By Herb Boyd
HARLEM WEEK is a nationally renowned cultural celebration which has gained global recognition. But that significant event, like so many commercial, entertainment, and cultural activities, has been put on hold by the novel coronavirus pandemic COVID-19. The disease may have stifled The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce’s (GHCC) HARLM WEEK schedule for this summer, however, the Chamber, in its inimitable Harlem style, has found another way to exercise its creativity and ingenuity—helping and rescuing our besieged communities!
GHCC’s response to the pandemic is nearly as wide-ranging and diverse as the social, cultural, and economic outreach programs it creates and launches each year. Almost immediately upon the spread of the virus, GHCC took action—preparing alerts, and posting important information on its website. A GoFundMe campaign, SUPPORT HARLEM NOW!, was launched and has raised considerable funds to assist the impoverished and underserved in Harlem, the vast majority being people of color who tally disproportionately with infections, deaths, collapsing businesses, and unemployment.
In partnership with ReThink Food NYC and Salem United Methodist Church, GHCC initiated a daily food distribution program to feed seniors, families, and the homeless. “Since we began this service we have doubled the 500 meals originally provided and now serve well in excess of 1,200 persons daily from Tuesday through Saturday at Salem Church at West 129th St. and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd.,” said GHCC President Lloyd Williams. Expanding its network of partnerships with West Harlem Group Assistance supported by Cabot Creamery and Hormel Foods, pre-packaged food and pantry items are now being distributed to residents of our neighborhood affordable housing complexes from the Chamber’s commercial space on W. 135th Street.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the demand for personal protection equipment (PPE) has increased, prompting the Chamber to join with City College of New York President Vincent Boudreau in the distribution of gloves, gowns, and masks to Harlem Hospital Center.
Having a partnership with Silicon Harlem already in place was advantageous in providing vital communication tools to connect seniors, students, hospitals, and those confined in shelters. Always current and innovative, Silicon Harlem (led by its creative Co-Founder and CEO Clayton Banks) has stepped up its connectivity and digital literacy with a variety of new devices and platforms.
As a result of the Silicon Harlem/GHCC partnership, over 1,300 vulnerable households and residents of NYCHA have access to the internet. Still, there are countless numbers of students who must participate in distance classes, but are lacking the critical tools of communication. The Chamber is asking those with used or new tablets or computers to donate them to students and residents unable to afford them.
In conjunction with the effort to improve and expand the dispersal of information to the community, the Chamber is currently in collaboration with a number of media outlets and on-air personalities at Columbia University, hospitals, and radio stations such as WBLS-FM, WLIB-AM, and WHCR-FM.
The Chamber produces several programs on WHCR (Harlem Community Radio), which broadcasts from The City College of New York. Hosts include Imhotep Gary Byrd, Voza Rivers, Lloyd Williams, Clayton Banks, and Vincent Boudreau. Important updates are also shared with various print publications, notably the NY Amsterdam News, NY Christian Times, NY Carib News, The Positive Community, and Schneps Media.
Second Harlem Renaissance
The Chamber is in the process of forming a second Harlem Renaissance Commission with such prominent members as former Governor David Paterson, former New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, Harlem School of the Arts President Eric Pryor, President/Publisher NY Amsterdam News Elinor Tatum, NAACP NY President Hazel Dukes, One Hundred Black Men of New York President Michael Garner, Hispanic Federation Chairman Luis Miranda, and institutions such as Columbia University and Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. This distinguished panel of prominent business, civic, educational, religious, and arts and culture leaders will enhance GHCC’s support and assistance to the beleaguered small business community and arts and cultural institutions and strengthen the future growth of Harlem. These are just a portion of the programs and initiatives currently underway at the Chamber. A full complement of its activities can be accessed on the website.
“This novel coronavirus pandemic COVID-19 has dealt a devastating blow to just about every walk of life, every industry, business enterprise, cultural entity, and most alarmingly to those most vulnerable, especially the poor and underserved in our community,” stated Lloyd Williams. “We intend to do all we can to help those in need, and that list seems to grow with each passing day. Along with this commitment, we extend our prayers and good wishes. This is not first time we have been imperiled with such a catastrophe and certainly it will not be the last. So, join us as we continue to bring our skills and resources to minimize COVID-19.” He continued, “We offer our heartfelt appreciation to those who have already contributed to and given support to combat the effects of this terrible disease. We ask that you contact the Chamber at 212.862.7200 to share your thoughts, recommendations, and questions and invite your support and assistance. Visit greaterharlemchamber.com/GoFundMe page to make a donation of any size. It will be very much appreciated and used to benefit many in need. Please stay safe, healthy, and in good spirits.”