(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.”
High-end makeup brands such as Becca are available at Vivrant Beauty. Photo by Eugene Y. Santos.
As Manhattan real estate development further goes uptown, it seems that Harlem is gearing up to be a more upscale beauty hub, with chicer salons, boutiques, and spas increasingly setting up shop in the area.
At a glance, this looks like a picturesque business opportunity for any beauty and grooming service provider. But in Harlem, where affordable mom-and-pop stores are abundant, some locals and entrepreneurs aren’t enthusiastic about the neighborhood becoming the next downtown Manhattan.
“Harlem is going through a ‘neo-colonialization’ phase,” said Fisher Nesbitt, a barber for Fresh Looks Barbershop along Frederick Douglass Blvd., where haircuts still go for as low as $10. “There’s a big gentrification going on, like rent is becoming higher. A 7-Eleven just opened on 145th st. and I think it’s a bad thing. Harlem is all about mom-and-pop shops and they are the backbone of people’s survival here. Harlem is all about the small guys.”
Service providers such as beauty parlors have long been part of Harlem’s culture. In the early 1900s, a lot of black Harlemites operated home-based salons, which required little capital. These businesses not only provided income, but also became community-centric spots where clients and hairstylists can gossip and even sell other sundries, such as show tickets.
It’s somehow different today. While mom-and-pop salons and businesses still operate in Harlem, the area has also welcomed more upscale beauty enterprises to cater to a younger, more diverse clientele.
Harlem native Desiree Verdejo is one of them. Growing up in the area, she said that beauty retail was just limited to local beauty supply stores and drugstores. Harlemites who wanted to buy premium beauty products had to shop in other neighborhoods.
This observation is the primary reason why Verdejo decided to open Vivrant Beauty , a boutique along Saint Nicholas Avenue that carries higher-end makeup and skincare brands like Becca and Mario Badescu.
“Harlem people are really committed to shopping in their own neighborhood,” said Verdejo. Since opening in July 2015, Verdejo has seen customers of different races and demographics, from working professionals to students from Columbia University. “Harlemites like to support Harlem businesses.”
Vivrant Beauty is part of Harlem’s contemporary beauty movement. In the past few years, more upscale beauty shops have been opening in the neighborhood, operating on the logic that Harlem’s residents don’t need to travel far now for premium services.
For Abraham Tejada, what’s happening now is that Harlem is getting a taste of tony downtown Manhattan.
“The situation adds more value to this area,” said Tejada, an assistant manager for Fumic Jewelry Nails, a nail salon along 116th street that offers artisanal Japanese-style gel manicures and pedicures. “The real estate boom has affected the retail sector, that there is more demand now for service-oriented establishments.”
Crediting commercial and residential developments uptown, real estate in Harlem has become pricier than before.
“Eleven years ago, retail rents on Frederick Douglass Boulevard averaged $60 per square foot,” said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of Douglas Elliman Real Estate’s retail group. Rents now have increased to $100 per square foot, and that’s even on the low end.
“Harlem has a very different demographic today than a few years ago though the development happened on a slow and steady basis,” said Consolo. “The profile of Harlem’s residents spiked in wealth since 2008, and in the past three years, new developments are coming in at a record pace.”
But for savvy entrepreneurs, retail rent is still more affordable in Harlem compared to downtown and midtown Manhattan. Aesthetician Alita Terry knew that she couldn’t pass an opportunity to expand her business in Harlem.
Terry, the founder of Ethereal Aromatherapy and Skin Care, which operates twice a week at Land Yoga along Frederick Douglass Boulevard since July, said that business has been good so far uptown.
“My customers here in Harlem are usually moms or grandmas. It’s a very family-oriented place,” said Terry, whose customized facials range from $55 to $95. “I feel like my clients here uptown are very open and curious. They want to know what bespoke skincare is about, where I analyze a person’s skin and make something for him/her out of my assessment. It’s something new for a lot of them. It’s the kind of creativity and service they would expect downtown, and now it’s available uptown.”
But not all people are happy about Harlem’s further burgeoning beauty business scene.
“It’s hard. It has become more competitive,” said Sarah Ahn of Jireh Nails Plus+ along 116th street. “Eight years ago, there were only a few of us beauty salons here but now there’s a lot. I also feel that rent will go up in the future. I don’t think I’ll lower my prices for my services though. I’ll try to keep them affordable if I can.” Ahn’s waxing services range from $10 to $45.
If Nesbitt were to have his way, he would increase the prices of his haircutting services, if only to make ends meet in Harlem now. “Downtown, haircuts go $30 to $40 each while here, we just charge $20,” he said.
“Some people in Harlem are paying $2,500 to $3,000 for an apartment which 10 years ago was just 700,” said Nesbitt. “It has become unaffordable for a lot of us. I think prices here are going to go up. I think what the local city government wants for the city is for it to become affluent all throughout. They [government] don’t want poor people.”
Nesbitt thinks that it’s only going to get worse. “Once prices go up, they’re never going to go down,” he said. “I’m paying 1,250 for a one-bedroom apartment which in South Carolina, can get you a really big house for 6,000 square foot.”
Verdejo seemed optimistic on beauty retailing in Harlem. “Harlemites like to support Harlem-based businesses,” she said. “So far, it’s good that people have come in and we’ve had repeat customers.”
But to say that Harlem has become “better” isn’t exactly apt. “I wouldn’t use that word (better),” said Verdejo. “Some people can take advantage of a nice sushi restaurant or an organic facial but for some people on the other hand, the situation now has made it harder for them because rent has become higher. I wouldn’t say that it’s ‘better’ but it’s definitely a changing phase. I’m just trying to contribute something positive but being a Harlem native, I’ve had conversations on the other side about things that may not be helpful for some.”
For Terry, one has to be smart about a sensitive topic like gentrification. “You can take advantage of this change but you also have to understand that Desiree and I are in our 30s so the change doesn’t affect us the same way as it will for someone in his/her 60s who’s lived his/her whole life here in Harlem,” she said. “I know someone who owns a bakery in Harlem who just made his first insane amount of profit recently after being in business for 16 years. If you’re smart, you can work it out. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy because it’s tricky but if you can take advantage of it, you should.”
From the looks of it, real estate development is just going to continue. Consolo said that developers are now eyeing East Harlem, with the area near 125th st Metro North seen as a huge prospect. Real estate mogul Joseph Sitt of Thor Equities recently bought two large retail properties along Lexington Avenue for $75.5 million, and the city government has zoned a commercial area on a 7,000 square foot empty lot at 126th street and Third Avenue.
“Regarding residential development, there are several coming in line, including a 12-storey, 44-unit mixed-use building at 94 East 111th street at Park Avenue,” added Consolo. “There’s also affordable housing at 413 East at 120th street.”
Nesbitt felt despondent about what’s happening in Harlem, with all the high-end projects in the pipeline and with a lot of Harlem natives being pushed out of their own neighborhood. “I just hope they [developers and city government] keep the culture intact and the prices reasonable,” he said.
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.