On Harlem, Business, and the Economics of Culture: Brothers Gonna’ Work it Out

Background photo by: Ajay Suresh

“The ability to augment the profit motive with a service motive is a positive, life-affirming, community-building ideal—the business model of the future!”

Our community in New Jersey is heartbroken over the passing of our beloved leader, friend, and sister, NJ Lt. Governor Hon. Sheila Y. Oliver. Thank you to NJ Governor Phil Murphy for sharing reflections about his partner in government with words of comfort to The Positive Community (TPC) family. In October 2023, TPC will celebrate the life and memory of this great public servant and mighty leader in a special Sheila Oliver Memorial Tribute Issue.

Recently, I attended a standing room-only HARLEM WEEK/Black Health Matters Conference at the Alhambra Ballroom on Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. After the event, I decided to make an unscheduled call on my friend, Lloyd Williams at the offices of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce (GHCC).

Our Beloved Harlem

The headquarters of the GHCC and HARLEM WEEK are housed in a nondescript building on West 136th St. Inside the offices was a beehive of activity, pulsating with a no-nonsense energy. The creation, planning and execution of over 150 events—conferences, expos, concerts, 5-K Run, and festivals over a three-week period in August—are coordinated and launched with precision and excellence from the GHCC/HARLEM WEEK command center.

Upon my arrival, the receptionist told me Lloyd was in his office in the back. I walked past the conference room where he and I had met countless times over the years. I opened the door to a small, rather modest space (as opposed to a large executive office) and greeted Lloyd Williams, chairman of HARLEM WEEK and CEO of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce. As I came into the room, I had to look behind the door just to see the staffer who was sitting across from him.

On my way back to New Jersey, I thought much about what I had just experienced in Harlem. And here is my conclusion: God Bless the people! It’s not about Lloyd Williams or his longtime business partner Voza Rivers, executive producer and vice chairman of HARLEM WEEK. Rather, it is about their selfless commitment to progress and positive change—moving the people forward, inspiring teamwork and cultural pride! Yes, it’s all about our beloved Harlem: the economics of culture, and quality, loving, service! May God bless the forward-thinking leadership of Lloyd Williams, Voza Rivers, and their entire team!

Experience and Wisdom

HARLEM WEEK and The Positive Community share a common ancestor: we are both students and disciples of the great Percy E. Sutton’s creative community leadership regime. It was through a vision of Percy Sutton and the “Gang of Four” that HARLEM DAY was established 49 years ago. Business partner and co-founder of TPC, Jean Nash Wells and I met while working at Percy Sutton’s WBLS/ WLIB radio stations. You see, Jean was my boss at WLIB. I was an advertising sales account executive. After a successful tenure, Jean was called up to WBLS sales. She appointed me (at 31 years old) to succeed her as general sales manager of WLIB. I remained in senior management for 10 years! The Positive Community prototype, Positive Community News was first published in 1999.

Lesson of the day: We succeed only when we build upon what’s already been established. This truth is the success formula for any prosperous community or people. HARLEM WEEK gets better every year, for this reason. Ask Lloyd or Voza about the origins of this world-class festival. Always remember, just because something is old, does not mean it should be despised; or because a thing is new or novel, does not mean it should be unconditionally embraced. It takes wisdom and experience to discern and determine culturally, what values to carry forward and what must be left behind if society is to advance.

Innovative Leadership

Throughout the year, the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce sponsors scores of events, conferences, community engagement activities and corporate outreach initiatives. The most innovative is the Uptown Leadership Conference Calls. Born in response to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, weekly check- in calls was established. Over 100 leaders—decision makers, administrators, and crisis managers in public and private institutions, elected officials; professionals in technology, healthcare, education, public safety, clergy, business, community service, arts and cultural institutions would call-in to discuss the challenges, find solutions and report back the following week. This robust community leadership forum continues to meet each month!

The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce is about the business of the future! After all, winning in life and business does not have to be at the expense of an unfortunate loser. The Chamber understands that it’s not just about numbers, but rather about souls—the value of qualitative relationships (touch) over quantitative metrics (reach). The ability to augment the profit motive with a service motive is a positive, life-affirming, community-building ideal—the business model of the future!

TPC salutes Lloyd Williams and Voza Rivers. I pray that future generations will build upon what has already been established. For it was the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, who proclaimed: He, who would become greatest among us, let him be the servant of all!

On Harlem, Business, and the Economics of Culture: Brothers Gonna’ Work it Out