The Harlem Way...
My first few days visiting New York City, I believed I was pre-destined for Harlem. The first New Yorkers to be nice to me were Harlemites. This was years ago. Pre-Starbucks. I went into a small boutique with my friends and there was a beautiful young brown-complexioned woman smiling and greeting us like we were long lost cousins. If this is New York, I’m never leaving, I thought. I am meant to be here.
When I finally made my exodus from Detroit to Brooklyn, it was Harlem that actually became my first artistic stomping grounds. I would trek from Bed Stuy to Jimmy’s Uptown on Adam Clayton Powell and 131st Street. This is where I found my poetry community. I was slamming every Tuesday night at the Hottest Poets Slam that used to explode with energetic and creative spoken word artists that reminded me of my peeps in the D (Detroit). Being a New York rookie and not knowing the train shortcuts; that used to be a long ride uptown. I didn’t even know I lived off of the A express train for a year! I used to take the C local all the way to Harlem. That’s some serious uptown love!
And most importantly, we are telling our stories our way, and not waiting for sanctioning by larger entities. We are the new renaissance builders, just as we should be.
But this is why I did it: as soon as I stepped onto those Harlem streets, I felt our ancestors blow by me in the wind. I felt the power that they left in the pavement and trees and brownstones and institutions. The Harlem Renaissance poets that had been my entry point into the literary arts were still embedded into the soul of this community. I swear, I could hear them talking to me on my way to the Slam. I belonged there.
And I still do. I have poems published in the Harlem-based literary journal, Signifyin’ Harlem. I was a regular playwright at the Frank Silvera Writer’s Workshop uptown. I recently participated in a 48-hour play cycle by a group of Harlem-based producers who call themselves the Harlem9 at Harlem School of the Arts (HSA). I celebrated my fellow artist and friend Kibibi’s homegoing at The National Black Theatre, and knew the moment I entered that building, her soul was being given the proper lift. This mecca of the late Barbara Ann Teer has a spiritual aura that envelops us in love of self and community.
Now, as my own work begins to take flight and have productions, I still find a way to keep my handprint in Harlem. Most excitingly, my play Detroit ‘67 will premiere at the Public Theater downtown on Lafayette in Manhattan, and then uptown at the National Black Theatre on 125th with Classical Theatre of Harlem (CTH). When the Public and CTH approached me about being the playwright to launch their inaugural collaboration, all I could think was—You want to use me to bridge the uptown and the downtown audiences? Hell yeah! My work will premiere in Harlem?! Hot damn. I get to come back to my roots.
And these roots are deep. The blood of Malcolm X paves those uptown streets and demands that we maintain our Pan-Africanism in his legacy. The scattered scribings of Zora Neale Hurston remain sketched on our collective psyches and beckons us to script a new uptown broken tongue. The Caribbean conjurings of Claude McKay etch themselves into the sand and mortar of Sugar Hill brownstones and inspires us to dream in color. These ancestors that birthed our creativity are daring us to define a new renaissance. And let me tell you, we are rising to the occasion.
My peers are making moves and movements, and claiming the next resurgence in Harlem and beyond. The Movement Theater Company, Soul Productions, the New Black Fest, the standard, With a Cherry on Top Productions, Rising Circle Theater Collective, and many more new companies are emerging with an excitement and electricity that feels reminiscent of a thriving time in theater; A time where actors and writers of color were not without a creative home; A time where a people that were marginalized were finding opportunities within their own communities and by their own hands.
We are re-claiming our space in Harlem amidst the gentrification and urban renewal. We are carving out a landscape that is inclusive and ever expanding. And most importantly, we are telling our stories our way, and not waiting for sanctioning by larger entities. We are the new renaissance builders, just as we should be. It’s the Harlem way…
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Sister thank you for this post! This really resonates with me: "We are carving out a landscape that is inclusive and ever expanding. And most importantly, we are telling our stories our way, and not waiting for sanctioning by larger entities."
Wise words from a wise woman! Its time to do it!!!
So beautiful. Thank you Dominique. I can't wait for Detroit '67.
Yes! Yes! Yes!Rise...