Harlem hat shop. My lame attempt at the local lingo. (Spelling mistake intended)
On September 1st we moved from our sublet in the heart of Manhattan’s theatre district to an apartment up in central Harlem. It is our home for September-October. We’ve been living here for nearly 4 weeks now and I’ve got to say – I feel like I’m in the “real” New York with real people. We loved our time in mid-town, with the excitement of going to Broadway shows and the bright lights etc, but it did seem a bit like a New York version of Disneyland!
Our Street, Central Harlem.
Corner of 135th St and Adam Clayton Powell
Like anywhere in New York, Harlem is both beautiful and ugly at the same time. Gorgeous old apartment buildings with their unique late 19th-early 20th century architecture sit alongside the characterless monolithic tenements, so common throughout NYC. The grand castle-like Shepard Hall (the centre piece of the City College of New York) looks down on the tree-lined streets of central Harlem from the rise above St Nicholas Park. Harlem is greener than I expected but there is also a grungy, somewhat dilapidated look to the shop-fronts along the avenues. But what makes Harlem beautiful to me is the colour and character of it’s people.
Shepard Hall, City College of New York, Hamilton Heights, Harlem.
A.P Randolph Campus High School, Hamilton Heights, Harlem.
Typical tenement building, but most are a lot bigger than this one.
My favourite times to stroll the streets of Harlem are the early evenings and weekends. The streets are alive with locals catching up with each other. Fall has just arrived and we are still having some glorious weather. I get the sense that everyone is wanting to be outside, making the most of the sunshine and warmth before we all bundle ourselves up and go inside for the Winter. It is common to see folks relaxing and chatting outside on their stoops, and elderly people sitting on deck chairs playing cards and discussing the state of the world. I have made a few friends with some of the old boys in my “hood”
As I walk passed groups of young black men holding court on their stoops I have been shocked by their language, specifically the word “nigga”, which is the modern spelling. It seems that every second word out of their mouths is “nigga”. “This nigga said this” and “this nigga did that”.According to the Urban Dictionary (online) – “nigga, niggah etc. al.(noun)1.describes an ignorant, uneducated, foolish individual regardless of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
2. endearing term between two or more individual to describe a friendship or bond.
I think it is a horrible word and would never think of using it myself, but there you are. If you spend any time in Harlem or other black neighbourhoods you will hear it often.
Harlem has a huge number of hair salons and on weekends they do a roaring trade. Hair braiding, weaving and straightening are a big thing here. As I walk pass the open doorways of hair salons I hear plenty of laughter and chatter so they are obviously very social establishments. Nail salons are very popular here too – there is a dazzling range of colours and designs to choose from. On every block there is usually one or two Deli-Groceries, and a laundromat where people sit out front, and chat and listen to music.
September 15th was African-American Day Parade and the weather couldn’t have been better. Thousands of people lined the street to watch the colourful spectacle. Amongst the groups marching were brass and drum bands, dancing girls, children’s sporting groups, junior police cadets, black members of the police force, political hopefuls and their entourages, church and community groups, and protesters. Most community groups were promoting the importance of education and a non-violent society. The protesters want better schools, the police to stop racially profiling young black men, and compensation for “the Central Park Five” and others who have been wrongfully convicted. As a new and white member of the predominantly black community here I felt I got a small but fascinating glimpse at the pride and ongoing struggles of the people in Harlem.
African American Day Parade, Harlem
There seem to be churches everywhere here. I think we have 3 on our block! There are apparently more churches in Harlem than any other neighbourhood in the US and I can believe it. Religion still plays a significant role in the lives of many African-American people here, especially those middle-aged and over. Many churches are very small, inconspicuous establishments on the ground floors of apartment buildings. I’ve noticed quite a few of the grand old churches look a bit run down and in need of a face-lift, but I don’t suppose that comes cheaply. Last Saturday I passed an annual church block party while I was out for a bike ride. Church members were serving BBQ food and salad to the neighbourhood folk. I enjoyed their hospitality and decided the attend their church the following Sunday.
Beautiful apartment architecture, Adam Clayton Powell Jr, Harlem.
I am not especially religious but I have always intended to attend a few church services while I’m here in Harlem, especially to hear the gospel singing. I went along to a local Baptist service last Sunday and was a little disappointing to see only about 30 local people in the congregation. Most of them were middle aged or older but a few children had been dragged along by their mum – one young boy did not look happy to be there. Some churches are obviously struggling while others seem to be doing OK. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to see about 20-30 tourists there for the service. Like me I guess they were there to see a sermon full of fire and brimstone and enjoy some gospel singing. I was not impressed with majority of the tourists who took photos during the service and then left after 20-30 minutes! SO disrespectful and rude. I stayed for the whole 3 hours which I have to admit was a little on the long side!
The local black people tell me that Harlem is changing rapidly and losing it’s character. As Manhattan real estate prices go up, more white people are moving in to Harlem and buying the blacks out. It won’t be long before only middle and upper class black people can afford to live here. It is a shame but I can see the “whitening” of Harlem for myself and I guess I am part of it! I’m reading Malcolm X’s autobiography (with Alex Haley) and in the book he talks about the changing ethnic make up of Harlem over the last 300 years. First there were the Dutch settlers who were edged out by new German immigrants, who were then forced out by the Irish who had fled the potato famine, then the Italians took over, then the Jews and finally the blacks. And so it seems it continues …
One of the many small churches in Harlem.
An even smaller church, in the basement of an building below a party shop!
Another tiny basement church, Lenox Ave, Harlem.
Small church in residential street of Harlem. Most streets have 1-2 churches!!
Gearing up for Halloween later in October
Playa del Carmen, Mexico - November 2013
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