NAACP Legal Whiz Joins Columbia

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[What's Going On]

ON HARLEM: Whenever  I talk about Harlem, people interrupt and ask if I am speaking of the old or new Harlem,  lines that often blur. 

While Harlem is still a big African-American village culturally, its people are more diverse, ethnically and socio-economically, owing in large part to the return of the Black middle and upper middle class and to white flight uptown. There is a new gestalt and the story is unfolding.

To be sure, Harlem is undergoing seismic psychological, sociological and physical changes. Media outlets covetously try to document Harlem in flux, not an easy chore.  I recently read in a general-audience, NY based magazine that political pundits say that Harlem today is less than 50% Black.

I take issue with the pundits and their statistical methods. If African American numbers and influence are so greatly diminished, you’d never know from the markers like the statues that punctuate the Harlem landscape. There are two gateway statue figures on 110 Street, oops Central Park North. There is  the Duke Ellington on Fifth and the Frederick Douglass rotary on—well, Frederick Douglass Blvd. aka Eighth Avenue.  And Adam Clayton Powell II is immortalized on ACP, Jr. Boulevard and 125 Street, the street  he changed forever, by integrating its work force, coercing shopkeepers to hire local Blacks. Harlemite/octogenarian filmmaker, Bill Greaves, is working on HARLEM, a documentary, exploring the cultural, economic, social dynamics peculiar to the area.

Politically,  Harlem is still a predominantly Democratic enclave whose Black  elected officials are supporting Senator Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency,  except NYS Senator Bill Perkins, an unabashed Obaman.

Legal scholar, Ted Shaw, former NAACP Legal Defense Fund chief, recently named to the Columbia University Law Faculty,  just bought a townhouse in the highly-coveted Marcus Garvey/Mt. Morris Park district. Perhaps, not a moment too soon.  It’s good to have a civil rights lawyer in the Hood, especially on Saturday afternoons when some local Blacks who enjoy  playing African drums, whose virtuosity goes unappreciated by area’s new black and white coop residents on Fifth Avenue/124 Street. An area African-American landlord laments that negotiations between the new coop neighbors and the drummers are far from being resolved as stated by the  NY Times. Instead of relocating the drummers to another space in the park, per accord reached by the NYC Dept of Parks, NYPD, local politicos, the drummers and the coops residents, the percussionists returned to the scene of the culture clash and have invited some brass musicians to join them!

Education at some Harlem schools is promising and earns high grades now that  author/educator Dr. Lorraine Monroe, who has influenced the lives of  four generations of NYC PS students in Harlem and beyond, is back uptown, on West 125 Street, where her Lorraine Monroe Leadership Institute is headquartered. She and LMLI have  oversight of seven demonstration NYC DOE schools.  Founder of the Frederick Douglass Academy, a college prop school within  the  NYC  public school system, which has spawned 5 schools in NYC and Maryland.  Dr. Monroe’s LMLI is a nonprofit organization, that promotes her academic excellence model and convenes seminars for educators. In 2006 when Wachovia Bank opened it first Harlem branch on Lenox Avenue on 117 Street, it presented a $400, 000 donation to the LMLI

BLACK GENIUS CAMP: My favorite read last week was Washington Post Op-Ed Black writer Eugene Robinson’s essay “Geraldo’s (Black) Discovery.” It was Robinson’s take on Rivera’s take on what’s happening in Black America, something Geraldo took to Fox airwaves. Rivera noticed that Obama’s speeches sounded like Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s, a co-Obama chair. Robinson said: “Rivera imagined some sort of secret conclave of Black geniuses who had developed a foolproof formula for winning elections.  He didn’t envision a basketball camp, or a prison camp; he saw a genius camp, presumably for African Americans who had figured out just how white America works and just what buttons to push. How diabolically clever.” In another paragraph Robinson speculates,“It’s as if a black American is beating white America at its own game.”  Robinson concedes that he must give a nod of appreciation to Geraldo Rivera. I say if that is how non Blacks are perceiving us, Obama has already won a head game,  primary outcomes notwithstanding.

SHARED INTEREST 3/17 GALA:  Shared Interest, a NY based micro finance non-profit organization,  investing in South Africa’s future by guaranteeing loans to South African lenders, which are used mostly by  Black South African women to start or grow their businesses,  will host its 8th Annual Awards Dinner, on Monday, March 17 at Manhattan’s Capital Ballroom at 130 Bowery Street. The brainchild of Black South African expatriates living in the USA, Shared Interest was founded in 1994. The 2008 Dinner Awardees are Albie Sachs, South African Constitutional Court Justice, Debra Lee, Chairman/CEO BET Networks and anti-Apartheid activists Nadine Hack and Jeffrey Dunfey. The Shared Interest black-tie gala is arguably one of NY’s most elegant fundraisers with marquee-name internationalist participants.  Call 646.442.0186; visit for reservations and more information.

ON AND OFF, OFF BROADWAY:  It’s interesting to see how chocolate New York’s theatre scene is becoming. There are three Broadway plays with all African-American casts or leads: 1) Comeback, Little Sheba, a must-see  revival of  the 1950s play about people in  phase 4 crisis, who live on the margins of despair, starring S. Epetha Merkerson, of TV’s “Law And Order,” who should snatch a 2008 Tony,  at the Biltmore Theatre, which runs through March 16. 2) Tennessee Williams 1955 Pulitzer-winning play, “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” the fifth Broadway revival, about an affluent Mississippi family coping with greed, lies, and homosexuality. 

Directed by Debbie Allen,  top lining Phylicia Rashad, James Earl Jones, Terrence Howard and Anika Noni Rose, at the Broadhurst Theatre; and 3) “Passing Strange,” a Public Theatre alum, an unconventional musical, which the NYT says, “is a rock concert with a story to tell, starring Stew, Coleman Domingo, Daniel Breaker at the Belasco Theatre.

Off Off Broadway at the Beacon Theatre, “The Greatest Love Story Ever Told” will play, from 3/18 to 3/23, with a cast of thousands of Hollywood/TV stars such as Clifton Davis, Anna Maria Horsford. Tatyana Ali, Miguel Nunez, and Tank.  And in Harlem, at the Baton Rouge Restaurant, “A Tuff Shuffle: Backstage With Louis Armstrong,” a one-man show, starring Professor Danny Mullen, as the icon incarnate, a poignant, funny confessional about his life and times, Sunday 3/9 and 3/16.

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