A Kid’s-Eye View of Harlem

Published in the NYTimes, 1998

Angel Colon, 15, is the old man of HarlemLIVE, an online magazine put together by a volunteer staff of 40 or more Harlem teen-agers who write about life in their neighborhood. He began working on the magazine, when it was mere ink and paper, when he was 11.”I don’t like to write,” Angel said. “But if I have something to say, I’ll force myself to do it.”

Angel Colon, talking to NYTIMES reporter.

Now a 10th grader at the Manhattan Center of Mathematics/Science in East Harlem, he started learning computer skills in the sixth grade because he liked computer graphics. Kerly Suffern, 16, an 11th grader at Martin Luther King Jr. High School on the Upper West Side, also writes for the magazine. “I love to write,” he said. “It’s nice for the public to find out what we’re about, that kids in Harlem we’re not as bad as people think.” Richard Calton, 38, a former public-school teacher, founded the magazine three years ago at P.S. 206 in East Harlem. In 1995 he left his job to learn more about computer-based education at Columbia University’s Institute for Learning Technologies. The institute has donated 11 computers and office space for the students to continue HarlemLIVE on the Web.

WHAT YOU SEE In a section called “Off the Head” — Harlem kid slang for off-the-cuff or from-the-heart pronouncements — Fairusa Ibrahim, 14, writes about coming to America from Ghana, where her parents left her and another sister when Fairusa was 6. “We were told that we would join the rest of the family very shortly,” she wrote. “Very shortly to me was a month or so. I waited and waited but nobody came to get me.”Eight years later, when her mother reunited all of the family in New York, it was even more wrenching. “What is this thing named airplane? Why does it take my family away and not bring them back?” she remembered thinking. Her mother got off the plane, but she did not recognize Fairusa, and Fairusa did not recognize her. “Can you believe it? I didn’t recognize my own mother!! She had completely changed from the last time I saw her. I kept asking, ‘Where is my mother? Where is she?

‘”In another section, Kerly reviews a novel called “Friends and Lovers” by Jerome Dickie about romantic issues between black men and women. “The settings are set somewhere out in L.A., where two fine sistas and two fine brothas hook up and started their special love affair,” he writes. “The context and literature is very realistic and easy to relate to, the descriptions of the scenes are raw, just like the way we talk.”

Staff members also contribute descriptions of themselves. Angel, whose mother volunteers with HarlemLIVE, writes: “Evelyn Colon is my mother. She is also with HarlemLIVE. My mother is who I want to be like even though there is nothing wrong with my father. My mother is a teacher.”

LINKS Seventeen, including Harlem Overheard, another Harlem youth publication.

WHAT YOU GET Students telling about their families, friends and neighborhood, in their own voices. “I want to have a lot of little Harlem Lives so other kids can write about their neighborhoods,” Kerly said. 

Kuamel Stewart



Greetings. Nah thats corny. Whats sup viewer. My name is Kaumel but my tag is Melo. I go to Martin Luther King high school on the west side. You could probably say I’m a pretty cool person. I would say I’m grounded or pretty much would like to be. I’ into poetry and other forms of creative writing. My most prominent aspiration is to be become a writer, but that will probably be overshadowed by my childhood dream of studying law and political science. I also have an interest in graphic design and architecture. But enough about the dreams.
If you wanna know me for real here it is. I believe I’m quiet but I’ve suffered some great opposition to that but thats alright. People say I’m a good listener. I’m not saying I’ll hear your problems and give you advice I just listen well. I’m really dedicated academically and thats probably my prime focus for right now. But the quickest way to get to know me is through poetry honestly. Poetry gets me goin so to speak so if you want a long conversation with me just criticize my work. haha.
In other news: I joined HarlemLIVE because I could pursue my dream of writing through journalism here. I know its a lot of work but I am willing to complete the tasks handed to me because I know in the future I’ll be doing the same thing. Plus I like to perform my work and HarlemLIVE gives a chance to do that on a regular basis. Also the people here show some of the same characteristics so we all have something in common. Besides here I’m in a couple of other programs like my after school program. I also attend a program at Columbia University called Upward Bound at The Double Discovery Center. There cool programs but not better than HarlemLIVE, I think.
If you would like to know more or have any additional questions you could email me at mmelowrites@yahoo.com or IM at melo418 (aim).

Alex Rabin


Hi my name is Alex Rabin. I was born on July 26, 1986. I am currently attending high school at York Preparatory school, located on 68th street. I enjoy writing, playing the drums, basketball and art. I joined HarlemLive a year ago. Since then I have improved my writing and journalism skills. I also hope to become an important contributor at HarlemLive.

Osakwe Beale

Reporter / Editor / Public Relations

I don’t want to erase my original profile from when I was 17 because that’s how I was feeling t the time but at 24 I have a different understanding of the world and my role in it. When people ask me what I do I give the proper went-to-college-got-a-good-job-response but what I really want to tell people is that I grind. These are the grinding years and I am a Product of The Grind (POTG). What does that mean? It simply means that I am of the mindset to work hard to achieve success. If you feel the same way ……welcome to the Grind.

When I’m not in the coroporate hard-bottoms I rock my SB’s (Nike Dunks for the lame-o’s) and you can definitely catch me at a sneaker party.

Flav had it right in the 80’s – Don’t believe the Hype 

Independent thought is essential ….”fitting in” is for cowards.
What are you? 

It’s hard to convey my personality through words, you would have to meet and know me to understand me. My name means “One who humbles himself to God” and I believe that to be a long range life goal of mine. “With humility comes prosperity”- (Some famous person) I believe this to be true and just like everyone else, when I get older I plan on getting what’s due me. I’m a 17 year old Junior at Brooklyn Technical H.S. who plans on going to college and then taking over the world!! As I said it’s hard to convey my personality through words, I like to have fun and that’s basically it. I believe that any situation can be made enjoyable through the use of a creative mind. Peace.


by Danya Steele

Passion is a bold bastard.  Beliefs are even worse.  Oh just FORGET about “Innovation” or “Creativity.”  They’re all evil.  They’re all audacious bastards intent on grabbing hold of the human heart, forcing it to beat deeper and even stronger with each enduring pulse.  Yeah that’s it– a bunch of instigators with the NERVE to inspire young NYC teens into believing that they actually have a legitimate place and power in this world.  Passion, Innovation, Creativity, and Beliefs.  What IS this?  Who gave THEM the right to motivate and empower young people to yearnfor growth?  YEARNING for growth?  This is outrageous.  Those bastards!     

Well…sorry to tell you, but here at HarlemLive, we believe in that bastard.  We embrace the strength of having a passionate belief system, we grow through innovation, and we ARE creativity.  WE ARE HARLEMLIVE; the hottest online youth magazine, created, edited, and produced by teens of NYC.        

With that said, it’s only obvious and inevitable for us to include those very facets — passion, innovation, creativity, and a strong belief system — into our everyday production.  Constant inspiration and motivation is integral to our business of creative play.  Stagnant-ism is unattractive to the long term philosophy of HarlemLive’s future. We are prolific.  We are maturing.  This upsurge of growth is within us all. Therefore, it’s only NATURAL for us to want to progress, grow, and elevate to “The next level.”

That next level…is here. HarlemLive is going VIRTUAL…almost.  In previous years, HarlemLive has met and produced out of a small … but manageable space inside of 1330 5th avenue [W. 111th St.] in Harlem.  The space wasn’t horribly difficult to work with; you could take a short-winded stretch here and there…maybe inhale a few oxygen molecules without coughing…it was…manageable.  However recently, HarlemLive, an Internetpublication, has been relocated into a completely different space — drastically confined and equipped with limited and/or nonexistent Internet access.  This is an INTERNET publication; the pure logic is dwindling.

As a multi-award winning news publication, HarlemLive’s resources are commonly overestimated.  We’re assumed to have the of any resource deemed logically fit for a publication of our caliber, but that is but only…an assumption.  Our resources are quite limited as we’ve become masters of squeezing $1.50 out of a dollar. Ironically, HarlemLive has accomplished more than what many other organizations with less of a limited resource, only dream of doing.      

Now dream this.  A designated time, place, and world where every staff member of HarlemLive delves into the surreal, conjuring up the very essence of radical creativity and innovation, fueled by the active exchange of inspiration and ideas faster than the speed of DSL.   A virtual world where all of us here at HarlemLive get together to sculpt, build, and improve the quality of HarlemLive.org, the Internet publication that we’re all so dedicated to bringing onto the bright computer screens of our readers.  As opposed to getting into futile tuffs over square tiles or issues of drastically confined space, HarlemLive is flying into the unconfined.  We are now bringing you this online youth magazine from designated bases all over New York City–our homes.  That’s versatility. 

     We’ll be producing, editing, creating, laughing, and learning online. Designated staff members have been sent home with HarlemLive equipment, ranging from MAC PCs, IBooks, to digital cameras, conditioned to only two things:  creativity and responsibility.  A goal for everyone included in this new “Digital Dash” project is to equip every HarlemLive student with DSL Internet.  Students are allowed to maintain the equipment as long as they continue to assertively put forth effort into the HarlemLive program, attend meetings, go on stories, and so on. In any event that a HarlemLive staff member refuses or fails to keep up with their part of the “Digital Dash,” equipment is reclaimed, followed by a pending suspension until further notice. But who would want to do that anyway? This is literally, a VIRTUAL REALITY, with staff members who will combine minds and equipment, both online and offline, fundamentally networking at the speed of light…all the while being granted the simple yet powerful freedom to do whatever it is they deem fit for HarlemLive production and growth. This is too good. The “completely different space” that HarlemLive has been relocated to, will now be used as storage space for library books, or a small conference room in any case that students need to meet on a more personalized one-to-one basis. 

The mere focus and concentration that goes into work when it’s accompanied by a minimized level of distraction, is enough to propel HarlemLive to even greater heights of success. The usual environment of HarlemLive is similar to any newsroom; there’s constant motion, action, and talking going on.  We’re teenagers; there’s even the idle chat factor that can slow down production.  Not anymore.  Upon entering the “virtual reality” world that we’re now creating amongst ourselves, chatting is done…with a purpose.  You’re scheduling, you’re producing, you’re directing, you’re learning, you’re growing.  This is HOT! 

So yeah…ok…I’ll admit it.  As much as we can’t stand those bastards — passion, innovation, creativity, and beliefs — we’re using them, and holding them tightly as the thread to our foundation.  As a disregard for futile quarrels over insufficient “space,” we’re innovatively creating an unlimited space, a space that cannot be minimized because it is infinite. Essentially, it is a space within the mind… a precious, warm, and exorbitant area of existence where only your own inhibitions or lack of motivation can hinder your progression.  It’s from deep within this space that we plan to bring you an even better HarlemLive, packed with better content, faster production, and a new sense of focus and direction that we’ve yet to show you.  So when you notice a difference…that’s why. It’s because of those damn bastards…those instigators…infiltrating our minds and hearts, with the audacity and boldness to inspire, motivate, and pull us to become an even better HarlemLive than we’ve ever been before.  So yeah we’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves.  Damnit!!!  We have the NERVE to be free. Passion is a bold bastard.

AOL Time Warner Paves The Way For HarlemLive

by Jonathan Kui 

First, HarlemLive would like to thank AOL Time Warner for their generosity. After receiving a 25,000 grant from AOL Time Warner , staff members of HarlemLive paid a visit to AOL Time Warner’s representatives. Throughout the day, we prepared our arguments for why HarlemLive was a wise investment, and our supervisor, Richard Calton, reassured us of our positions within the meeting. Although Rich guaranteed he wouldn’t say much at the meeting, he seemed to be the most nervous/talkative out of everyone.

After the initial anxiety and awkwardness, the crew relaxed. Everybody did their part and it went just as planned, if not better. The representatives were surprisingly “down to earth” and their personality helped us feel at ease. It was up to the AOL Time Warner representatives to pave the way for us. We entered knowing where we were coming from, and we left knowing where we were going; conclusively, we left knowing a little bit of our future.

All in all, the meeting was a success. HarlemLive left with a better knowledge of what to do in the future, and AOL Time Warner left with a better understanding of HarlemLive. We reassured the representatives they made a wise choice in teaming up with a media organization like HL. From now, we can only grow and get better with AOL Time Warner’s assistance.

Jail, A Harsh Reality for A Lot of Teens

It’s not often one gets to enter a high security prison only to get out hours later. That’s what HarlemLive did recently when we went to present our program to some all male high school classes at Rikers Island in New York City. 

HarlemLive has traveled around the globe showing other communities the power of the web in creating outlets for expression and the journalism process which expands the youth’s view of their world. For the last five years, HarlemLive has provided a teen centered program unprecedented in New York City. Our young people have traveled to Sweden, Rome, and Washington, DC to accept awards for their success at producing a domestic and international award winning state-of-the-art news and cultural web magazine

What made this visit a surprise to us is that we bumped into a couple people we knew. 

While we sat in the principal’s office, many of the guys were filing past on their way to lunch. Through the window to the hallway, one 18 year old teen did a double take as he recognized HarlemLive teen spokesperson, Melvin Johnson. Both grew up in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx. He was incarcerated for being present at the scene of a gang assault. 

The incarceration has changed his attitude about wanting to stay in gangs. What really hit him was his younger brother asking when he was, “going to grow up and start being a real older brother,” who could serve as a role model to his younger siblings. 

After chatting with the young inmate, we got a chance to speak to the principal, Frank Dody. Dody came to work many years ago as a one year stint but stayed on seeing how much in need the teens were of caring adults. There are 10 prisons on Rikers Island housing up to 17,000 inmates. Of the 10, there are 4 that house adolescents and teens. HarlemLive was visiting the Adolescent Reception and Detention Center (ARDC). It houses adolescents who have yet to be sentenced. “They could be here for a day or several months,” said Mr. Dody. 

At the ARDC, most of the teens that are not deemed to be dangerous to the others live in large dorm areas that sleep 50 inmates with individual cots separated by a small locker. There is at least one fight a day, usually about “who’s in charge”, among the youth.

In the classrooms, there are 15 male students to a class. We noticed that the teachers were all male but that many of the security guards in the halls were female. Our visit stirred some excitement as Melvin Johnson, Danya Steele, and Justin Young walked through the halls to the first of three classes. 

Pressed against one of the plexiglass windows that allowed the guards to peer into the classrooms was a young teen. It was a teen who was part of the Urban Youth Bike Corp, with whom HL has collaborated. While most alumni of the UYBC are now attending college, this young man chose a different path and was convicted for two armed robberies. 

The prison personnel allowed the teen to attend some of the classes with the HarlemLive editors as they made their presentations. He was even able to speak to the director of the UYBC by using HL’s cell phone. It seemed our visit and the fact he knew us helped increase his stature with his fellow classmates and teachers. 

We spoke to the teens about HarlemLive possibly working with the teachers and providing an outlet for them to publish their poetry, stories and artwork. Melvin spoke of how his life changed once he chose to work with HarlemLive, a choice that lead to an increase in his skills and self esteem and away from the scene on the streets. Some of the teens acted in the normal classroom atmosphere of “let’s perform for the visitors” while many of the other teens seemed to be extremely quiet and reserved. 

We’re hoping that our message made it to at least one teen and that they find a program or place where they can find their niche in life, where they’ll know they can be a valued and productive member in their community, and aybe even a “real older brother,” to their siblings and friends. 

Sites to view: 

NYC government’s Department of Correction web pages: http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/doc/home.html 

Description of the 10 Rikers Island Jails http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/nycdoc/html/jailist1.html