Mary Wakefield Mary Wakefield

Harlem renaissance

A massive project to change the lives of America’s poorest children

A massive project to change the lives of America’s poorest children

It’s raining in Harlem this morning — big fat American rain tipping out of the big gray sky, sluicing down the crumbling brownstones, over the awning of the Manna soul food and salad bar (‘we serve oxtail, collard green, candy yam, fried fish, chips and tea’) and on to the corner of 125th street and Madison in an oily pool of such enormity that the word puddle is no good as a description — you’d have to call it a pond.

Each Harlem citizen manages the pond in his own peculiar way. Two gangster-looking guys with hats askew take a traffic-stopping stroll around the outer rim; a man with no legs drives his electric scooter through the middle like a jet-ski. I step up to the edge beside a very small old lady, just as a bus drives past sending a sheet of the evil gloop shooting up the side of the metal-faced kerb and all over me. ‘Whoo-ey!’ says my tiny friend with a grin, ‘You sure got got!’

No fear of getting wetter now, so I take a walk around the block, looking for evidence of the change that’s supposed to be happening round here. Those brownstones you once couldn’t give away are now in demand: crime is going down; property is going up.

The first thing I see is a glimmer of Harlem’s happy past: a painted sign for the Trowel and Square Ballroom, a remnant from the days of Billie Holiday, Bojangles and 80 per cent employment. There’s more evidence of the decades that followed, the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, when half of those jobs were lost and replaced by crime and crack. A notice across on Madison urges passers by to call a local number AND ADOPT A CHILD.

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