CLAYTON BANKS/SILICON HARLEM, LAPTOPS AND LEARNING
"Digital is an absolute human right now . . . Digital is Everything"
Harlem is Healing celebrates Clayton Banks, co-founder and CEO of Silicon Harlem. Over 20 years, Banks has been a pioneer in the cable and communications industries, developing applications for network cloud, gaming consoles, social media, augmented reality, interactive TV, tablets, mobile apps and 400 interactive properties, including MTV, ESPN, Essence Music Festival, Urban Latino, Prudential, New York Institute of Technology, United Technologies, National Urban League, TV networks, and worked with former President Bill Clinton to publish an interactive college guide series targeting historically black colleges and universities.
Even before the outbreak of the pandemic, Banks built his business and community focus around recognition that 40 percent of Harlem households lack internet access. When the disease kicked off stay-at-home orders, “It was clear immediately that digital was the path to everything – health, education, social services, benefits,” and so he set out to provide hundreds of laptops, connectivity hotspots and digital literacy to those needing service.
“It’s a three-legged stool among equipment, internet access and digital literacy,” and people need all of them,” he said. Through sponsors, including financial backers, universities and citizens, he found ways to get computers into the hands of students who suddenly found themselves trying to learn on-line, to jobless families, to those needing to use Zoom and other online meeting places. It is his mission to transform Harlem into an innovation and technology hub.
The pandemic renewed his sense that the nation is too comfortable with disparities, whether racial or economic. It has motivated him to organize youth groups to learn principles of entrepreneurism and teamwork as well as computer code, and to bring connectivity into public housing common rooms. He has equipped families, students and teachers, and taught them to be comfortable with various uses for the computer. “Digital is an absolute human right now,” he argued. “It is no longer a luxury, it is a utility” that during the shutdown of the pandemic has meant life or death to many,
Asked why he does it, he said that by giving a laptop to an A student who is living in a public housing apartment with three generations, he feels he may have been able to reach someone “who may prove to be the one to cure cancer.”
INTERNATIONAL FUNERAL & CREMATION SERVICES
“You see tons of body bags and tons of people and they’re labeled COVID-19, COVID-19, COVID-19. It’s like a horror show.”
— Nicole Warring, Funeral Director
Harlem is . . . Healing celebrates the four women undertakers at International Funeral & Cremation Services in Harlem, for whom coronavirus has created an overwhelming need to care for the dead as well as for the families left behind. The front lines of the fight have extended beyond hospitals and emergency workers, at times even forcing funeral homes to turn families away.
“We’re being told that we’re heroes for being on the front lines of this, but I feel like I’m failing families every day,” Lily Sage Weinrieb, one of the four morticians, told a Reuters reporter. The desire to customize funerals and care for families has had to give way to simpler ceremonies just by volume. These women have tried to find ways for families to say goodbye, sometimes continuing to text with families after funerals.
The phones in the funeral parlor have been ringing constantly. Suppliers say they are running out of caskets and urns. Jenny Adames, who lost two relatives to the disease, said she no longer hands families the casket catalog; she just asks what color.
Disease is never far away. To keep her daughters safe, Alisha Narvaez showers at the funeral home after embalmings and before going home, then changes clothes in a hallway and showers again when she gets home. Jenny Adames sent her daughter to live with her mother. Nicole Warring’s boyfriend caught the virus and recovered. “No mortuary school can prepare you for what we’re seeing now,” Warring said.
100 TAILORS OF HARLEM, MALCOLM SHABAZZ HARLEM MARKET
“We want to keep people employed as well as help health workers. It is an urgent need.”
—Dr. Mujib Mannan, Malcolm Shabazz Center
Harlem is . . . HEALING is celebrating 100 Tailors of Harlem, a group organized by the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market in Central Harlem to use skills to make needed masks and gowns for the medical and emergency community during the coronavirus pandemic.
At the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market in Central Harlem, the spread of coronavirus presented two simultaneous problems – helping to provide masks, gowns and other protective equipment and keeping people employed in the neighborhood. Stepping up was a group called The 100 Tailors of Harlem, largely made up of West African immigrants, who showed creativity and selflessness.
The 100 Tailors of Harlem works as an extension of the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market small business incubator initiative, reported the Amsterdam News. “Many of our vendors are tailors and seamstresses,” said Dr. Mujib Mannan, executive director of the Shabazz Center. The 100 Tailors of Harlem, which began with 12 tailors at the Shabazz Harlem Market on 116th Street , has been using communal sewing skills to produce masks and gowns for use at Harlem Hospital and funeral homes.
“We want to keep the health care workers safe. Masks for funeral workers and hospitals are top priority,” said Mannan. “Right now, masks are free. It is a two-way street, we want to keep people employed as well as help health workers. It is an urgent need.”
JJ JOHNSON, CHEF
“We’re honored to support the community by helping to get delicious hot meals safely to our neighbors sheltered in place."
Harlem is . . . HEALING is celebrating chef JJ Johnson of FieldTrip, a Harlem restaurant that faced closing because of the coronavirus lockdown. Chef JJ started producing meals for hospital and emergency workers, re-hired staff and has helped to heal the community.
J.J. Johnson, the chef at FieldTrip in Harlem, just decided he -- and food -- could help those at Harlem Hospital who were suddenly flooded with coronavirus patients. Johnson packed and sent 40 rice bowls, his restaurant’s specialty, and followed up the next day by sending food to Mount Sinai, and is keeping at it. He let people know on Twitter, and those actions, in turn, generated new orders that allowed him to bring in two furloughed employees.
Food, it turns out, is one of those things that can help heal in a crisis. And, by being a good neighbor, Johnson has reminded us that our heroes can be right next door – or at a restaurant in Harlem that helps nurses and medical staffers at Harlem hospital. “This has been one of the hardest movements of my life. When I say movement, as in FieldTrip is a true community restaurant,” said Johnson in a note to customers. “We've been able to support the Harlem Community, Children in Need, Laid-Off Hospitality Workers and First Responders. We've received charitable contributions from many and support from a myriad of organizations, philanthropists and individuals looking to contribute to the cause which IS Harlem. This has kept our spirits high.”
Johnson is a partner in Help Our Neighborhood Restaurants, a group that seeks to encourage local takeout and delivery during this crisis by following "rigorous sanitation protocols" in a time of disease. “We’re honored to join this group in supporting the community by helping to get delicious hot meals safely to our neighbors sheltered in place," Johnson explained.
Owner of Melba's Restaurant
“As my grandmother said, ‘This too will pass.’ "
Harlem is . . . HEALING is celebrating Melba Wilson, owner of Melba’s Restaurant and head of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. A Harlem native, Wilson worked for her aunt Sylvia Woods at Sylvia's as well as at Rosa Mexicano and Windows on the World before opening her own eponymous restaurant . She has worked hard to to keep restaurants alive through programs to serve take-out meals – particularly to local hospitals and emergency workers.
Melba Wilson’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is an extension of a lifetime committed to promoting Harlem and New York’s rich food culture, and in working to keep restaurants alive through programs to serve take-out meals – particularly to local hospitals. Her work reflects those using creativity and spirit to heal, a prime mission of this campaign. As we have seen with our own eyes, this disease has put extraordinary pressure on restaurants to survive, and programs to feed those pressed into working on the medical frontlines helps to keep restaurants alive. Wilson told an anonymous caller to her restaurant, who ordered 100 meals for delivery to Mount Sinai hospital in East Harlem, that she was “uplifted by the fact that you are doing this (for others) – and helping my employees by doing this.”
Melba Wilson is not only a cooking legend but also a noted community hero known for greeting her guests with hugs as well as soul food, which she calls “the foundation of American comfort food.” She has joined with other local chefs to create communal food festivals to celebrate Harlem’s bakeries, museums, music sites and churches. She consistently presses to keep restaurant and business dollars in local neighborhoods, a key issue as restaurants face enormous problems by the lockdown resulting from the virus. “I’m leaning on my faith and spirit, but somehow, this too will pass.”
LAFONDA BORICUA RESTAURANT
“Distributing food is about giving hope.”
—James Gonzalez, co-owner, La Fonda Boricua
Harlem is. . . Healing salutes La Fonda Boricua, the well-known East Harlem restaurant, for its efforts to team up with World Central Kitchen and other restaurants in the area every week to distribute cooked meals and free, fresh produce to East Harlem’s neediest, surely an effort to try to heal Harlem during coronavirus, the mission of this campaign.
“Right from the beginning, when you could hear sirens every 10 minutes, you knew there would be people in trouble, and that seniors, in particular, might be forgotten,” said James Gonzalez, co-owner of La Fonda Boricua with founder Jorge Ayala. Gonzalez linked with efforts by Chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen and helped organize a number of participating restaurants. “We decided to give out food.” The first 250 meals from a nearby kitchen were gone in two hours, and the need quickly grew, requiring the addition of other restaurants.
A volunteer distribution network, including off-duty police officers, delivered 2,500 meals, then 5,000 and finally a peak of 33,000 meals a week to seniors, the needy and nearby hospital staff. The program has now distributed well over 500,000 meals to seniors and needy. Even with budget limits and an ever-moving pandemic, the restaurant is providing meals to 400 a day three times a week.
In addition, every Thursday, the restaurant hands out produce to the community through an East 106th Street farmers’ market. La Fonda chefs have been offering recipes using the distributed ingredients and inviting neighbors to offer theirs. Gonzalez said the effort helped return workers to his restaurant and others. But mostly, Gonzalez said, it has been a program “aimed at recognizing the humanity of the moment.”
“It’s a perfect time to learn new skills, be of help,
and not focus on the virus.”
—Brenda Polanco, SoHarlem Collective
Harlem is . . . HEALING is celebrating the SoHarlem Collective run by Janet Rodriguez, It is a group of designers of color who share their fashion-making skills with apprentice; it also creates micro-businesses and provides mentoring, training and educational programs. It now focuses on protective clothing for local hospital workers.
After closing as a result of the coronavirus, the SoHarlem Collective re-opened solely to make hospital protective gear. Brenda Polanco, a Creative Entrepreneur for SoHarlem, heads the project. She ordered thousands of yards of medical-grade material at her own expense. The initial production was 300 gowns and 2,000 masks. Then Harlem Haberdashery ordered gowns for Harlem Hospital, and a bank ordered more for Mount Sinai and St. Barnabas hospitals, and Polanco reached out to SoHarlem’s apprentice recruits.
Now seven seamstresses who had been idled are back at work, sewing from home. “For me, it was a good thing to do, but also an escape from the stress of what is around us,” said Polanco. Janet Rodriquez, founder and CEO of SoHarlem Collective, said that while what they have produced is “a drop in the bucket for what our city needs, we will continue to do our part.” She has been involved in policy and grant-making positions in public, private and corporate roles for more than 20 years, particularly in pressing for the role that arts play.