Throngs of people gathered together in Harlem for the two-day grand celebration of the 41st year of HARLEM WEEK — one of the most memorable and influential festivals in our nation. This year’s theme, “Celebrating the Journey: Embracing the Future,” encompassed everything beautiful about one of the world’s most popular communities. HARLEM WEEK 2015 was a spectacular display of the continual growth of an event that started as a one-day event in 1974 that has grown to a month-long celebration! Over these two days alone over 80 artists performed in almost every music genre ranging from Jazz to Hip Hop to R&B to Gospel to Salsa to Reggae to World Music. No matter where you are from you can be a “Harlemite” over the weekend at the events of HARLEM WEEK.
On Saturday, August 15, 2015 on West 135th Street from St. Nicholas Avenue over to Malcolm X Boulevard in the village of Harlem from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Harlem pride was on display during one of HARLEM WEEK’S largest public events, “SUMMER IN THE CITY,” where attendees enjoyed a diverse array of activities including Day 1 of the NYC Children’s Festival with rides, games, exhibits for children and families sports clinics including basketball, boxing, swimming and tennis exhibitions and entertainment by children, adults and seniors for all people. The day also included the Higher Education Fair and Expo featuring over 68 colleges and universities with a special focus on Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) who shared information on financial aid, special programs and the benefits of attending a Black College, the Fashion Flava Show featuring the best in urban and creative fashion, and more.
Throughout the day attendees were able to shop until they dropped at the International Vendors Village comprising vendors and exhibitors selling arts & crafts, clothing, jewelry, food and much more. The day was filled with inspirational speeches from clergy, elected officials, community leaders, and families all echoing the theme of the day which was “Our Lives Matter” featuring special performances from Alvin Ailey Dance Company, Nona Hendryx, Vy Higginsen’s Mama Foundation Gospel For Teens, NK5, The Last Poets, Impact Repertory Theatre Company, music from the DJ’s of WBLS-FM, and many others.
That afternoon, all eyes focused on the great stage where an inspirational salute to unity and healing took place during the kick off of the year-round “Our Lives Matter” campaign that was launched on August 15, 2015. Attendees were asked to “bring yourself and your respect and love for all people to the rally.” The good-will movement’s goal is to bring together faith-based, civic, humanitarian, youth, and educational organizations, as well as unions, media and other institutions, to end senseless violence in the U.S. and beyond.
You could feel the excitement mounting as a special award was presented to the National Action Network (NAN) and accepted on behalf of the revered civil rights organization by NAN’s president, the Rev. Al Sharpton, as NAN prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary fighting for justice for all. In his passionate closing remarks, Assemblyman Keith Wright said, “Let’s leave this event unified in agreement that we must turn things around. Our lives matter, and love is the answer.” The day concluded with the HARLEM WEEK/Imagenation Outdoor Music Film Festival screening of “Still Bill,” the documentary chronicling the life of legendary artist Bill Withers. Additional music and giveaways were provided by radio 103.9FM.
Thousands attended HARLEM DAY on Sunday, August 16, which took place on 135th Street from St. Nicholas Avenue to 5th Avenue with four stages of entertainment, Day 2 of the Children’s Festival, the Upper Manhattan Auto Show with over 130 classic, antique and new automobiles, motorcycles and other vehicles on display, the NYC Health Village, hosted by Harlem Hospital, which provided free health testing and screenings, and again a wide array of vendors and exhibitors selling items from food to artwork to jewelry. Some of the featured performers on the various stages included R&B artists Vivian Green, Kenny Lattimore, Kim and Reggie Harris, and Angela Johnson with Harlem’s own celebrated producer/director Ray Chew lending his musical support and expertise, New Jersey Performing Arts Center Jazz for Teens, actor/singer Blake Carrington, Salvation Army Phil Ramone Orchestra for Kids, A Back To School Fashion Show and many more. The crowd went ballistic when R&B superstar Alicia Keys made an appearance and talked about Harlem pride.
In addition, the spectacular celebratory day featured a salute to Malcolm X celebrating what would have been his 90th birthday. There was also recognition of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights leader’s death, which was marked with music, art, and spoken word topped off with his daughters receiving HARLEM WEEK’s coveted 2nd Annual Basil A. Paterson Award presented to them by Basil’s son, David Paterson. In addition there were special posthumous musical tributes to jazz legends Ornette Coleman and ”Little Jimmy” Scott.
HARLEM WEEK 2015 events concluded on Saturday, August 22 at 8:30 a.m. with the Percy E. Sutton Harlem 5k Run & Walk and Children’s/Youth Race in partnership with the New York Road Runners supported by the NAACP, Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E. and other organizations followed by a “DJ Salute to the Icons. Plus the Hip Hop Hall of Fame & Museum presented iconic DJs and dancers. The day ended with the HARLEM WEEK/ImageNation Outdoor Music Film Festival in St. Nicholas Park with the film screening “Finding Fela” featuring Nigerian Artist Fela Kuti.
(Photos by Hubert Williams)