in college seats- not prison benches. New Jersey has one of the best education system in the country- and if your school is not living up to – this demand for excellence- find out why.) We can pass on to this generation and future generations – the story of Harlem yesterday and today- today the Harlem’s of America are in places like Paterson- Newark- Camden- where the system will deliver poor education- if the people accept it- In the public schools- teachers are paid the same – regardless if they work in a wealthy area- or an economically distressed area. They teach to the level of expectations of the parents and the students. Teachers judge students by parents- so if you walk into a school looking un – kemp and uncaring- you dictate how your child will be educated. Expect excellence from your child and the teachers- and be an active participant in your child’s education. Schools are owned and operated by the government- and teachers are government agents- so they know what is going on in the community and in your home- and the government has the power to come into your home to see how the children are being treated. If your child needs something- it is your responsibility to let the government or its agent know- they are obligated to come to your assistance within 24 to 48 hours. Teachers watch children- and they have the responsibility of reporting any need the child may have. Parents who are new comers to the family are sometimes reluctant to let someone know if a financial emergency comes up- the government sets special funds for families with children- requesting help when needed – demonstrates responsible parenting. Schools and churches are considered feeding centers- and government expects religious faith and community centers to be the eyes and ears for the community. Community centers and faith organizations are also information’s centers- if they do not have the resources needed- they have information- where the resources can be obtained. If you do not know this information- no-one will tell you- It is the role of the women in the family to know the needs of the family and what resources are available to help over the difficult times. We must pass on the codes of how the country works. African Americans did not become the wealthiest most educated peoples of color or earth- with a purchasing power in the trillions- without knowing the special codes of America. We are failing to pass the codes on to our children and grand children- and they are fighting battles- that we already have fought- and won- The secret to success in America is quality education and quality health care- and this is achieved in a strong family unit with defined values. We have to remind our selves of who we are as a people and what values we have and live by.

               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 – cried 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 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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