The invisible culture codes for surviving America are all contained in the land between the two Rivers called Harlem. You can cross town and walk from river to river. In that walk you can find the nationalities and colors of the world. You will see million dollar mansions and affordable apartments and projects. You will meet doctors, laywers, engineers, teachers, bankers and store clerks, all shopping in the same supermarkets.Children ride the same busses going to private, religious, charter schools or the changing public schools. Harlem is black, white and brown, smart and sharp, and if you can live in Harlem New York, you can live anywhere. It is in Harlem that children get the neurological strengths to handle the reality challenges of life. Research has not investigated why the neurological challenges, such as ADD/ADHD and Autism, are not epedimic as in other parts of the country, but there appears to be something in this little stretch of land, which strengthens the mind and disciplines the behaviors. You need to be mentally tough and emotionally strong, and kicking and screaming stretched out on the floor will not make it in Harlem, the environment says in secret codes, pull yourself together and Function!

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 still the seat of capital for over 40 million Black people. Harlem is not 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 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, ( you learned to milk the cows and fight the bees for the 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, they 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 human fruit swinging from the branch of a secluded tree in the woods. Harlem had concrete trees, and they were not used for lynching parties. Over 9 million African Americans left the southern parts of the United States to escape violence, Jim Crow laws and the hateful Christian lynching parties. Harlem was one of the destinations, which thousands coming to New York City selected.

Harlem offered safety and a view into the world of the possible. Brave and capable Harriet Tubmans had scouted out employment opportunities and living accommodations for the new masses pouring into the urban centers. The Great Black migration transformed the work force of the south into the renaissance, which was to come. 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. 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 demonstrate intelligence was wrong, and the ability to show ignorance was something to be celebrated and 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 passionate 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 turned out individuals with dignity and respect for themselves and their family. There were economic challenges but there was no poverty of spirit and hope. Parents instilled in their children the three main concepts of life, which were God, Family, Education. Parents did not fill their children’s heads with images of their ancestors being dragged across a ocean in chains and treated in a subhuman fashioned. They were taught that they were made in the image and likeness of God, and all things were possible under God. Churches joined with families in preparing the youth for their place in an exciting future. Harlem was leading the way in preparing these sons and daughters of Africa to become the seeds of wealth and prosperity. Someone somewhere, in a back room for urban planning made a decision to stop this road to progress. Some one came up with the plan to stop the progress of Black Harlem, and if you want to stop the progress into the future, then turn the attention to the past, and redesign that past. It is impossible to walk in two directions at the same time, and as black men were rushing into a bright future, someone made the decision and turned them around and go deeper into the past. The past no only does not predict the future, but it has the power to derail the future. A history of hopelessness, despair and oppression were included in school curriculums and forced on a fragile generation. Children who were accustomed to holding their heads up high in hope and promise, now bowed their heads in shame, rage and despair; they emotionally and spiritually dropped out of the educational dream, they stayed in school but they changed their goals and directions. The university on the top of the hill was no longer the destination, the urban planners had diverted a population to a different financial direction, and Harlem became a feeder site for a booming industry. 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 identities in prison, and came out, and retaught impressionable young men a recreated reality of who they were and the hopelessness of who they could be. 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 themselves- white people were doing for them. White people were 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 they 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 to 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. There was also other well kept secret of Harlem; Harlem had a low rate of children with developmental ADD or ADHD. The community demanded sharp attention to details. The areas were structured and various blocks required that attention to the unwritten coded of behavior be carefully observed. Compassion for students with challenging needs were met with some of the greatest behavior adjustment practices unwritten in psychology Journals. Students had to reach for their best intrinsic survival skills to handle external factors in the environment. In other words they had to keep themselves together to the best extent that they could because there were behaviors, which were tolerated and behaviors that were not. Individuals were born with physical challenges, but they usually did the best they could to use what they had to fit in and survive an unforgiving environment. Harlem had not heard the term Autism, but it would have required that children function without being fed a dog biscuit or small token for behavior modification. Harlem gave out no biscuits or tokens the invisible structure, cultural codes and mores of the place did not permit the brain to go off into the weaker segments of learning, and required that individuals develop a learned set of structural behaviors for getting along in an environment requiring the best cognitive skills; street smarts some called it, however, it was an understanding of how worlds work, and Harlem was a world within a world. Those who fled to the suburbs are quietly migrating back to these inner cities, because they are realizing, even before government does, that these inner cities have built within them the answer to how to fight this epidemic of Autism sweeping the country. Autism has not come to the inner- cities, the codes of the streets will not permit its development. Kids may be bad, loud mouthed and in your face, but they are smart and healthy, and a smart healthy child has a future.   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 secret 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, the possible encouragement of the development of serious mental health issues in their children and the stress from commuting long hours. 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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