Thursday, July 19, 2012

City Scene Letter

City Scene is a Harlem newspaper started by Sam Walton in the 1970's.  This is an original letter used to encourage participation from businesses and leaders in the Harlem community. The newspaper was written by Harlem youth to bring attention to positive change, community involvement and improvement.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Remembrances of Breakfast With My Father

Seeing this is my first attempt blogging, I want everyone to know who my father was. He was a passionate and genuine man who cared deeply about urban life. Harlem was a community that he loved and gave every breathe of his life to improve. Therefore, I want to inspire today's young adults to reach higher as he did without proper education. He told me to "reach one, teach one." This is my commitment to him. It is a start to something new in my father's legacy.

I did not live with my father as young boy. He lived in Harlem, NYC, on 131 St & Nicholas. He would come to Queens to pick me up for weekend visits. I did not like going to Harlem. The community was plagued with crime and drugs. My father was not a great cook. Whenever I visited, the next morning, he went to the local hot dog stand and purchased two hot dogs for breakfast. I have to admit I did not like the experience of him as it was far from my regular home life.  Everyone seemed to be drawn to my dad and that did not stop when I was around. However, he always had people visiting him, and they loved to see me with him. Even at the hot dog stand people said to him, " You look great Sam with your son" I thought that was ironic since we were fetching breakfast on a corner block. As I grew to see a lot of my friends without their father being in their life, I really  began to appreciate him for being in mine!

When I was a child, he began WE CARE with his friend Sam Gaynor (yes, both named Sam). He was setting in motion a plan for the youth of Harlem to not become a victim of crime and drugs, but provide them with constructive outlets and education. His first projects was planning birthday parties for neighborhood kids who were poor and couldn't afford any luxuries. He would get donations from local businesses, not matter how small, to put together these events for kids. That was the beginning of his legacy for me and for Harlem. He passed away in 2012 and I miss him terribly. What I wouldn't give to have one more hot dog for breakfast from that corner stand!

Songhai Walton

A Boy in Harlem


In the words of Sam Walton, this is a small part of Sam's memoirs - how he felt, lived, and cared about Harlem:

Where I grew up, they told me an El train used to run straight up Eighth Avenue past 137th Street.  It was gone by the time I was born in 1948.  I was told Harlem had been glittering and sophisticated once, but that had disappeared before I was born too.  What remained was a community falling apart.  From my one-eyed perspective, I saw a place dotted with new sportsmen, those sharply dressed men who lived by their wits.  Harlem was a place that hummed and thrived on drugs.  By the time I was a teenager, drugs had hit my generation hard. By the 70’s, drugs had permeated Harlem, ruining lives and killing people.  I was a boy of the mid-twentieth century, and this is the Harlem I knew – not the fabled Harlem of the 1920’s or the Harlem Renaissance.   This is the Harlem that deserves to be remembered.  I’m telling this story in hopes others will remember, relive, revive, and pass on the knowledge of Harlem’s history to those who will come after.

I grew up in the Central Valley of Harlem, the heart of the community, from 132nd to 138th Street, from Eighth Avenue to Fifth Avenue.  This was the heart of Harlem, with rows of nearly identical 4-story tenements,  a place blacks first came to set down stakes.  Whenever I entered the one I called home, it smelled of southern cooking – fried chicken and biscuits on a regular basis.

Miz Lucille, who lived on the second floor, was a heavyset woman with make-up so thick and pasty you could scrape it with a knife.  She wasn’t pretty, but you couldn’t help but notice the peculiar fragrances as well.  It must’ve been the combination of Maybelline and Channel.  She seemed carried aloft on an ocean of perfume and powders, and wherever she went, Miz Lucille left waves of it behind her when she passed.
Our apartment at the back of the third floor had only one and a half rooms, making it feel cramped, dark, and dreary.  The half room sometimes pretended to be a kitchen.  The other room I shared with my mother, and eventually my half -brother, Joe.  My older brother, James Nick, slept in the kitchen, in a bed that could hardly fit his 6 foot 4 frame.  I always looked at the real estate section of the newspaper, dreaming we would move to a bigger place where I could have a room of my own.  It never happened.   Our tenement eventually won the dubious distinction as an urban renewal zone, and lost its battle with a wrecking ball.  Today, the place I called home for so many years no longer exists.