Harlem Week Themes Recognize Women and LGBTQ Community
Harlem Week 2018 is highlighting the accomplishments and contributions of women and the LGBTQ community from both Harlem and the broader world with the theme “Women Transforming Our World: Past, Present and Future,” along with subtheme “The Community Within the Community: Saluting the LGBTQ Community.”
“We wanted to take the time to acknowledge the community that’s been here for decades and honor them for their contributions,” said Vice President of the Harlem Chamber of Commerce Voza Rivers. “For too long we have overlooked or ignored their presence, and it’s time to change that.”
Harlem has a storied history of both prominent, pioneering women and a vibrant LGBTQ community. During the Harlem Renaissance, the neighborhood attracted prominent professionals such as Eunice Carter and Madam C.J. Walker. Jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams performed some of her greatest works in the neighborhood, and the anthropologist Zora Neal Hurston conducted some of her greatest research on Harlem’s streets.
The committee felt that that the national moment demanded an emphasis on issues of gender and sexuality. Female activism and political engagement has been a widely observed since the 2016 presidential election. Record numbers of women have registered to run for office across the country, and many continue dominating the political landscape, such as Public Advocate Letitia James, Assemblywoman Inez Dickens and Congresswoman Yvette Clarke.
As part of Harlem Week’s broader recognition of women, the committee is highlighting 44 women distinguished for their activism, artistic contributions, political service or excellence in business, medicine and the media. Some of the most notable include former First Lady Michelle Obama, media mogul and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey, the late author Maya Angelou and antiapartheid activist and former member of the South African parliament, Winnie Mandela. Rising stars include #MeToo Movement founder Tarana Burke and gun control activists Emma Gonzalez and Tyah-Amoy Roberts.
Harlem has also been the site of a vibrant LGBTQ subculture for decades. In his 1983 essay, “T’Aint Nobody’s Bizness: Homosexuality in 1920s Harlem,” writer Eric Garber noted, “Throughout the so-called Harlem Renaissance period, roughly 1920 to 1935, Black lesbians and gay men were meeting each other [on] street corners, socializing in cabarets and rent parties, and worshiping in church on Sundays, creating a language, a social structure and a complex network of institutions.”
Drag ball culture, the parent of modern day drag, also originated in Harlem. Langston Hughes, one of Harlem’s most famous LGBTQ residents, recalls in his memoir “The Big Sea” the “ball where men dress as women and women dress as men.” After spreading to other boroughs of New York City, drag ball culture eventually became widespread throughout cities across America in the 20th century.
The committee will honor several LGBTQ Americans throughout events during Harlem Week, including James Baldwin, artist Janelle Monáe and Black dance legend Alvin Ailey.
“Our goal with this festival is to ask, ‘Did you know?’ to each person,” Rivers said. “We seek to educate our community and highlight the many contributions of people from this physical place and around the world.”
Harlem Week Celebrating 44 Years
This year’s Harlem Week celebration, beginning Sunday, July 29, and continuing through Aug. 31, marks the event’s 44th year and warrants its colloquial title as “the world’s longest week.”
Harlem Week 2018 keep with the tradition of providing a month of events for everyone: outdoor events, music, fashion shows, children’s festivals, senior citizens’ day and economic development and business development
The longstanding celebration the city has come to know as Harlem Week can be traced back to 1975 as a one-day event, the relatively modest Harlem Day. What was intended initially as an event to lift and renew spirits in the economically depressed Harlem of the 1970s became a success, blooming over the years into an annual celebration that includes music and performance showcases, hackathons, concerts, art exhibits, cultural festivals and parties and among its festivities.
The first Harlem Day was kicked off by then-Borough President Percy Sutton, who read a proclamation officially proclaiming the day and renaming Seventh Avenue above Central Park to Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. The event had a 2,500 person turnout, despite inclement weather.
Harlem Week, sponsored and organized by The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, expanded from its humble beginnings into a three-day celebration, then into a weeklong celebration and finally into the month-long celebration.
In 1984, Lloyd Williams, current president of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, wrote, “Harlem Week is a labor of love, whose purpose is to promote, project and honor its glorious history, positive contributions and the symbolism of Harlem as the ‘Black Capital’ of the Western World.”
Harlem Week has continued as a vibrant tradition, even through the neighborhood’s lowest points. Despite drug epidemic of the 1980s or the high crime rates of the 1990s, Harlem Week remained and grew as an annual celebration of Harlem’s storied history and culture.
“The thought was, because Harlem was and still remains the symbolic capital of Back America, mainly focused on the Diaspora, whether they are coming from the Caribbean or Latin America or the Deep South, for those persons of color—no matter whether they speak French or Spanish or English—Harlem was their home base,” Williams said in a recent interview with the AmNews.
Williams also touched on the importance of Harlem Week for former residents of the neighborhood, saying that thousands of people who grew up in Harlem, who lived in Harlem, who have moved out for various reasons, come back for Harlem Week and see many people who they haven’t seen since they left.
“One of the major things that we have done is let people who have never visited Harlem or who lived in Harlem and left at bad times to be able to visit Harlem and see what a beautiful community it is,” he said.
Harlem Week also makes an impact on the Upper Manhattan economy. One major outcome is the creation of employment opportunities for young people, particularly during the summer months.
“We’re looking at Harlem and we’re seeing major companies come to Harlem because they’re seeing what Harlem has to offer,” Williams said. “Harlem is now one of the major tourism destinations in New York City; as persons come to Harlem and leave their disposable income in Harlem, they’re creating businesses and jobs.”
Harlem Week’s reach, as originally intended, has been global. The event help start the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta that was founded in 1987.
Organizers of Harlem Week and members of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce worked with organizers in Atlanta to make the festival a reality. Among other festivals that came out of Harlem Week were the Calle Ocho Festival in Miami and the Essence Festival in New Orleans
“Our real key issue is whether it’s in Philly or East Pittsburgh or wherever it is, there are few communities of color where there is not a similar festival that takes place in that community,” said Williams. “We’ve done a lot across the world to get communities to salute the greatness in their community.”
The Legacy of Harlem Fashion Lives On
Several events happening during Harlem Week aim to showcase the uptown fashion scene along with some of the city’s best designers.
This year’s schedule includes the Fashion Fusion Showcase July 29, the Fashion Flava Show Aug. 14 and the Back to School Fashion Show Aug. 19
The Harlem fashion scene is deeply rooted in its history dating back to the 1920s. The great migration led Blacks to this section of uptown Manhattan, the only place most African-Americans had access to housing.
Despite the promise of a better life up north, racism was still very prevalent in New York City at the time. Harlem fashion was elegant, and sometimes even flamboyant. Zoot suits, feathered caps, pearl jewelry and pocket watches were all the rage. It expressed how African-Americans saw themselves, being larger than life in this mecca of Black arts and culture.
Sixty years later, Harlem’s fashions made a new splash. Daniel Day, best known as Dapper Dan, popularized ‘luxury streetwear.’ After doing an apprenticeship, he opened up Dapper Dan’s Boutique on 125th Street. Day used the logos of luxury fashion brands but added a hip-hop flair to the creations. Rapper ASAP Ferg said in one interview, “He taught them how to use their designs in a much more effective way. Dap curated hip-hop culture.
A number of other Black-owned boutiques have added to Harlem’s legacy of innovative style. Despite the neighborhood changing from what was once a mecca of Black excellence to a more gentrified, mixed community, these businesses have remained.
Calabar Imports, owned by mother Heloise Annette Oton and daughter Atim Annette Oton, is an African retail store business that sells imported handmade goods such as African printed bags and scarves. They have participated as street vendors for the International African Arts Festival, Black Expo and the Harlem Book Fair.
Harlem Underground is another retailer that represents Harlem’s fashion scene. Since opening its doors in 1998, they have been setting trends in African-American culture.
Harlem Haberdashery is self-described as the “retail expression of 5001 FLAVORS, a custom-made apparel company creating looks for celebrities, recording artists and sports stars for over 20 years.” Their one-of-a-kind clothing line is made at their facility in Harlem, and can’t be found anywhere else.
The Common Thread project is a Harlem based brand that combines fashion with anthropology and tourism. Their aim is to feature local experts, designers and boutiques. Another unique component of their brand is to host ‘sidewalk safaris,’ which are personalized shopping tours that showcase local fashion trends and culture.
Self-proclaimed fashion anthropologist Mikaila Brown has partnered with Airbnb to conduct these cultural tours.
“Harlem has a rich fashion industry and it’s so underrepresented,” she said. “I pick boutiques that specifically represent Harlem and the Harlem fashion economy.”
Harlem Restaurant Week Set to Showcase Uptown's Flavors
Harlem Restaurant Week 2018 is what many might consider a foodie gem.
The event will begin Aug. 21 with a week of showcasing the wide diversity of Uptown’s flavors. Attendees can look forward to specials and deals on Harlem’s cuisines representing the international cultures within the community, including African, Caribbean, French, Asian and Irish.
With events such as the Harlem EatUp! food festival and new restaurants popping up in the neighborhood regularly, Harlem is a hot spot for those with a distinguished palate.
According to Lloyd Williams, president and CEO of the Harlem Chambers of Commerce, restaurants chosen to participants in Harlem Week were voted on by a tourism committee.
Williams noted that the legendary Sylvia’s Restaurant will always be chosen, especially because its restaurant founder, the late Sylvia Woods, is regarded as the “Queen of Soul Food.”
Whereas Sylvia’s legacy has made a lasting impact to Harlem over the decades, other eateries being showcased during Harlem Week include Red Rooster, Londel’s Supper Club, Manna’s, Lenox Sapphire and Make My Cake.
Melba’s Restaurant, owned by Harlem native and restaurateur Melba Wilson, is also preparing for Harlem Week. She told the AmNews her main priority is creating “menu that represents Harlem.”
As the niece of the Sylvia Woods, Wilson was raised around the Harlem restaurant scene and today her eatery caters to celebrities, locals and tourists. Known for her fried chicken, catfish and macaroni and cheese, Melba’s also gives back the Harlem community
“I enjoy donating time, food, venue and financial contributions to the school and elderly,” she said.
For Harlem Restaurant Week, Wilson plans to showcase her Harlem Iced Tea (known as HIT) cocktail that features real iced tea, sweet tea vodka, rum, tequila, gin, triple sec, sour mix and cola.
Restaurants aren’t the only ones getting in on the action. Harlem newcomer Whole Foods Market is hosting a Cuban-themed event during Restaurant Week. According to Williams, the supermarket is also sponsoring Harlem Week events. Since its opening last year, the Whole Foods has been carrying products and foods from Uptown vendors.
Harlem Week 2018 Schedule
July 29, 2018 – Sunday
A Great Day in Harlem 2018 – 1:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Artz, Rootz & Rhythm International Cultural Showcase – 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Regional Gospel Caravan – 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM
Fashion Fusion Showcase – 4:30 PM – 6:00 PM
Concert Under the Stars – 6:00 PM – 8:30 PM
July 31, 2018 – Tuesday
Youth Education & Career Conference 2.0 & Hackathon – 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
August 9, 2018 – Thursday
NYC Economic Development Day – 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Business & Health Summits – 9:30 AM – 10:30 PM
Indoor Business & Professional Services Expo – 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Basil A. Paterson Business Awards Luncheon – 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM
Tech Meetup – 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM
August 14, 2018 – Tuesday
Indoor Expo, Elders Jubilee Luncheon & Fashion Show – 9:30 AM – 3:00 PM
Demystifying Technology Workshop – 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM
Outdoor Farmer’s Market – 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
August 18, 2018 – Saturday
Summer in The City – 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Senior Citizens Synchronized Swimming – 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM
NYC Children’s Festival – 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Harlem Week Higher Education Fair – 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Upmarket Pavilion – 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Fashion Flava Show – 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Uptown Saturday Concert – 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Outdoor Film Festival – 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM
August 19, 2018 – Sunday
Harlem Day STAGES – 1:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Upper Manhattan Auto Show – 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
International Vendors Village – 1:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Our Health Village – 12:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Back to School Fashion Show – 12:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Children Tennis Clinic – 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
August 21, 2018 – Tuesday
Harlem Restaurant Week – 12:00 PM – 11:00 PM
August 25, 2018 – Saturday
Percy Sutton Harlem 5K Run & Health Walk – 6:00 AM – 12:00 PM