Generations of newcomers built Harlem’s rep as talent’s cradle


A report by Peter Bailey for the New York Daily News.

Mostly because of racial and economic oppression in the Caribbean and other areas, black immigrants began moving to America’s urban centers especially New York City in general, and Harlem in particular throughout the 20th century.

Together with black migrants from the former Confederate states of America’s South, these immigrants began a process that led Harlem to become the neighborhood with the highest name recognition in the world.

“With all the current negative commentary about immigrants, we are proud to acknowledge and celebrate our immigrants who have made enormous contributions to the cultural, economic and political life of our Harlem neighborhood,” said Lloyd Williams, president of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce and founding president of Harlem Week.

During the past 43 years, Harlem Week has greatly benefited from the talent, intelligence, knowledge, commitment and productivity of immigrants and their descendants. They were and are, in every sense of the word, true believers in Harlem’s growth and development.

Among their illustrious ranks:

Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, one of the country’s greatest high school, college and NBA basketball players, who was born in Harlem. His height may be linked to his Trinidad-born grandfather, who was reportedly 6-foot-8.

A lover of music, history and basketball, Abdul-Jabbar is a quintessential scholar-athlete who has written several books, including an autobiography and “Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement,” stories about little-known contributors to black history.

June Jordan was a poetry essayist and novelist who was born in Harlem in 1936 to parents who immigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica. Her works include a poem, “Naming Our Destiny,” a novel, “His Own Where” and a nonfiction collection, “Some of Us Did Not Die.”

Jamal Joseph, who was born to a Cuban immigrant mother and raised by what he called loving Southern black grandparents, is a former Black Panther, poet, playwright, director and professor in Columbia University’s School of the Arts Film Division. He’s also a co-founder of the IMPACT Repertory Theatre in Harlem and author of “Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion of Reinvention.”

David Paterson, the first black governor of the state of New York, is the grandson of a woman from Jamaica and a man from Grenada, and the son of former New York Lt. Gov. Basil Paterson.

Former Congressman Charles Rangel was born in Harlem. His mother was African-American and his father was from Puerto Rico. The second-longest-serving member of the House of Representatives when he retired, the high-ranking Democrat was in office from 1971 to 2017.

Voza Rivers, the Harlem-born grandson of immigrants from Jamaica who is first vice president of the Uptown Chamber of Commerce, founding president and executive director of the legendary New Heritage Theatre Group and vice chairman of Harlem Week. He is a premier member of, and contributor to, the Harlem cultural scene.

Grace Williams, a Jamaican-born artist, works in glass, encaustic and paint on canvas. People such as former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton, compelling singer/activist Nina Simone and former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, among many others, included her work in their art collections.

Image: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Esquire magazine.

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