I did not know much about Harlem. Just cliches. So I took part in a walking tour again with wonderful local guide Ryan. He picked us up at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The sun was shining and it was going to be pretty hot that day. No skyscrapers in sight but nice brownstones and red bricks. People were taking their dogs for a walk, drinking coffee and laughing with their neighbors. Very dangerous, huh?
In the 30s during the Great Depression and World War II many people lost their jobs and the situation changed. But it got worse after the Vietnam War. Many veterans came home broken and traumatized – and as drug addicts. It was because Vietnam was a production area of poppy and so many soldiers came in contact with Heroine for the first time. There were no hospitals in Harlem to help those veterans and the situation in Harlem became terrible. Drug addicts on the street, dealer all around. Violence, prostitution and chaos appeared. Also, the kids of those soldiers got lost in there and Crack came up.
Well, the City of New York put on a big welfare program in the 90s. Houses were restored and the entire area was revalued. But that also causes gentrification now. Old culture vanishes and people have to move because of the increasing rents. A man living in Harlem in the 80s had to sell his two houses for $ 10,000 back then because everyone wanted to leave that awful and dangerous place. When he came back now he saw his houses on sale for $ 4 million and $ 6 million. “He stared to cry”, Ryan remembers.
So what is Harlem all about? I guess it’s about many changes and chances but also full of tears and broken dreams. I’m so happy I’ve been there. It was just as moving as the history of that area.