GREATER HARLEM CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
“As we help each other, we will get through this.”
— Winston Majette
Executive Director, Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce
Harlem is . . . HEALING is celebrating the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce. As Winston Majette, GHCC executive director, explains, the arrival of the coronavirus prompted the 1,000-member chamber to re-focus its attentions to create programs to meet immediate needs, feeding emergency workers and those losing their jobs and routing people to resources for help.
Of primary importance to the GHCC have been the twin issues of feeding those in need and routing people to resources for help. Winston Majette, GHCC executive director, reported that the Chamber has helped to sponsor a five-day food preparation and distribution effort at the Salem United Methodist Church, 129th and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, that provided 1,000 meals a day for the needy, Harlem Hospital staff and local police. “As my grandparents said to me, if you feed the mind, you can feed the soul and people can think better,” said Majette.
There are also efforts to support small businesses in Harlem to navigate through sudden shutdowns, obtaining and delivering computer tablets to hospitals to allow isolated coronavirus patients to be able to communicate with family members, and offering personal finance sessions to those out of work.
The Chamber’s Community Fund provides services for senior citizens, local small businesses, the homeless, arts and cultural not-for-profits, and families in need, particularly those impacted by the pandemic. The Chamber also sponsors weekly radio broadcasts with relevant information and otherwise gets out the word through a network of health, education, business, technology, religious, cultural and civic leaders.
HCCI , HARLEM CONGREGATION
FOR COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT SERVICES
“We’re more secure when we know we’re going to eat or take care of our finances.”
— Dr. Joan O. Dawson
Chairperson, HCCI Board of Directors
Harlem is . . . HEALING is celebrating The Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement (HCCI) for representing coronavirus response among church groups facing problems with the health of their parishioners. Founded in 1986, HCCI is a coalition of inter-faith congregations that has implemented a portfolio of programs to provide or partner with others to provide for affordable housing, safe streets, financial independence, access to health care and programs for youth. It has a Census program as well.
HCCI, which coordinates social action among more than 100 Harlem churches and mosques, made virus concerns a center of its programming to help with the more practical effects of disease—physical well-being and financial well-being. The change represented a challenge, but after 30 years of service HCCI knew how to adapt, explained Dr. Joan O. Dawson, chairperson of the board of directors. It quickly pivoted to organize delivery of gloves and sanitizers, and to move wellness and social worker visits online. The group re-focused its financial literacy program to advise on job loss, using credit wisely and avoiding fraud. The group has distributed medical and social services links, offering health information about the underlying medical problems in the community that may explain the coronovirus’s disproportionate effects in the Black community.
The group has partnered with others to offer meals at the Salem United Methodist Church and worked with a local laundry to provide pick-up service for seniors. Meanwhile, at churches small and large, clergy have adjusted, in some cases losing a number of parishioners, not to mention tithes, the effects of which HCCI is surveying now. Rev. Michael Walrond at the First Corinthian Baptist Church noted that churches have had to move online, noting that “Tragically, churches may have to close their doors because of the pandemic.” At the Abyssinian Baptist Church, the Rev. Calvin Butts remarked that it took adjusting to preaching solo, online, rather than interacting with his congregation.
New York Urban League
“We have to rebuild community around our sense of shared experience.”
—Arva Rice, President
Chief Executive Director, New York Urban League
Harlem is . . Healing celebrates a perpetual optimist, Arva Rice, and the New York Urban League. Rice, a Wisconsin native and Northwestern University social policy graduate, worked for political leader Ruth Messinger, and served as executive director of Project Enterprise, among other important positions, becoming president and chief executive officer of the New York Urban League (NYUL). The NYUL has tackled the effects of pandemic, social and racial tension, joblessness and community re-building with gusto, prompting this celebration of efforts to provide food, education, business advice and actual cash grants to families hurt by the cumulative effects.
Arva Rice, self-described perpetual optimist, and the New York Urban League stepped up when the coronavirus hit. “There is much more healing to do. People have suffered a lot of loss – personal losses as well as loss of services and jobs. And too often they were denied the chance to acknowledge their losses,” she said, adding, “It was the first time in my life that people were calling me to ask if I knew a funeral director who could respond to their needs.”
“Then we had the second disease – the racial disparities,” she said of the weeks following the George Floyd killing at the hands of police in Minneapolis, and prompting emergency meetings in Harlem and across the city, rallies, marches and talks with officials. Rice was tapped along with Jennifer Jones Austin of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies and Wes Moore of Robin Hood to advise police precincts throughout New York City on better ways to engage with the communities they serve. “We have to rebuild trust—trust in government,” she said. “And we have to re-learn how to get out from our isolation and our new-found reliance on electronic gatherings. Community will be different because we can’t gather as much, but we should recognize that we share experiences.”
Co-founder and Executive director, Harlem Park to Park
“We needed something inspirational to show
we were not being victimized by forces out of our control.”
Harlem is . . . Healing celebrates Nikoa Evans-Hendricks, executive director of Harlem Park to Park and the strategist behind creation of the colorful Black Lives Matter mural on two city blocks of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd between 125th Street and 127th Street. As well, she is coordinating an explanatory documentary video that will explored how the mural reflects hope, resilience and pride in the Harlem community. The daughter of an Air Force intelligence officer, Evans-Hendricks was raised in Germany, Italy and Japan and holds a BA n economics from Stanford University in economics and an MBA from the L.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.
After the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Evans-Hendricks decided to build on the rising response to raise funds for what turned into a $100,000 BLM tribute. Working with ValincPR, LeRone Wilson and the Got To Stop Social Impact Agency and others, she saw the effort as an opportunity to elevate the symbolic nature of BLM street murals as a continuing "call to action" to heal and prosper in the nation’s Black capital. “It was a unique opportunity to have control over an event in a world in which other events were showing us we had no control, either through racial tensions or global pandemic.”
Over five days, Harlem artists were invited to create original artwork for the individual letters of the Black Lives Matter message on the northbound side, and community members painted individual letters of the BLM message on the southbound side – an effort “combining art and culture, community and commerce” with 300 participants. The BLM mural “is a tribute to the vibrancy of our community – our art, our businesses, just the spirit of the community,“ said Evans-Hendricks.
The video documenting the project was created with participation from Dnay Baptiste, Creative Jenius Report and Sekou Luke. It’s the “Village of Harlem coming together to say how the community matters and has always mattered,” she explained.
Harlem Park to Park, a 250-member coalition to promote Harlem culture and business, has been active in helping local businesses to stay alive during a time of pandemic, joblessness and social justice protests. The organization has promoted local restaurants and firms and helped them apply for available grants. It has also promoted voter registration and participation in the 2020 Census.
One Hundred Black Men
“We lead by example.”
Past President, New York Chapter of One Hundred Black Men
Harlem is . . . Healing celebrates Michael Garner and the New York Chapter of One Hundred Black Men (OHBM) for work the organization continues to do to feed people, educate and mentor youth and seek out local job opportunities and help small businesses. One Hundred Black Men organized nationally in the 1960s to address inequities and to empower African Americans to become agents of change in their communities, with programs specifically involving young people. Mr. Garner has a long career in supporting minority businesses, including at the New York City Housing Authority and serves on the board of Harlem Hospital, among other boards.
Michael Garner, who has been president of the New York chapter during these months of pandemic, said, “We’re doing God’s work” in helping people who need food and supplies, work now to be carried on by incoming president Aldrin Enis. One Hundred Black Men has provided more than 6,000 meals to hospital workers and distributed food boxes at churches in Harlem and Queens. It also has delivered 60,000 masks to homeless shelters, senior centers and health facilities around the city, as well as offering weekly webinars on COVID-19 relief for small businesses. The agency has sponsored grants to support Black businesses in partnership with 30 corporate, health, community and government groups.
Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, OHBM participated in rallies and joined with other groups to seek better relations between police and community. Garner said, “We understand that every day is going to be a battle, and we are ready to join that battle for our rights.”
Executive Director, Union Settlement Association
“This is a triathlon, not a sprint, and arriving at a triathlon with your swimsuit but no bicycle or running shoes is a strategy for failure.”
Harlem is. . . Healing celebrates Union Settlement Association (USA), which has been serving East Harlem since 1895. Its executive director, David Nocenti, had already been campaigning for government attention to address lagging health, jobs, education and childcare in East Harlem when coronavirus threatened. For Union Settlement, a community social service provider to 4,000 people in the neighborhood, the coronavirus provided the impetus to retool some of its services to East Harlemites of all ages.
The 500 daily Meals on Wheels service couldn’t stop, for example, but the means of delivery had to; USA transitioned from eat-in programs at senior centers first to meals transported by mask-wearing staff and volunteers to grab-and-go delivery to large apartment complexes. Adult education moved to Zoom and mailed written lessons. Childcare and mental health services became online advice and activities. “Safety first, but then nimbleness, said Nocenti. “If someone had a need, it was our job to figure out how to solve it.”
Union Settlement is part of an East Harlem Community Partnership that prepares food packages for Metropolitan Hospital and for individuals in need. Nocenti praised the 40 staffers who continued to come to work through the crisis to cook and deliver meals and to deliver laptops and water filters, as well as those who provided food supplies. , “Sometimes it is the small things that make a difference,” said Nocenti.
While attention is being paid now to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Brown communities, Nocenti sees that attention as arriving late and inadequately. “In truth, government was astonishingly slow to recognize and respond to the easily predictable impact of this pandemic on low-income neighborhoods. These communities have all the preexisting conditions that would predict the devastating impact, he argued in a New York Daily News op-ed. “Is anyone really surprised?”
He sees a ton of work ahead to deal with simultaneous health, mental health, housing and joblessness issues. Officials who seek to “open things up again” and “return to normalcy” will soon see that it cannot happen anytime soon in East Harlem or other low-income communities. He advocates for a recovery plan that aggressively addresses all the interconnected crises simultaneously. He argues for eliminating red tape for unemployment benefits, subsidizing childcare, adding funds for food banks and food stamps, converting vacant hotels to house those who cannot self-isolate, and for providing financial help for individuals and low-income communities rather than to big companies.
THE SCHOMBURG CENTER FOR RESEARCH IN BLACK CULTURE
“We are trying to allow people to feel engaged even while we are isolated. Sometimes we need to be with our own Black family.”
—Kevin “KC” Matthews, Chief of Staff, Schomburg Center
Harlem is . . . HEALING is celebrating The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for recognizing the need in the time of coronavirus to offer exploration of its rich cultural holdings through the Internet in an effort to heal the community. Founded in 1925 and named a National Historic Landmark in 2017, the Schomburg Center is one of the world’s leading cultural institutions devoted to the preservation of materials focused on African American, African Diaspora and African experiences with collections spanning more than 11 million items and programming that illuminate the richness of global Black history, arts and culture.
At the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, arrival of the coronavirus pandemic signaled a new challenge to community education – putting the center’s vast array of books and articles, manuscripts, archives, films and past workshops and performances online, a commitment to public education in hard times that reflects this campaign’s healing mission. “Access for us means allowing people into things we can share even if they can’t get their bodies into the building,” explained Kevin “KC” Matthews, the Center’s chief of staff. Though the building at Malcolm X Boulevard and 135th Street, part of the New York Public Library, is closed, a sign directs visitors to its digital shelves.
Using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the other social media platforms, a staff working remotely has worked to make the extensive files available to others in the community stuck at home. Through a new electronic newsletter, individual posts and “splash” pages for single events, the center has tried to make digital holdings available to its wide public. “It’s adult education for the curious,” said Matthews, adding, “If we have to be by ourselves, we can still be with one another” exploring a common history and culture. The offerings are varied, depending on specific kinds of digital visits. “Perhaps we’ll get to a virtual party gathering, but first we can we a virtual poetry reading or a virtual author talk.”