The “New Normal”

A Prestigious Commission Is Created to Move Harlem Forward

By Lloyd Williams, President, The Greater Harlem Chamber of
Commerce and 2nd Harlem Renaissance Commission Co-Founder

One hundred years ago, an explosion of black culture—manifested in literature, music, stage performance, art, dance, education, and sports—began to take place in the section of New York City called Harlem. Lasting roughly from the 1920s through the early 1950s, the period known as the Harlem Renaissance is considered the golden age of African American and Caribbean American culture. Harlem became the Black cultural mecca and capital of Black America.

Outside economic factors, nationally and internationally, led to a massive population boom in Harlem beginning in 1910. By 1920, some 300,000 African Americans from the South had moved north in a surge labeled the Great Migration. Harlem was one of the most popular destinations for these families. They were joined by thousands of Caribbean immigrants from Jamaica, Barbados, Panama, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other islands.

American-born intellectuals like W.E.B DuBois and Alain Locke along with Caribbean-born migrators such as Marcus Garvey and Claude McCay from Jamaica, fueled the Renaissance. Their outspoken theories of racial equality and nationalism gave participants great pride in and control over how the black experience was represented in American culture. Among those helping to produce the transformation with their undeniably exceptional talent and skills were novelists Nella Larson and Zora Neale Hurston; artists Romare Bearden and Augusta Savage; musicians Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald; poets Langston Hughes and Georgia Douglas Johnson; journalists and historians Arturo Schomburg, and Countee Cullen; and World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Joe Louis, to name a few.

2nd Harlem Renaissance
The COVID-19 virus has had a dramatically disproportionate impact on communities of color nationwide. The devastation to the citizens of Harlem is extraordinary both in terms of lives lost and the economy. Collectively, we must plan for the recovery and future of our beloved Village of Harlem, as opposed to having others plan for us—which far too often has been the case—with ensuing disastrous results.

One hundred years later, what Harlem needs is another renaissance. The 2nd Harlem Renaissance Commission has been formed to lead the way. We are pleased former NY State Governor Hon. David Paterson has stepped up and agreed to serve as chairperson. The Commission’s distinguished co-chairpersons are NY City Planning Commission Vice Chairman/former CEO of UMEZ Kenneth Knuckles, Esq.; Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce Vice President/former JPMorgan Chase Senior VP Patricia Ricketts; and Jekmar Associates President/ former Tishman Construction COO Louis Katsos. Executive Members are Silicon Harlem CEO Clayton Banks, and NAACP NYS Conference President Dr. Hazel Dukes.

The Commission is working simultaneously on a two-pronged focus:

  1. To concentrate on the SHORT TERM (rapid response) that will dedicate its mission to deal with multiple ongoing crises including health disparities, small businesses, education challenges, our youth in crisis, unemployment, technology deficiencies, etc.; and,
  2. To concentrate on the LONG TERM “Imagineering” now needed to deal with the future more effectively.

The goal of the Commission is to leave a viable blueprint for generations to come and focus on what is now being defined as the “new normal” connected to transportation, housing, education, training, community development, technology, bridging the digital divide, health preparedness, the “new essentials,” etc.

Noticeably different from the first Harlem Renaissance, there are already now, and will be more brick and mortar foundations for the 2nd Harlem Renaissance Commission to build around. Many are underway including Columbia University’s West Harlem Manhattanville Educational Development (sections already completed); the Victoria multi-use development on West 125th Street, which includes a Marriott/Renaissance hotel, residential apartments, cultural and retail components (nearly completed); Strivers Gardens mixed-use complex on W. 135th Street including 170 international award-winning condominium units and 48,000 square feet of commercial space with a bank, pharmacy, restaurant, etc. (already completed); the new Studio Museum in Harlem (under construction) on West 125th Street, which will be an international magnet showcasing artistic creations; development of a new Harlem School of the Arts on St. Nicholas Avenue and 142nd Street (nearly completed). Other new developments scheduled to break ground in 2020–2022 include the National Action Network’s Civil Rights Museum on W. 145th Street, and the Harry Belafonte Cultural Center on W. 110th Street.

Other distinguished members of this historic Commission include Former US Congressman Hon. Charles B. Rangel; Former NY State Comptroller Hon. H. Carl McCall; City College of New York President Dr. Vincent Boudreau; NY Amsterdam News Publisher Elinor Tatum; Carver Federal Savings Bank President Michael Pugh; Zagat Guide Founder Tim Zagat; NYC & Company Chairman Charles Flateman; Columbia University Executive VP Shailagh Murray; Furman Center-NYU Fellow Mark Willis, Esq; One Hundred Black Men of NY President Michael Garner; Jazzmobile Executive Director Robin Bell-Stevens; NYC Planning Commission Board Member Richard Eaddy; Harlem Arts Alliance Chairman Voza Rivers; Schneps Media President Victoria Schneps; Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement Chairperson Dr. Joan Dawson; The Brownstone Owner Princess Jenkins; Emmis Communications General Manager Skip Dillard; Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean Dr. David Forstein; West Harlem Development Corporation Chairman Judge Milton Tingling; New York County Leader (D) Hon. Keith L.T. Wright; DASNY President Rueben McDaniel; Hispanic Federation Chairman Luis Miranda; Williams Strategy Advisors Managing Director Paul Williams, Esq.; and Sunshine Sachs Founder Ken Sunshine.

An immediate dual charge to both the Short Term and Long Term Task Forces is the need to deal with important quality of life issues including technology, development, green spaces, parks, pollution, public safety, climate change issues and more. For more information on the Commission please contact Patricia Ricketts at 212.862.7200 or via email [email protected].

Look forward to hearing more about the Commission. We need and welcome your participation, thoughts, and recommendations.