(From left to right) Church members Diana Branch, Yvette McClamb, and Renee Lilly along with other members hold signs to support NYC marathon runners Photo by Brelaun Douglas.
Hitting the 22-mile marker next to Marcus Garvey park in Harlem, today marathon runners were greeted with cheers of “you can do it”, signs reading “22 miles and you still look sexy”, and the smells of cooking hot dogs and hamburgers.
The members of 5th Ave. Church of God, located right along the route on 5th Avenue and 120th street, came out at 9:30 a.m. to offer free food, music, words of encouragement and prayers.
“We’re out here today because we realized that New York City has one day that it comes together, that it’s absolutely diverse and unified and that’s on this day: the marathon,” said church member Diana Branch. “So we figured we’d come out and join in with all of the diversity and beautiful love of unity and also give out free food and tell people the love of Jesus just by showing it, because sometimes people don’t want to come into church and I get it. We’re too churched out in this nation. So instead of doing all of that we wanted to come out and pray for people, give them food and bless people.”
Members of the church attend the race every year cheering runners on and offering them prayers and inspiring words, but this year they wanted to do something different.
“Last year when we came out we were just talking and cheering people on, but this year is the first year that we’ve done the food and the music,” Branch said. “We’re giving out hamburgers and hot dogs and water and we’re also sending the kids out to encourage the runners with waters and high-fives.”
First lady of the church, Juanita Daniels, wanted to make sure that the church supported and encouraged the runners and everyone at the race without compromising themselves.
“To be relevant without compromise,” said Daniels on why the church was supporting the race. “Our music is Christian music. It’s Christian rap, Christian salsa, Christian R&B and it’s a tool of Evangelism. It would draw those who normally wouldn’t come. If you watch for a little while you will see people walk by and they’re dancing and they don’t even realize its Christian music and it draws them in and then we have that chance to spread the love of Jesus with them.”
Branch also felt that it was important to support the race and runners because it was a great time to come together.
“It’s a beautiful day for diversity,” she said. “I admire this day so much because with everything that’s going on with the world this is the one place right now that nobody’s angry. It’s awesome.”
Asteria Claure, 61, cheers on the New York City Marathon Runners, with a cowbell in one hand and chewable vitamins in the other, as the ran through Harlem. By Astrid Hacker
Wearing a neon vest with the word “coach” plastered across the front, Asteria Claure, 61, cheered on the 2015 New York City Marathon runners for the 12th consecutive year, as they ran through Harlem today. She knew how it felt having run in the marathon for 10 years.
“I was 16-years-old when I started to run, I was a track runner, a sprinter,” she said “When I turned 40 I started to run marathons.”
Claure has attended the marathon, as either a runner or supporter, since 1994. Born and raised in Bolivia, she said she had always loved sports, but none of them resonated with her like track and field.
“Running was the best for me, I learned to challenge myself,” she said. “When I was in basketball I used to get upset when I lost the game, I didn’t like it. I went into track, I was winning, I said it’s going to be on me.”
After graduating from college, Claure spent 20 years in Venezuela running and working as a physical education teacher and coach.
She said that it was a challenge that brought her to New York in 1994. A friend challenged her to run in the marathon and from there she fell in love with the New York City Marathon. She returned to Bolivia in 1995 and was invited to New York once again to take part in the World Champion Masters in Buffalo, N.Y.
“I came to the world champions and then after that I never went back to my country,” Claure said. “When I came to New York, the first thing I did is come to Central Park and look for the runners.”
Claure has since taken part in 15 marathons. She said that while she is still healthy she will continue to run and encourage others to do the same.
“Go Julie, don’t look down, hey, don’t look down,” Claure shouted to one of the runners. “Come on, don’t give it up.”
Armed with a cowbell in one hand, she screamed advice to the runners that were slowed down by leg cramps and encouragement to those weary from the run as they pushed on. This year Claure cheered as a member of the organization New York Road Runners (NYRR) Team for Kids. The organization encourages children to run, and she was there to support the members of the organization that were taking part in the race.
“I don’t just cheer them, I cheer to everybody because I’m a runner, I’m a coach,” she said and then pointed to her head. “Everything is here. If you are able to run 5k you are able to run a marathon, but you have to start training.”
She said that, for her, running is everything. It is her life.
“If I’m going to win it’s on me, if I’m going to lose it’s on me.”
Rapper A$AP Ferg is using his fame for a good cause.
He started up the first-ever Ferg Fair, an event that took place at the Harlem Polo Grounds Community Center on Sunday, August 9. The fair focused on healthy living and positivity, with free health checks, activities and performances for 300 young people. The Harlem-bred rapper partnered with The Children’s Village and People of Peace (POP) to give back to his community and pick up where his grandmother left off.
“She used to do a health fair in my father’s name because he died of a kidney failure,” said A$AP Ferg. “I figured, I have a little fan base now, so that’ll be cool for me to use my star power for something positive.”
His “little” fan base is actually a pretty big one, with more than 435,000 followers on Twitter.
A$AP Ferg hopes to encourage the youth of Harlem to reach for their dreams.
“I just want them to be inspired. Inspired to know, inspired to be curious, be curious about themselves and what’s going on in their bodies as far as health,” he said. “I was always curious as a young child, wanting to know what was happening in New York City besides Harlem. I think that curiosity led me to where I am right now.”
The event ended with a performance by Ferg and a Q&A session with the audience. He sat on the edge of the stage, surrounded by excited fans. The intimate setting and genuine answers proved he’s like the big brother they’ve been looking for.
“I’m here if they need that guy who came from the same place they came from. I’m cut from the same cloth, I’ve probably gone through the same battles. I made it out, so you can make it out too,” he said. “As long as you got that goal in your head of where you want to go on top of that mountain, you’ll find a way to get up there. I can’t tell you how you’re going to get up there, but you’ll find a way and I’ll meet you up there.”
With events like the Ferg Fair, he’s setting a great example for teens and spreading a positive message about the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle.
by Evgeniya Zolkina
Born in Ghana, international artist, Tafa, opens his Harlem studio and shares his inspirations.
Long-distance runner and ING NYC Marathon’s top female finisher Firehiwot Dado turned onto Broadway in a blaze of red causing Harlem to come alive in the roaring of cheers and slapping of thunder sticks, welcoming the first stream of runners to the race’s homestretch.
“You can do it,” the soulful voice of Claude Jay said, rolling over the crowd’s applause. “Harlem congratulates you.”
With his mouth to the microphone, Jay’s was the first voice the athletes heard upon entering the Harlem Miles—mile markers 21 to 23.
On the corner of 135th Street and 5th Avenue, life-long singer and Harlem-based business owner Jay sang a gospel song, “Mighty Mighty Mighty God,” interrupting himself several times to cheer on the athletes.
“Congratulations. Welcome to the Harlem Miles,” Jay shouted, as Dado ran down Broadway with police escorts on motorcycles as the first woman to enter Harlem and eventually win the 2011 ING New York City Marathon.
Harlem has always had great energy and presence at the marathon, according to Jay who has been coming to this race “since they started it” in 1970.
This morning’s crowd is a mix of children, parents and the neighborhood’s senior citizens with walkers or sitting in automated wheelchairs.
“The energy is so exciting. Harlem is a big part of New York City,” he said. Crowds lined the sidewalks on 5th Avenue from 135th to 125th Streets, prepared to cheer on about 50,000 runners to follow the pack leaders.
“This is awesome,” Jay said. “This is a Gospel stage. It’s like a sermon in motion because the will and the determination you see here today. It’s an honor to welcome them into Harlem, to New York, to Manhattan.”
Jay is no runner and doesn’t have the urge to give the marathon a try, he will always be on the sidelines welcoming runners to Harlem.
“The best part of this is watching the people on the sidelines and kids respond.” he said. “People really leave here inspired.”
Rand Scholet stared up in awe at Hamilton Grange atop Saint Nicholas Park, the only house that U.S. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is ever known to have owned. Just moments earlier, the U.S. National Parks Service had opened the newly-restored home to the public during an unveiling ceremony yesterday that attracted hundreds of visitors from the surrounding Harlem, Manhattan neighborhood and beyond.
“I can’t believe it,” said Scholet, a die-hard Hamilton enthusiast who said he drove a whopping 1,300 miles from his hometown of Clearwater, Fla. just to be here. “It’s such a dream come true to see where this fascinating gentleman lived.”
Scholet, a 54-year-old retired IBM employee, can rattle off obscure Hamilton-related facts like a hyper, all-knowing tour guide.
It’s no wonder.
“I’ve read 32,000 pages and 27 books on Alexander Hamilton in the past two and a half years,” boasted Scholet, who wore a blue NASA jacket with a pin featuring Hamilton’s likeness. Scholet’s baseball cap, also with a Hamilton pin, contained the words “St Kitts & Nevis,” referring to the Caribbean island where Hamilton was born and raised. During a recent pilgrimage, Scholet said he’d journeyed to that island via cruise-line.
“I’ve been to all of Hamilton’s homes,” he said.
The Hamilton Grange National Memorial’s previous location had been a few blocks away, semi-hidden between a church and an apartment complex. But the parks service restored the yellow and white structure, now at the corner of 141st Street and Hamilton Terrace, to its original appearance after five years of research and renovation, according to project organizers and architects. The original house, built in 1802, stood on another property less than a quarter mile away.
Some visitors waited more than 30 minutes for a glimpse at the memorial’s interior, which boasts a museum-style exhibit commemorating Hamilton, who was a congressman, Federalist Papers co-author, and the United States’ first Treasury Secretary.
Approximately 1,200 people attended the event, said Mindi Rambo, a public affairs officer for the parks service. Park rangers, community leaders, and officials with ties to the project said they expect the remodeled site to boost the neighborhood financially.
Ed Aleksey of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn was one of many Hamilton admirers who ventured to Harlem for the festivities.
“I’ve been a big Andrew Hamilton fan since I was a kid,” said Aleksey, a 57-year-old accountant, who in 2004 attended a re-enactment of the duel that took Hamilton’s life. “I think [the memorial] is wonderful. He’s a Founding Father from New York.”
Like other Hamilton fans, Aleksey cited Hamilton’s humble roots and exotic ‘rags-to-riches’ narrative, lauding Hamilton as a great man who through wisdom, creativity and ambition did so much to shape a republic.
Earlier in the day, a Hamilton impersonator had made a glorious entrance, riding in on a horse-drawn carriage that clip-clopped down 141st Street to the sound of live bagpipes. ROTC guardsmen presented colors, a Harlem choir sang the Star Spangled Banner and dignitaries executed prepared speeches.
And in two rows of bleachers marked “Reserved” sat actual Hamilton descendants, including seven-year old William Alexander Hamilton, who wore a dark business suit and red tie.
Congressman Rengal, who had helped promote the restoration project and as usual sported his trademark bow tie, invited the small redhead up to the podium, and angled the microphone towards the little Hamilton on this Constitution Day.
“I want to say something,” squeaked the youngster as the crowd geared up for its most ferocious applause line of the day. “My seventh great-grandfather is on the ten dollar bill.”
Beau Bostic stepped onto the stage of a Harlem nightclub with the swag of a hip-hop artist. In a spotless oversized white T-shirt and baseball cap, Bostic grasped the microphone and began to spit out lyrics about the trials of street life. At the front door, patrons paid a $10 cover charge and picked up free condoms.
Bostic is just one of the half-dozen artists featured recently as part of “M.A.D. Wednesday’s,” a show held on the second Wednesday of every month at the Shrine World Music Venue at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvd. in Harlem to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in the African-American community.
Maria Davis, 51, an AIDS/HIV activist who hosts the monthly event, started M.A.D. Wednesday’s in the 1990s to provide a space where young R&B and hip-hop singers and comedians could hone their skills. It has showcased artists such as Brandy, Monica, Jay-Z, and the late Bernie Mac.
Davis still holds the event to promote new talent, but after being diagnosed with AIDS in 1998, she incorporated HIV/AIDS awareness into the show. She now hands out condoms and raises funds for the AIDS Walk in addition to letting patrons have a sneak peak at the newest up-and-coming artists.
“Young people are so heavily informed by the hip-hop community,” Davis said. “I think that it would be a great thing for them to not only give the message of safe sex, but to give hope to the hopeless.”
Bostic, 30, of Red Hook, Brooklyn, is a hip-hop artist who heard about the event through Facebook.
He said he’s grateful to people like Davis who teach him about the risks of having unprotected sex.
“Sometimes you get into situations where you may be on the way to being intimate with a female and without a condom,” Bostic said. “It’s only through these outlets, news papers, radio, magazine, TV, it is only through these outlets that those thoughts start to rush into your head and you are like, ‘You know, let’s just wait. Let’s just do the right thing.’”
Davis was a successful hip-hop promoter, soon to be featured on the debut album of rapper Jay-Z when she received a letter that changed her life. She had taken an HIV test as part of an application for a life insurance policy and the results came back positive.
“I thought that my life was over because at the time when I found out I was HIV positive in 1995, medications weren’t even out yet, they were just starting to get a handle on the disease,” Davis said. “At that time we thought that HIV was a gay white man’s disease.”
Davis contracted HIV unknowingly from her boyfriend, a man she thought she was going to marry. Three years later, she was diagnosed with AIDS.
“I was scared and afraid and thinking about death,” she said.
Her health took a turn for the worst. The disease was eating away at her body and she was rapidly losing weight. Davis said she was on the verge of death when she turned to the Bible for help.
She became an AIDS activist soon after and has since dedicated her life to teaching African-Americans about the disease.
HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects African-Americans. According to the U.S. Office of Minority Health, under the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, African-Americans were nine times more likely than whites to be diagnosed with HIV in 2008. And while African-Americans represent just 12 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 48 percent of all new HIV infections in 2009, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Davis said she still encounters many myths about HIV/AIDS.
“There are still people that think that AIDS is a curse, that people that get AIDS deserve to get AIDS, that their behavior should have been different, that they are promiscuous,” Davis said.
The Centers for Disease Control attributes the high rate of HIV to lack of awareness, limited access to healthcare and HIV prevention education. The CDC also calls attention to the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in the African-American community, which prevents many at risk individuals from seeking testing and counseling due to a fear of being shamed.
Deborah Levine, Vice President of Community Development for the National Black Leadership Coalition on AIDS based in New York City, called the numbers “staggering.”
Levine said it is important to talk outside the box about sex and sexuality, and to take the message from inside the doctor’s office to more unconventional venues.
“It starts with prevention, it starts with telling people about what the epidemic is, how they can not be come infected, where they can get tested and if positive where they can get treatment,” she said.
Three young brothers, wrestled with each other, struggling for possession of a basketball. Two girls giggled and screamed as they ran down the hall, trying to avoid the fray. Other teens stepped out of the elevator, laden with winter coats and backpacks as young adults steered them toward the gymnasium.
Such unrestrained chaos is not usually considered an ideal work environment. But at a Mormon church on the corner of 128th Street and Lenox Avenue, one tutoring program has found a way to capitalize on the mayhem.
Hotdogs and Homework, a tutoring program that meets once a week at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Harlem, offers teens a homework-friendly environment where they can work on school projects with young adults who act as both tutors and mentors.
Jessica Allred, 30, a middle school ESL teacher, founded the program in 2002, hoping to help teens with academics and give them positive role models.
“It all started with a Christmas gift drive,” Allred said, referring to her church’s efforts in 2002 to collect donations for schoolchildren in the neighborhood. “There was a moment when I looked at the volunteers wrapping gifts and I said to myself, this isn’t what these kids need. These kids need help with homework and they need positive adult role models who can spend time with them and express interest in their lives.”
Allred coined the phrase “Hotdogs and Homework” to summarize two teenage necessities, adding that she wanted to give them at least one meal a week—and hotdogs were just simple and easy.
“A lot of these kids don’t eat,” Allred said. “They have parents that work all day and kids have to fend for themselves.”
After she moved to Texas, Allred handed the program over to Kristin Robinson, 29, a Hot Dogs and Homework tutor since 2008.
“Every week it’s a hot mess,” said Robinson as she peeled a child off her mid-hug and gently pushed them towards a chair. “I’ve worked with the same girl for two years and we helped her graduate from high school. She had a lot of family drama and she was really worried about [graduating]. There were weeks where it was a little touch and go, but we got her staying after school and then involved in a summer school program and she finally graduated last September. Those experiences are really gratifying.”
According to the 2009-2010 New York City Department of Education progress report, the student graduation rate at some Harlem high schools such as Frederick Douglass Academy is about 41 percent—more than 30 percent below the city average. Although other area schools such as Thurgood Marshall Academy and Mott Hall High School rank much higher, they still fall under the 77 percent city average.
Yet Allred said it’s not only the graduation stats that are against Harlem students.
“Some of these kids that we tutor have parents who were having them at 14, 15, and 16.” Allred said. “These are kids raising kids and they don’t have the skills to be able to teach their children discipline.”
Hotdogs and Homework focuses on preparing teen students for the college workload. But there are a few exceptions, Allred said, including Eric Schubert,8, whose two older brothers attend the program and whose mother felt he needed one-on-one attention.
“She just wanted someone to read with him every week,” said Elle Ponder, 28, Schubert’s tutor for the past two years, adding that he struggled with English since both parents are non-native speakers. “He wasn’t picking up reading skills like his other classmates. But with the extra help every week, those in the program have seen Eric’s improvement.”
Schubert and Ponder’s relationship now extends beyond the student-tutor relationship. Schubert made her a keychain for Christmas and considered her to be a good friend.
It’s these relationships, said tutor Loren Thomas, 28, that keep her coming back week after week.
“I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity Hotdogs and Homework has provided to get involved with my community and to have something in my week that is outside the realm of my daily routine,” he said. “When you see a student who’s been struggling make incremental improvements because of the time and efforts you’ve made, there’s really no better feeling.”