As Tourists Come and Go, Harlem Churches Lose a 10% Lifeblood

Tourists fill the balcony of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ while pews for members go empty.

Tourists fill the balcony of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ while pews for members go empty.

The tourists started lining up two hours before morning worship service on West 116th Street in Harlem. Most were dressed in everyday clothes, contrasting with the dark suits and prim dresses of the largely African-American congregation in the historic sanctuary of Canaan Baptist Church of Christ.

The Rev. Roger Harris, an associate pastor, made his way from the back of the line in his pinstripe suit. “Good to see you, glad you came,” he said, offering grins and handshakes on a recent Sunday. The tourists were herded to the balcony until, as in several churches in Harlem, they packed the seats there. Down below, where the congregation has dwindled over the years, there were plenty of empty seats.

The tourists often put offerings in the collection basket. But then they are gone. And so despite the draw, churches like Canaan are struggling. And at the heart of the struggle is a contradiction: As Harlem’s fortunes rise, tithing — the traditional source of the churches’ money — is fading away.

Harlem’s historical base of African-Americans has been dwindling. Those who remain have regularly tithed, setting apart 10 percent of their incomes for their church, in times good and bad. But now that has changed, too.

“Your tithers are your people who really keep your church going as a whole,” said the Rev. Dr. Charles A. Curtis, the senior pastor at Mount Olivet Baptist Church and the chairman of Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement.

“With the drop in population,” he said, “you have less people to tithe.”

The Rev. Jesse T. Williams Jr., senior pastor at Convent Avenue Baptist Church, said, “Giving is a form of worship, and an expression of thanking God for what God has given us.” At his church, he said, tithes in recent years were down about 12 percent.

Canaan, now with 1,000 members, has lost 500 since 2000, which increased the amount of room available for tourists. Without the tourists, Mr. Harris said, the senior pastor would be “preaching to an empty balcony.”

And tithes are down 20 percent, though other offerings at Canaan have been stable. It is not clear how much of that money comes from tourists.

Some churches have experienced drops in tithing of as much as 50 percent, said Deborah C. Wright, the chief executive of Carver Federal Savings Bank, leading them to seek loans from her bank.

“Clearly this is a transitional period,” said Canaan’s senior pastor, the Rev. Thomas D. Johnson Sr., who celebrated his seventh year at the church last month. “I believe that Canaan and all of our strong churches in Harlem are determined not to become extinct. This institution must survive, not only for the congregation, but because of who we represent.”

The story of Canaan, and its current struggle, is shared by many of Harlem’s churches. It was founded in 1932 in the spirit of what elders call a country church. Many early congregants were migrants from the South, sharecroppers under Jim Crow, steeped in a worship tradition. As more families came, the church grew.

The previous pastor, the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, led the church for almost 40 years, until he retired in 2004; he was an architect of the civil rights movement and an aide to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He was a fighter,” said Mr. Harris, who has a goal of increasing church membership by at least 50 within the next year.

In 1970, Mr. Walker once stood on the trunk of a car near the church and, through a bullhorn, preached a sermon about drug-dealing in the neighborhood. “We’ve been living dangerously for a long time,” he told his curbside congregation of 300, and whoever else was within earshot, “and we’re not afraid to name names.”

The black church, he often said, was the primary resource for the black community. “It is where black people have the ultimate decision-making power,” he said in a 1979 newspaper interview. “Black folks will pay church dues before they pay their rent.”

Under Mr. Walker, whose black-and-white portrait hangs in Canaan’s lobby, membership swelled to the point where ushers had to put chairs in the halls. The Canaan that Mr. Johnson inherited, however, looks remarkably different. So does the neighborhood. Where African-Americans once made up the bulk of Central Harlem’s population, they are now less than half. Economically, million-dollar homes and trendy restaurants glimmer amid stubborn pockets of blight.


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First NY civil rights museum to be built in Harlem

NEW YORK — Plans are underway for New York State’s first civil rights museum to be built in Harlem.

The plans were announced Friday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The officials said the museum will be built on a stretch of 125th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Lenox Avenue/Malcolm X Boulevard. Officials say the Museum of the Urban Civil Rights Experience will use Harlem as a lens through which to view the wider civil rights experience in cities across America.

The museum will be housed on a 42,000-square-foot stretch of property that will also contain a new national headquarters for the National Urban League.

Mixed-income housing and multi-level retail space will also be provided for after groundbreaking occurs in 2015.
—Copyright 2013 Associated Press

Small Businesses Pay Price for Harlem’s Success

For more than a century, Harlem has been one of New York’s most densely populated districts. And while it has always been a magnet for African Americans, it has also been one of the city’s poorest and most crime-ridden areas. Today, Harlem is experiencing an economic surge largely due to an influx of outsiders attracted to its plentiful housing and a growing black middle class. But as VOA’s Adam Phillips reports, the trend comes with a price. Small Businesses Pay Price for Harlem’s Success

Carolina Flower Shop Too, forced out of business two years ago, mounts comeback with help from West Harlem Progressive Democratic Club

Uptown politico Corey Ortega hatches plan to use club’s storefront space as business incubator, community center

Carolina Flower Shop Too owner Phil Young (l.) with Harlem Progressive Democratic Club president Corey Ortega (r.).  Read more:

Carolina Flower Shop Too owner Phil Young (l.) with Harlem Progressive Democratic Club president Corey Ortega (r.).
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When one of Harlem’s oldest flower shops shuttered two years ago, its owner thought he may never return.

“I thought maybe it was over,” said Phillip Young, who owned Carolina Flower Shop Too on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.

The shop had been in Harlem for more than 70 years and boasted clients ranging from Billie Holiday to Martin Luther King Jr. But insurmountable debt forced Young — a third-generation owner — to call it quits.

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Easing the Passage From Prison

Irving Brewster, with his 5-year-old daughter on his lap, held his certificate at a “graduation” ceremony for ex-offenders who completed a nine-month re-entry program at the Harlem Community Justice Center.

Irving Brewster, with his 5-year-old daughter on his lap, held his certificate at a “graduation” ceremony for ex-offenders who completed a nine-month re-entry program at the Harlem Community Justice Center.

As family and friends made their way through the metal detector and past the uniformed guards, Lloyd Williams sat off to the side, going over his speech, mumbling to himself. In a few moments, the courtroom in the Harlem Community Justice Center would be filled with parolees turned graduates. After spending half his life in prison, Mr. Williams, 46, wearing a crisp suit and tie, was the valedictorian of sorts, one of the night’s guest speakers.

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Harlem and Bronx Leaders Demand Fairer District 8 Lines

CITY HALL — Local leaders from East Harlem and the South Bronx are calling on City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to help redraw District 8 council lines they believe will be fairer to both neighborhoods.

A group of leaders from East Harlem and the South Bronx are calling on Council Speaker Christine Quinn to help draw District 8 council lines that they feel are more fair to both neighborhoods.

A group of leaders from East Harlem and the South Bronx are calling on Council Speaker Christine Quinn to help draw District 8 council lines that they feel are more fair to both neighborhoods.

On the steps of City Hall Thursday, the leaders accused Quinn of hampering the lines the Districting Commission drew for the two neighborhoods — creating new lines that would extend the district farther into The Bronx while removing 30 blocks.

“What I need the speaker to understand is that the East Harlem community has a very long memory,” said East Harlem district leader and Community 11 board member Peggy Morales. “This is the same community she will need to come into to gather support for the mayoral seat she is after.”

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Harlem build fund is wasting

A taxpayer-funded nonprofit with $55 million in the bank that was supposed to create a Harlem renaissance has stalled in its mission.

No new loans or grants from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone have been approved for local businesses or cultural groups in more than a year.

The governing board for UMEZ — the New York Empowerment Zone, which must approve all spending — hasn’t even met in a year. Its last meeting was on Dec. 14, 2011, and its next scheduled one is Jan. 23.

A UMEZ spokesman blamed the lapse on “scheduling difficulties.”

The NYEZ board, which includes Rep. Charles Rangel, met four times in 2010 and twice in 2011.

 At the December 2011 meeting, $400,000 was earmarked for UMEZ to begin work on Mart 125, the long-stalled redevelopment of a former indoor market that has been empty for a decade.

The city, which owns the market building on 125th Street, last year named UMEZ as the developer for the $20 million project which will create about 47,000 square feet of cultural, office, and retail space. But UMEZ only recently hired a development consulting firm, according to the city.

UMEZ opened its doors in 1995 after Rangel wrote the legislation creating empowerment zones in distressed areas throughout the country. The nonprofit started with $249 million in federal, state and city dollars in its coffers.

The group now has about $55 million left.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, UMEZ doled out $9.9 million in grants to groups including the Harlem Arts Alliance, the Hispanic Federation, the Museum of African Art and the National Jazz Museum, according to its latest tax filings.

The group gave $2.7 million to Alianza Dominicana, a Washington Heights social services agency, by turning a loan to the group into a grant, which it did not have to repay. The money went toward Alianza’s new headquarters, but that building is now largely empty since the nonprofit closed its doors this summer.

Critics have charged UMEZ is hoarding its cash in order to keep itself going and pay administrative salaries.

UMEZ President Kenneth Knuckles’ salary and benefits totaled $240,853 in 2010, the latest figure available. He is set to get a retirement package of more than $570,000.


Last Updated: 3:49 AM, December 23, 2012

Open House New York & Lots of Art in Harlem

Harlem Art Walk Tour (HAWT) 2012:

A Neighborhood Walking Tour of Over 80 Artists, Studios,
Galleries and Art Related Spaces in the Mount Morris Historical District in Harlem

Walk with us in our beautiful Central Harlem neighborhood on Saturday & Sunday, October 6th and 7th, 2012 from 12PM to 6PM. The tour features the work of over 80 artists living and working in Harlem. Enjoy a relaxing weekend and discover new artwork, galleries and meet artists from Harlem’s vibrant art scene.

Casa Frela Gallery, located at 47 West 119th Street, is the starting point where maps will be distributed to tour participants. The maps highlight the various stops on the walking tour including open artist studios, museums, and cultural and historic venues. All forms of art will be featured including sculptures, ceramics, painting, photographs, etchings and prints and textiles.

Major rezoning plan for Harlem geared to preserve brownstones by imposing height limits on new homes

Buildings would be capped at 4-6 stories on most residential blocks

Hundreds of New York City’s most glorious brownstones and majestic townhouses will be protected from developers and preserved for generations under a major rezoning proposed for West Harlem.

Mariela Lombard for Daily News    New zoning will preserve existing scale of historic brownstones, such as these along St. Nicholas and W. 145th St. in West Harlem.   The plan would safeguard an architectural treasure trove by imposing height limits in the neighborhood for the first time ever, radically transforming the zoning of a 90-block area.

If the sweeping proposal from the Department of City Planning is approved, it will mark the first time the neighborhood’s zoning has been updated since 1961 — when Robert Wagner was mayor and Nelson Rockefeller was governor.

The so-called downzoning will preserve roughly 95% of the 1,900 lots bounded by W. 126th St. on the south; W. 155th St. to the north; Riverside Drive on the west, and Convent and Edgecombe Aves. to the east.

That includes Sugar Hill, the affluent historic district named for the sweet life enjoyed by its residents, and Hamilton Heights, traditional home to such African-American luminaries as composer Duke Ellington, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois.

“This is huge!” says Manhattan Borough President and mayoral hopeful Scott Stringer.

“By limiting both height and density, it removes the incentive to demolish small buildings and townhouses and replace them with towers — and that keeps gentrification at bay.”

The rezoning will protect West Harlem’s low-lying scale and “guide future development” to mesh with the area’s prewar apartment houses and Beaux Arts, Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival brownstones, says City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden.

“If my house blows up today, a developer under current zoning could replace the four-story brownstone with a 10- or 15-story building tomorrow,” said Pat Jones, co-chair of Community Board 9’s land use committee. “That out-of-scale development will no longer be possible.”

Heights would be capped at four to six stories on almost all crosstown, residential mid-blocks. They could rise only to six to eight floors on St. Nicholas and Amsterdam Aves. and up to 12 stories on Broadway, a review of the plan shows.

The impetus for the downzoning: Columbia University’s upzoning of an adjacent, 17-acre parcel in Manhattanville, where it will erect a $6 billion, 16-building super-campus, north of 125th St. and west of Broadway, over the next 25 years.

Stringer and City Councilman Robert Jackson, who represents the area, had pressed City Planning officials to rezone the adjoining swath so West Harlem could co-exist with Columbia — and not be dominated by it.

“Columbia is humongous, its endowment is in the billions, and people have a real fear that housing costs will go up and they’ll no longer be able to afford their homes because the new campus will fuel gentrification,” Jackson says.

“Now, developers won’t be able to tear down those homes and build a 25-story tower.”

Under the city’s land-use review procedure, Community Board 9, as of May 7, had 60 days to review the proposal, after which it goes to Stringer, who has a month to review it and suggest changes.

Then it goes to the City Planning Commission, for a 60-day review, and finally, to the City Council, which has 50 days to approve, modify or reject the zoning proposal. Insiders predict it will take effect after some minor tinkering.

Public reviews generally last a maximum of seven months — and that’s a good thing, says state Sen. William Perkins, who represents the area.

“There are preservationists in my district who would chain themselves to those brownstones to protect them,” he says.

“Hopefully, that won’t be necessary now, but we always need to be vigilant and skeptical because there have been zoning betrayals in the past, and that’s why we have a public review process.”

Other provisions of the proposed West Harlem zoning plan would:

* Allow commercial uses in a light-manufacturing district between W. 126th St. and W. 130th St. to spur job creation. The so-called mixed-use zone could attract retail and arts companies or other non-profits.

* Direct future larger-scale development to a single block on W. 145th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave. Only on this one site could a residential building rise to 17 stories, and only if it included a significant amount of affordable housing.

* Steer community facilities — like a gym, a library or a halfway house — to commercial and manufacturing corridors by reducing the amount of floor area they’re permitted in residential areas.

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‘Lin-sanity’ Could Come to Rucker Park Tournament

HARLEM — After leading the Knicks to seven straight victories, appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated and becoming an international media sensation, hoops star Jeremy Lin is being asked to bring “Lin-sanity” to Harlem’s iconic Rucker Park.

That’s the dream of Greg Marius, CEO and founder of the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic, which has run the Rucker Tournament at 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard since 1986.

This past summer, NBA all-star Kevin Durant became the latest player to add to the court’s legend by scoring an eye-popping 66 points during a game there.

The park has hosted so many National Basketball Association and streetball legends that Community Board 10 is considering requesting that the site be made a landmark.

“We definitely need him to come. He’s magic,” Marius said of Lin, who is the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA.

“There’s no color on the basketball court. If you can play on that court, you can play.”

After bouncing around the NBA and the developmental league, Lin landed at the end of the then-struggling Knicks’ bench before getting an opportunity to play earlier this month.

Since his emergence, the Knicks have won seven straight, including a victory over the Los

Jeremy Lin, the surprising new star point guard for the Knicks, may play at Rucker Park. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Angeles Lakers on Friday that saw the point guard score a career-high 38 points.

On Wednesday, he notched up 10 points and 13 assists to lead the Knicks to a 100-85 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

“If I were Nike, I might consider making a mold [of his foot] right now,” Marius said.

Knicks officials said it was too early to think about what Lin will be doing this summer because of the shortened NBA season and how in-demand the player has become. The newly minted star is not currently doing appearances.

“He’s hardly had time to sleep,” said Andrew Krusco of the Knicks’ community relations department.

Marius said he is in the very early stages of speaking with the Knicks about having the team help install a state-of-the art scoreboard at Rucker Park that will show videos and instant replay, as well providing basketball clinics.

This year’s Rucker Park basketball season will kick off June 2 with a celebrity game, and the full tournament season will begin on June 18 and run through Aug. 20.

Lin’s appearance at Rucker could also help solve the question of what his nickname should be, Marius said.

Community Board 10 is considering adding Rucker Park at 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem to a list of sites and areas it wants to landmark. (DNAinfo/Jeff Mays)

Up until now, there’s been a series of puns riffing on Lin’s last name, from the ubiquitous “Lin-sanity” to “Linderella.” Film director and longtime Knicks fan Spike Lee has even solicited nicknames for Lin using Twitter.

Rucker Park has been the place many a streetball legend and NBA superstar have earned their nicknames. The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant got “Lord of the Rings” after his Rucker appearance, and the Charlotte Bobcats’ Kemba Walker, a Bronx native, is known as “E-Z Pass.”

Durant’s 66-point performance was so talked-about that they are still trying to come up with a worthy nickname for the Oklahoma Thunder star.

Hannibal, the announcer at Rucker Park who thinks up the nicknames, already has a few in mind for Lin, Marius said.

“Rush Hour,” the “Lin Factor” and “Chinese Connection” are just a few, he noted.

“He already has 1,000 nicknames, but we might have to change it,’ he said.

“It has to be a name that fits him perfect,” Marius said.

“But we don’t make up nicknames until you prove it live at Rucker Park,” he added.

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