A Swim Team Grows in Harlem

by Jean Charles
photos by Shem Rajoon

In Harlem, a swim team grows from the hearts of ordinary people; the average Joes and Janes, like you and me. At the Hansborough Community center, dreams are forged on the Dolphin swim team – a group of young adults brought together by Ms. Dorise Black.

She has the aura of a wise woman, as if she thinks every word through before she speaks. Her walk looks as if she calculates every step, like the ground beneath her feet might crumble. She is not scared. She is proud. Ms. Black, a retired schoolteacher, is proud of her students at the Hansborough Community center. She started the swim team many years ago out of necessity and wanting to help people. She beams with pride because the team will be competing, this weekend, in a swim meet against other successful teams in the area, such as the various Boys’ Clubs of New York. Many years ago, people did not realize this team would actually develop from an idea into reality. 

It all started when Ms. Black asked Mr. Luther Gales, a retired police officer, to coach the team. He refused. With continuos urging he changed his mind. Mr.Gale’s refusal to coach the team was because he had never coached before. However, it was for the children and that changed his mind. He has coached the members, ranging from ages 7 to 16, into better swimmers.

The Dolphin swim team is an after-school program, which operates three out of five days per week. They operate out of the Hansborough Community Center on 135th street and 5th Avenue. Besides teaching students to swim, the team functions as a source of academic and moral support for these students.

There are academic requirements that have to be met in order for students to remain on the team. Each member has to keep a grade point average above C. To avoid dropping to lower grades there are tutors, who help the students in their studies. Conduct is also an important part of staying on the team.

Students are expected to behave in a way that ensures the safety of teammates, and themselves. On the Dolphin swim team, safety is a value the students learn and carry for the rest of their lives. There was one instance, though, where the coach reprimanded a member for misconduct. He or she had to complete one hundred word essay explaining his/her motives for misconduct.

The oldest athlete, 16-year-old Kirin, has been swimming with the team for about 2 years and she is also the swim team’s captain. She credits the swim team for keeping her in good health. But, the star on the team is 7 year old Kevin, who is by far one of the best swimmers on the team. Like many of his teammates, he’s been on the team since the beginning. In addition, he has grown to beat the coach, an athletic retired police officer, at the backstroke. But, still the team needs financial help.

According to the coach,” we only use the pool 3 out 5 days, for only two hours each day.” So they need extra time to practice. And they also need new clock and backstroke flags. This may sound like wining, but if a team helps children to be “dedicated”, “committed” or to “persevere”, they should be given as much positive support as possible.

YMCA’s Black Achievement Awards

by Kevin Benoit
w/ additional reporting from Shaunetta Gibson

Hundreds of people gathered in the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers in Manhattan tonight to celebrate the Harlem YMCA’s Black Achievers Gala. The Harlem YMCA celebrated 35 years of achievement while honoring the brightest and top African-American executives.

This years event, themed “35 Years: Making A Difference Together” was an amazing night honoring over 50 adult achievers and over 20 adult achievers. CBS 2 News’ Shon Gables was the Mistress of Ceremonies and The Honorable Marc. H. Morial was the evenings keynote speaker. Morial is the former Mayor of New Orleans and the current President and CEO of the National Urban League.

The night began with a reception where all the guests socialized. That part of the night was followed by the introduction of the Harlem YMCA Board members. A dinner ensued, and lets just say the food was grand, this was the Sheraton Hotel. 

Isaiah Walker was honored with the Carrie Terrell Youth Achiever of the Year Award. Walker, 18 a student at Thurgood Marshall Academy is Captain of the Varsity Basketball team and former Captain of the track team. He is a Sportsmanship and Most Valuable Player Award winner. Academically he has maintained a 96 average in math and is an honor student. 
Walker simply filled out a scholarship application detailing his interest in the scholarship. He supplied his grades along with a list of extracurricular activities and he was selected as the winner. When I asked Walker how he felt about being the one winner out of the hundreds of applicants he said he was “speechless.” Walker is still undecided on the next step in his future although he says that college is definitely the next step. His advice to other teens trying to be great achievers, “My mother always said, determination and dedication was the key. If you reach for the stars, you’ll fall at least to the clouds so keep working hard and you’ll get there.” 

The Carrie Terrell Youth Achiever of the Year Award was established by the Black Achievers in Industry Committee in 1994 as a symbol of representing Carrie Terrell’s dedication and devotion to young people. Carrie served as the Chairperson on the Black Achievers Committee and was the first woman to serve on the Harlem YMCA Board of Managers. 

Gerri Warren-Merrick was also honored with the Dr. Leo B. March award. The Marsh Award is given to the person who best exemplifies Dr. Marsh’s philosophy of spirit and commitment to the Youth of the Harlem community. Dr. Leo B. Marsh was a financial consultant with the YMCA of Greater New York whose primary vision was to foster the development of young people. 
The event was incredibly successful. It was a wonderful way for the YMCA to celebrate 35 years of Black Achievement.

Expanding the Walls

by Kateria Vorotova

Expanding The Walls (ETW) is what happens at The Studio Museum in Harlem on 125th street every Wednesday and Saturday where 16 teenagers and a very cool 23 year-old meet to “expand their horizons.” 

In a nutshell, Expanding the Walls is a “multidisciplinary exploration of community, history and photography of Harlem,” said Rayne Roberts, the ETW coordinator. “The youth explore these three notions by using art and photography as a tool. Students look at art and have discussions sparked by their observations. By exploring art we explore our own life and issues in Harlem”.
If you looked around the room on the second floor where teens meet every Wednesday and Saturday for 3-4 hours per session, you’ll discover Polaroid shots the students took taped on the wall, including documentary photos of places in the community such as the Lenox Lounge, photos of different angles Harlem could be viewed as (hair styles, advertisements, etc), and photos of people that they think are part of the community of Harlem and who they think are not. Discussions arise around questions such as “is the hot dog guy part of the community if he’s here every day with his cart although he’s from Brooklyn? What defines being a member of community and what stereotypes do we make when we think of Harlem?” 
So what keeps the students coming back and spending their weekend time?
Expanding the Walls attracts teens that are interested in learning the art of photography. In the program, students have access to Polaroid cameras, 35 mm cameras, arts and crafts to create collages, as well as direct access to the Black Romantic exhibition downstairs in the Studio Museum displaying such art works as “Eminence” by Kehinde Wiley, an artist in residence. Eminence is a piece depicting an African American man in a business suit with unbelievably long hair: curls that spread throughout the whole Martha Stuart sea foam color background. The students closely examine and discuss the artworks from the galleries. 

They also visit other events in the community and museums and art galleries. They also get to meet artists in residence of the museum such as Kehinde Wiley. “By the end of the summer, they will be able to give tours of the gallery displaying pieces by Artists in residence, facilitate conversations with senior citizens, and produce an exhibit of their own work.” Roberts says. Their work will consist of Polaroid and black and white photos, collages, and writing. Their own photos are very diverse reflecting their own artistic expression. Some of their photos show someone stepping in sticky hot gum, portraits with interesting light and scenes that portray the Harlem community. Whatever your tastes are, you’ll find something that will grab your attention in these youngsters’ works.
Jorelle Hayes, 16 said, “In Expanding The Walls, I’ve learned about the life and artworks of James Van Der Zee (who is one of the most prominent photographers who documented the life of Harlem between WWI and II. His photographs can be found in the permanent collection of the Studio Museum)”. 
Elizabeth Jacome, 16 remembered that recently they’ve learned about light, composition, and subject matter which they explored in the Black Romantic exhibit. Students looked at works of art in which light, composition and subject matter stood out, and analyzed how they change the interpretation of the paintings. They have later applied the concepts in their own photography in one of their assignment, which was to play with different light and notice how it affects the mood of the photo. They went outside with partners photographing each other, for example, someone who’s half of the face was in shadow half in light or someone looking sad completely in shadow.
Max Borland, 15 said he “learned how to use cameras and talk to people when you take their pictures.” Previously discussing documentary photos, Roberts stressed how having the subjects at ease and behaving normally is essential to a documentary photo. In ETW teens learn how to make their photos believable and not posed.

Borland said he also learned about different places in Harlem such as Marcus Garvey Park, being one of the most beautiful parks in Harlem to photograph, Harlem Hospital, and the Schaumburg Center for Research in Black Culture, when they were assigned to take photographs of community places on a Scavenger Hunt. 

All three teens say they have also learned how to interact with each other and found the environment fun and friendly. They said Expanding the Walls is not like school. “Kids already spend 6 to 7 hours sitting in school taking notes. We don’t want the program to be like secondary school. Expanding the Walls is a place to relax and feel like they can talk about their personal lives and aspirations as artists, which is usually left out in traditional schooling,” Roberts clarifies. “Here young people have a safe space to express themselves. It is not rigid in structure but students are expected to attend all sessions, be on time, and be respectful to one another. Working closely together, teens will get to know each other closely.” 
Pulling together a diverse group of kids gives them a chance to meet new kinds of different people. Jacome goes to an all-girls school so this environment is different for her. Hayes goes to a school where she has to wear a uniform, so when she comes to ETW, she gives her clothes all the imagination she’s got (she comes in with spikes on her bracelets and safety pins on her jeans J). “Everybody in my school is very conventional. Here people are more individualistic,” said Hayes. 

“Here I meet different people. In school I’m kind of a loner.”
Expanding the Walls sounds like a fun and beneficial program, but as everything today it requires money. ETW began when Sandra Jackson, the director of the Educational Department in Studio Museum, received a grant for the program from the Nathan Cummings Foundation. They had a pilot 8-week ETW program which proved itself very successful, and the 7 month long program was accepted, funded, and launched.
But even with money, it takes dedication and heart from the people who run the program. Rayne Roberts is an NYU graduate originally from California. She was a photo editor of VIBE magazine prior to getting a job at the Studio Museum. With her experience in the hippest music magazine, the participants of ETW find her fun and can relate to her. Hayes says Rayne is nice and dedicated, Jacome thinks she’s smart and friendly, and Borland said, “She’s very into this whole thing and she’s cool like another student, not like another teacher, which is a good thing.” She has a positive attitude and believes in the potential of the youth. Roberts says so far she has enjoyed working with the teens in the program. “They proved themselves very intelligent and creative and impressive. I’m looking forward to working with them and getting to know them better. It’s gonna be a lot of fun!” 
ETW is not just a fun program. Art education is a good way to improve the community. “ETW will allow youth in Harlem to break-down their current relationships to art, their relationship to the art world, their communities and to each other. They will begin to think about themselves as artists and recognize the ability they have to impact their communities with art. It will open a door that has traditionally been inaccessible to youth in the kinds of communities that Harlem represents.” Roberts says. “The students in the ETW program will leave with an unforgettable experience in which they were pushed to develop their communication skills, critical thinking and technical skills in the art of photography. Art is fun and kids want to have fun, what better way to help them grow and learn about themselves and think critically than by asking them to be creative!?” she finishes passionately.
As you can see, the ETW summer looks very promising: educational and fun. It is great that opportunities such as Expanding the Walls exist for the youth giving them access to everything they need to express their creative abilities and display their works in an art show, as well as gain skills as photographers and museum guides. Expanding the Walls is also after a good cause: to improve communication and understanding between the younger generation and the older generation as students work with senior citizens. Expanding the Walls is an awesome program and hopefully more of such opportunities arise for teens who are looking to do something productive and educational in the summer.
© Copyright HarlemLive® 2002 All Rights Reserved

New York City’s Finest

by Ryan Edwards

Photos by Eddie Aung

In 1648, New York City founded its first official fire-fighting department. Prior to this, fire fighting was strictly a volunteer service. Despite this change a long time ago , volunteer fire fighters still outnumber the paid. In the 353 years of the New York fire department, thousands of men and women have worked hard to save lives on a daily basis. I was lucky enough to interview one of them. Captain John Newell of the 58th Engine in East Harlem has been fighting fires for the last 20 years. Captain Newell, now 50 years old, attended Suffolk Community College, majoring in General Studies, but he always knew he wanted to be a fire fighter. Being the son of a volunteer fire fighter, Newell felt a special calling to the civil service. He began fighting fires at the 45th Engine in the Bronx.

In 1648, New York City founded its first official fire-fighting department. Prior to this, fire fighting was strictly a volunteer service. Despite this change a long time ago , volunteer fire fighters still outnumber the paid. In the 353 years of the New York fire department, thousands of men and women have worked hard to save lives on a daily basis. I was lucky enough to interview one of them. Captain John Newell of the 58th Engine in East Harlem has been fighting fires for the last 20 years. Captain Newell, now 50 years old, attended Suffolk Community College, majoring in General Studies, but he always knew he wanted to be a fire fighter. Being the son of a volunteer fire fighter, Newell felt a special calling to the civil service. He began fighting fires at the 45th Engine in the Bronx.

When I asked the Captain how he feels about his job, he answered “I love my job.Sometimes I drive my friends crazy talking about my work.” Even though Newell is ecstatic about fire fighting, he does not want his daughters in the same line of work. “It’s too dangerous,” says Newell. Newell told me about many close calls, including a time when he was in a building and his superior officer pulled him out seconds before the building collapsed. The test to become a firefighter is very different now from how it was in 1977(the year Captain Newell took the test). The old test started with a written portion, “Out of the 40,000 who took it, only 10,000 of us made it on to the physical part of the test, that’s how competitive it was ” boasts Newell. The physical portion of the test consisted of an obstacle course, a “bar hang” (similar to pull-ups, minus the pulling), and a mile run. The test that is given to today’s recruits is a lot different .” It’s more job related,” says Newell. Today’s test still consists of a written portion, but the physical section is different, including a hook test, (in which candidates have to throw up a hook that actual fire fighters use) .As another part of their test they have to carry a 140 lb dummy up and down stairs.

As much fun as his work is, Cpt. Newell does have a life outside of the firehouse. In his spare time he coaches his daughter’s softball team, and he also likes to boat and fish. Cpt. Newell showed me that fire fighting is not only rewarding, but also a fun and interesting line of work. In addition, Cpt. Newell made me realize that firefighters are an extremely important part of our society. We owe a lot to them, for they selflessly put their lives on the line to save ours, everyday. We should thank and honor Cpt. Newell and others like him.

Read more about fire relative stores and tips

• New York Fire Department

Aboulaye Ballo

Hello my name is Aboulaye Ballo. I am twelve years old. I was born in Ivory Coast of West Africa on August 1st. I go to the Broadway Center for the Arts and Academics (B.C.A.A) M.S 44 in 77th street. I like to play basketball. I am a real good basketball player. I have a jumper and I take it in easily. That’s not the only thing I am good at. I am a very good artist. I could draw anyone or any thing if I try very hard. I have only been here in the Harlem Live since Wednesday, October 16, 2002. I am the youngest of everybody in there. I live in an apartment building on 112th Street and St Nicholas Ave. I live with my mom, dad, sisters , and one brother. I live in a nuclear family, which is an family that contains brothers, sisters, mother, and father. 

Seul Shakee

My name is Seul Shahkee. It means the only peaceful warrior. Originally from da DR but grew up in east Brooklyn.  I am a very athletic person. I play Bball like almost everyday. And swim as much as I can. I like to do a lot of stuff for fun! Besides sports, I like to go to the movies. Go bike riding or just chill and wild out. In some of my free and bored time, I like to go on the net and chat wit my peepz.  “Life iz CrAzY”  I have a very complex personality. I am not afraid to try out anything new. I may hesitate a little, but I am definitely not afraid! I am very friendly, . I like all types of music especially Rap, Hip-Hop and R&B. I always keep an open mind at all times. I have my good qualities and bad ones. Sometimes I act crazy, sometimes I am calm and quiet. But, at anytime you catch me, I am always fun to be with. Want to find out more about SkillZ or maybe just holla back and Spread sum luv? You can holla at me on AOL/AIM. My Screen Name is DangSkillZ

Death Was On Her Face

by Ismael Alverez

They say there are two things in life you cannot hide from, death and taxes. Well, I learned that death is a very real thing at a very early age. I grew up in Astoria, Queens, New York. I lived in the Queens Bridge and Ravenswood projects. To me it seemed like I was the only light skin Hispanic kid in an all black community. Like many kids I knew, I grew up without a father. Mommy was also dad. We were very poor. I lived with my mom and my two older sisters. When I was about six years old, my mother found out she had breast cancer. Through some time and with the proper treatment, the doctors removed the cancer and she was cured.

My mother, Noemi Colon was a fighter. She always did things just to make my sisters and I happy. She worked crazy hours to put food on the table and put my sisters and I through private school. When I was about ten years old, my mom called a big family meeting. All my uncles, aunts, and cousins were there. My mother announced that she got cancer again. I was young, so I really didn’t’t know what was going on at the time. I just knew that mommy had to go away to the hospital again.

My mother fought the disease, in and out of the hospital for many years. At thirteen, I knew what was happening to my mother. By this time, she was very sick. She had been in the hospital for a year straight. Death was on her face, but in my mind mommy would never die. She would always be there for me. I din’t’t go to the hospital to see her for some time. I could not bear to see my mom with tubes up her nose, not being able to talk. My older sister would go everyday. They would tell me that mom was asking for me and I would always say, “ I’ll go tomorrow.”

This one day I remember like it was yesterday. I was going to pick up my friend from school and on my way there I saw my sister Marina heading towards the train station. She told me “Izzy, I’m going to see mommy. She has been asking about you. You should come with me now to see her, plus it’s your turn to watch her.” Something inside me told me I should go, but instead, I told my sister I already had plans and that I promise I’d go the next day. That day I went out with my friends and got home late. As soon as I got home I went straight o bed. Around three or four in the morning my other sister Christina woke me up. 

When I woke up I saw Christina and a friend of the family in the living room where I always slept. Christina had tears in her eyes. He then said, “We have to go to the hospital. Mommy is dead.” I was half asleep, so I was like OK let’s go. I didn’t’t realize what was going on at that moment.

When I got to the hospital, we went straight to room 401. I walked in and I saw my family there around the bed. When they saw me, they all cleared away from the bed so I can see her. When I saw my mom motionless, that’s when it hit me. “Oh my God. My mom was dead.” 

They said I passed out, but I don’t remember that. I just remember going to the bed, kissing her, trying to wake her up, holding her, and touching her. Her body was warm, I remember, I cried and didn’t’t want to leave her.

The funeral was the next day. We had an open casket for two days. I didn’t’t cry at all at that time. The third day after her death, we buried her. I remember standing there at the ceremony not hearing a word the pastor was saying, just focusing on the casket and thinking of how things were going to be different. When they started to lower her body into the hole, that’s when I broke down. It was like my heart was being lowered with her. It was the worse feeling I ever had. My knees were weak,, I was tired and had my adrenaline rushing at the same time. Tears left my eyes like never before. I got a headache from so much crying. I should have gone that night to see mommy. I could have said good-bye, but I was selfish and didn’t.

After that day I grew emotionless to death. Nothing else mattered to me anymore. I saw people I loved die, but it did not affect me. My attitude now is that people come and people go. You just have to do what you have to do in order to make your time on Earth pleasant. 

City of Love

by Cameron Cook

Sometimes, you just need a change of mind. Change of scenery, people, mind-set. So, in 1992, my mother made a life-altering decision; it was time to move to a foreign country. The choice was relatively visceral; it would be St. Lucia, a small island in the West Indies. To move from my mother’s birthplace of Chicago, Illinois, we just threw a dart at a map (literally), sold all of our furniture to buy plane tickets, and left the country. My father had died when I was three years old, and my brother was one and a half in my hometown of Los Angeles, California; nothing was really binding us to the United States. 

Unfortunately, tropical promises of “Endless Summers” get old pretty fast, and before long France seemed like an interesting place to park our bohemian lifestyle for a while. I could go on for pages about my St. Lucian experiences, battling with oversized insects and eating enough chicken and rice for at least three lifetimes, but that is not the point of this piece. Another day perhaps. 

I first stepped foot on French soil in September 1995, in Nice. We had moved to a studio apartment for a few months in the near-by town of Cannes, where my aunt lived. She and my cousin were the only French people I knew at the time. 

Quasi-immediately, I was submerged into a totally different way of life: I turned on the TV, and didn’t understand a damn word, went to the shopping center, didn’t understand a damn word. It wasn’t only the language… I was perplexed by the average Frenchman’s in-born power to be constantly blasé; the slightest bump in the road of their carefully mapped out existence, and I thought they would spontaneously combust with anger. The food also, was quite a challenge (even though, I must say that escargot has become one of my favorite dishes). You know that scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta tells Samuel L. Jackson about his recent trip to Europe? Well, you actually can buy wine and beer at Mc Donald’s, and a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese is a “Royal with Cheese”. 

Want to know more about France? Check out the French Information Center

School was also a big huddle to over-come, of course. Since I hardly spoke a word of French upon my arrival, I had to repeat the 5th grade, an experience that proved itself highly positive, yet humbling, in a certain way, being a year older than everyone, on top of not speaking their language. But I learn quickly, thankfully, and graduated elementary school that summer with a somewhat perfect knowledge of the French language. 

I spent five long, border lining tedious years in Cannes. Don’t get me wrong, if you are a seventy-year-old retired shoe salesman, it’s probably the happening place to spend your twilight years, but as a young teenager, complete with puberty-caused insecurities and raging hormones, Cannes, with its Mediterranean way of life, inexistent night-life, two movie theaters, three record stores, one concert hall and Beverly Hills 90210 teen mentality, sheer boredom not fitting in were huge issues for me and my little circle of friends. Was it due to the very widespread French elitism, or just the same senseless drudge that every young person goes through during those delicate years? Maybe I’ll never know.

So, after Cannes lost its charm, my family and I headed north, to the flourishing capital of Paris. As soon as I stepped out of the cramped, red, typically French four seated car (did I mention we drove eight hours across country, four people and a cat? Thank God for Discmans…) I knew I had found my element. Paris is one of the most astonishing cities on the planet: the convenience of a big metropolitan, yet it still manages to preserve a little bit of quaintness. First of all, the city is among the most beautiful in Europe, if not in the world (try walking along the Seine at night, watching the bateaux-mouches go by) and little by little, Paris’ beauty can’t help but to rub off on you… soon, you find yourself prancing about Les Champs Elysees, the town’s grandest boulevard, just for the hell of it; walking around The Eiffel Tower and the Trocadero neighborhood that surrounds it, checking out parks and art houses; spending literally entire days at Beaubourg, my personal favorite place in Paris, buying postcards of your favorite photographers (in my case, Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe) and hanging around the museum there (I once spent five hours in an exposition on Surrealism, one of my favorite modern art movements). School was still somewhat of an issue, even though, as the French school system requires of every student, I had chosen a major in the 10th grade (you have the option of either Literature and Arts-what I took, obviously- Science and Economy) and my class was full of what I considered “my” people: the punks, the Goths, the rejects. The last years of high school are especially difficult in France; the work level is equivalent to that of a college sophomore in the USA. But I had found an environment that I could call my own, far away from the preppy, selfish mindset of Cannes. The work was hard, but the play made it all worthwhile.

Alas, my time in Paris was shorter than I would have liked: only two years, from 2000 to this summer, July 2002. Even though I now live in NYC, but sometimes I get a little homesick. Yes, even though I am an American citizen, I consider France the closest thing to a homeland that I have had the pleasure to experience. I plan to go back there soon, maybe have an apartment in Paris, live there for a while. As the French say on July 14th, their independence day, my independence day, in a way, Vive la France!

© Copyright HarlemLive® 2002 All Rights Reserved