Sunday, Sunday: Harlem and The Bronx

October 5, 2020

 

‘Looking my Sunday best,’ is a saying cultures hold in high esteem. This body of work covering 2000-2013 took me on a journey of rediscovering the two boroughs where I grew up. However, the real value of understanding the importance of Harlem came by way of my senior English teacher, Mrs. Melton at Laurinburg Prep in North Carolina. By introducing us to the Harlem Renaissance thus placed us in a position of absorbing Harlem’s importance, in relationship to Black communities throughout the globe.

It became a place where Black migrants from The South could find work, refuge from racial persecution and express their artistic, social and political voices on the racial climate of the times. Writer Langston Hughes, musician Duke Ellington, painters Jacob Lawrence and Agusta Savage along with photographer James Vander Zee were all free in Harlem to explore different aspects of our Black identity.

Art is a reaction to what a person’s thoughts can conceivetransforming a situation or circumstance into the realm of what if? Harlem provided the perfect platform for discussions of Black identity. This powerful climate of political activism welcomed the preaching’s of James Lawson, Morris Powell and Malcolm X on 125th Street and Seventh Avenue; intense discussions about the destructive traits of white supremacy, economic empowerment and the importance of loving ourselves. That same Harlem corner in 1960 fostered an historic meeting between Malcolm X and Fidel Castro at the Hotel Theresa.   

So when I stepped onto those streets and The Bronx in the early 2000s for a visual discussion with my Black and Puerto Rican brothas and sistahs, their voices of love, respect, beauty; dignity and fun resonated in the back of my mind. W. E. B. Dubois said, in so many words, ’the job of the Black artist is to move our race forward.’  

I find this even more important today as the voices of white supremacy tell us it’s ok to defile and devalue ourselves; women and our race—‘we’ll pay you even more money!’ In their virtual vision, our ancestors knew we were going to face these immoral and ethical challenges and left us a blueprint for dignified artistic behavior. This is why it is extremely important we support Black business so our children looking for access and opportunities can speak for and to us instead of against us!

I chose Sundays (many were Easter Sundays) because on that day for the most part, we’re celebrating our faith in fellowship—cherishing and loving our communities, in our Sunday best!