So, how do you know Jon?!
That was the question bouncing up and down the streets of Harlem during my most recent trek to Uptown.
One half Homecoming day party and the other half housewarming fundraiser, a lot of people were invited to descend on to the neighborhood for what would be quite the celebration. His old rooftop terrace in Harlem was where it was at that weekend and thus, so was I.
You ever read the Great Gatsby? Well, you know how there’s the main character that’s always hosting parties and bringing everyone around each other together for a good time? He’s sort of a central fixture in that community. Well, at home in Atlanta a lot of times I’m that character. However, in Harlem? I’m that other dude in the book that just observes everything like a fly on the wall and writes about it.
And so that’s what this is. However, far from the roaring ’20s in which the book is set (or even that same decade that saw real-life Harlem’s community fill the shoes of its famed Renaissance) this was New Harlem, and Jon wasn’t the only one putting on for the hood.
The New Harlem is all about community, if nothing else. So like I said, Jon isn’t alone. Real ones know when to put the squad on their back, and when that cream rises to the top they become birds of a feather.
This has fostered seemingly countless pockets of friends and colleagues all out to see to it that they share success together. It’s a beautiful thing, let me explain.
The New Harlem is comfortable in its skin. It’s children aren’t afraid to go to church in their brunch clothes nor do they think twice about bringing their tambourine to turn up a mid-week happy hour, be it for Juneteenth or just because.
It is filled with the type of people that don’t mind pulling out a $20 for a cup at the little kid’s lemonade stand by the park — and still let them keep the change. They support the arts and find good use for it, too. Yes, the New Harlem is sustainable in its nature.
It never hesitates to promote its growth and interconnectedness. Not only does it have it’s own kickball league filled with Black employees from Fortune 500 ERGs — New Harlem had the nerve to name the whole league after Black Wall Street! Greenwood is what they called it, and when the games are done they meet up at nearby Black-owned bars to break bread and chit chat.
The New Harlem is contagious. Booked and busy Ivy League grads and HBCU stand-outs are both one-in-the-same, all flocking to the mecca from near and far to taste the nectar and refuel — even if only for a weekend.
And when its children flock together, they commit themselves to fellowship; as they should. They hop in Uber XLs to support their friend’s late night birthday DJ set way out in Brooklyn and still wake up early the next morning for a picnic or maybe even to hoop because just as that basketball won’t bounce itself, they know friendship only works if they do.
The New Harlem is deliberate in the face of gentrification because it knows the power of its own dollar and just how quickly goodness can spread. It pools money to fund the most righteous causes so that its resources are purposefully directed. So each of their institutions, from the kickball league and its bars to the lemonade and art stands, all relish in what it means to be a part of the community.
The New Harlem is all about community, as it always was.
It laughs at your romanticism of the “good ole’ days” and “simpler times” and forces you fall madly in love with what today has to offer. Its beloved offspring know that Adam Clayton Powell, Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, and MLK are more than just street names, but avenues on which they are to carry their legacy’s torch upon.
And so as I stood on the corner of 125th and Lenox I smiled a warm smile as I stared toward the towering condos and offices of midtown. Everybody’s got a little light under the sun, but perhaps at that moment, on that corner, in that community, we shined the brightest.
I could only imagine the rest of the world staring back at me, watching as I, too, made Harlem new.
So, how do you know Jon?