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. 

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