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Harlem Shuffle

February 8, 2007

Convent Avenue, Harlem

This might be Striver’s Row

The Abyssinian Baptist Church


The Apollo Theatre

Those of you who have known me since my days at uni, would know that I focused primarily on studying African American culture and history. Essays about Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, The Black Panthers, the development of hip hop, and the progression of the Civil Rights Movement.

Coming to Harlem was really significant for me, and probably, emotionally (as wanky as that sounds) the core of the trip for me.

I have to admit to getting teary as I walked down Malcolm X Boulevard. The things that really struck me about Harlem, was how obviously poor it is in comparison with downtown. Where I’m staying is a hip, studenty area, full of boutiques, restaurants and cafes with a really diverse mix of people. Harlem, I saw two white people when I was off the main strip. On the main strip of W 125th Street, there was a little more of a mix, with some Hispanics/Latinos thrown in, but not much.

I went to the Schomburg Centre for Research in Black Culture. Oh, how I wish I’d had access to this treasure trove when I was at university! They are in the middle of a major renovation, so they only had one exhibit open on the discovery of the African Burial Ground in downtown NYC. The Centre has a range of amazing things there, from African artifacts to the papers of some of the most recognised African Americans, such as Malcolm X. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see anything else. If I’d been better prepared I would have come with a list of things to request (It’s a research library).

As an aside, there was a gorgeous female security guard, she must have been from the Caribbean somewhere as she had an accent. She loved that I was from Australia and warned me about the upcoming weather and the hazards of snow in the city. When I was on my way out, she insisted that I put on my hat and gloves before I left the building. She was a gem!

I continued to wander and ended up at the Studio Museum Harlem. This is an innovative little museum/gallery that presents work by African American artists. I got to see the exhibition about Africa Comics, a range of hand drawn comics from around Africa addressing issues such as human rights, female circumcision, education and crime. It was really fascinating.

Then, I headed home, thinking that I would get a ticket to see a show tonight. I’ve been very lucky so far. When I got to the ticket booth at Times Square, the queue was enormous!!!! So, I came home instead! Will try for Sunday and Monday nights instead. Methinks that’s where my luck lies!

8 more days till I leave New York, and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. I can’t wait to leave the house without having to carry a coat, and a hat and gloves and scarves!

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