Rejuvenated development corporation gives $750K to youth employment program

The West Harlem Development Corporation, the organization allocating $76 million of Columbia’s money, took a major, tangible step on Monday, funding 500 summer jobs for local kids.

The West Harlem Development Corporation has funded 500 summer jobs for Harlem teens, pledging over $750,000 to support the city’s youth employment program on Monday. It’s one small step for kids, but one giant leap for the organization that’s responsible for allocating $76 million of Columbia’s money—the check is the largest single expenditure the group has made since it formed in 2009.

The development corporation has faced criticism from politicians for not taking swift action in distributing funds to the neighborhood in the wake of the University’s Manhattanville expansion. In November, the state attorney general’s office launched an inquiry to determine whether the WHDC was at fault.

Those troubles are a thing of the past now, said recently appointed executive director Kofi Boateng. Indeed, the fanfare of a press conference on Monday morning to announce the donation of $756,000 to the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program was the sign of a rejuvenated organization.

Held in the WHDC’s sparkling, week-old office, the announcement was the group’s very first public event, but belying this milestone was everything from the complimentary coffee and pastries to the presentation of the oversized check, with politicians and board members flanked by 25 smiling Harlem teenagers.

“This is the coming-out party of the West Harlem Development Corporation to show that yes we have a place, yes we have programs going, yes we are putting the money out, and yes we are building the partnerships and the collaborations,” Boateng told Spectator.

Until Monday, the WHDC had spent only $700,000 of the $3 million it had received from Columbia—with $400,000 set aside for consultants. The group did not establish a website until December and did not purchase the office—a modest but sleek storefront on 127th Street, between Amsterdam and Convent avenues—until April.

The $756,000 will allow local organizations to hire 500 more young people via the Summer Youth Employment Program, run out of the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development. The teenagers will receive nearly $1,200 for the seven-week jobs, while the organization that hires them gets a $325 cut per kid—so not a penny will go to the city’s overhead.

Boateng cited low youth employment statistics as the main reason the WHDC chose to fund the summer program—the small budget limited the program to accept only 20 percent of applicants last year.

“This year we expect that we can increase it to 33 percent. There’s still some [unemployed], but it’s a significant improvement,” Boateng said.

“It’s about trying to create a platform for them … and to get them off of the streets, to give them opportunities to work in a structured program, like SYEP, that they can learn about workforce and job readiness, which is so often missing,” WHDC board chair Donald Notice said in an interview.

In attendance were several Columbia employees, community leaders, and politicians, most notably Rep. Charles Rangel—on the day before the primary in which he’s battling four opponents for a 22nd term in the House.

Rangel, looking healthy post-back injury, praised the development corporation’s choice to focus on youth employment, telling the crowd of 50, “This is not just a summer program. This is a ‘what do you want next?’ What do you want to build? And who do you have as partners?

“Well, having Columbia University in the City of New York as one of them is a big beginning,” he added, stressing that the WHDC’s facilitation of the program and the group’s ties to Columbia are setting children up for promising futures.

But the 82-year-old Democrat also lashed out against politicians who criticized the WHDC’s inactivity over the last few years. “So many people took such cheap shots at this community, and it’s easy to do when you see money coming,” he said. “Somebody has to say, ‘Some of it should be mine,’ and if it’s not, they have to be critical.”

Rangel took a clear shot at Vince Morgan, a one-time aide to the congressman who ran for his House seat this year until dropping out in April. Morgan was one of the most prominent voices in calling for the attorney general’s investigation.

“I want to put would-be politicians on notice,” Rangel said. “Don’t use this organization as a vehicle to compensate for what you don’t have. … We’re going to have programs in our community the likes of which we’ve never seen.”

Boateng said that the investigation has been put to rest. “The attorney general has told us that there was no finding of any malfeasance,” he said, noting that the attorney general’s office does not have to sign off on the WHDC’s expenditures, nor can it prevent them.

Community Board 9, the body of 48 unpaid residents who represent West Harlem to the borough president, has played a pivotal role in the Manhattanville development over the years. CB9 vehemently opposed Columbia’s original zoning plan for its campus, and in meetings board members have frequently questioned the effectiveness of the WHDC, calling on it to disband entirely in February 2011. With Morgan, former CB9 chair Larry English led the wave of leaders who in November 2011 called on the attorney general to investigate the corporation’s activities.

But Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, who took over as CB9 chair a year ago, has taken a decidedly more supportive position than her predecessors, echoing Rangel’s call—and the WHDC’s new slogan, “solutions through collaborations”—to work in cooperation with the organization.

“We have to stand behind the institutions in our community that we’ve created to do a job, rather than pull them apart,” she said.

Columbia’s Community Benefits Agreement, signed by the University and by CB9 in 2009, promises $150 million to residents of West Harlem in return for the University’s development of a campus in Manhattanville. The WHDC is charged with distributing just over half the money.

The funds are transferred from the University to the corporation in increments over 15 years, and the WHDC will receive the next installment of $3 million after the fiscal year closes on June 30, Notice said.

“We are moving forward,” Notice said. “Today is an example.”

By Finn Vigeland

Spectator Senior Staff Writer

Published June 25, 2012


Harlem French Language Charter School learning hard lessons

City Education officials have “concerns” about school but also praise

A Harlem charter school specializing in French language and culture is learning a hard lesson about meeting public school standards.

At the New York French American Charter School (NYFACS) on W. 120th St. just off Manhattan Ave. – now kindergarten through third grade – about 70 to 80 precent of the curriculum is exclusively in French.

“We teach children of refugees alongside the kids of United Nations officials and corporate executives,” said parent representative to the school’s board and Harlem resident April Patrick-Rabiu, noting NYFACS has received visits from has received visits from three French senators and Princess Mathilde of Belgium.

But the school has run into trouble with city’s Education Dept.

In a report last May, city school officials praised the school for its “unique culture, diversity and strong parent participation,” but noted several “concerns” including weak leadership from board members, failure to meet state education requirements and a scarcity of books.

The school, which opened in September 2010, will be reevaluated next May.

About 50 percent of the school’s 189 students are from Francophone families, while half are African-American, Hispanic or Caucasian. They travel from as far away as Queens to “keep the tradition of French language and Francophone customs from around the world would alive,” said NYFACS official Vanessa Handal-Ghenania.

In response to the DOE report, the school’s parents and board members replaced the principal – who had only private-school experience – with veteran public school educator, Marie-Jose Bernard, a former city staff developer in bilingual education.

“Because the school is so new, it’s a work in progress and we are finding a balance between French and American school systems,” said Bernard, adding the school’s teaching staff comes from Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Algeria, “and other French-speaking countries.”

Parents also lobbied for a change in board leadership, and got it last Tuesday night when board president Johnny Celestin, a business consultant, resigned and was replaced by Dr. Fabrice Rouah, who has a strong background in education, said Patrick-Rabiu.

NYFACS parents have also been trying to get more books into the classrooms.

Wassila Guiga-Lofti, owner of B2D2 French Books, whose two sons attend the presitigous and private Lycee Francais on the Upper East Side spread the word among Lycee families that NYFACS was in dire need of books and received 200 donations of used French-language children’s books.

“There is large francophone community in NYC, and many would like to send their children to the Lycee, but the tuition at the LFNY is not affordable to all, even though there is financial aid,” said Lofti, “so NYFACS gives a broad range of students a bilingual education and an opportunity to keep a contact with the language and the culture of their parents’ country of origin.”

On Monday Guiga-Lofti dropped by the school with a new contribution of about two dozen books and chatted with teachers and students, including Amalia Dayle, a second grader. The daughter of a Jamaican-born father and Italian-born mother, Amalia speaks French, Italian and German, as well as English.

Asked about how she defines her identify, given her rich family heritage, she quickly replied, “I’m a New Yorker.”

BY Abigail Meisel

Thursday, December 22 2011, 6:00 AM

Harlem Travel Guide iPhone and iPad App

For years people have come to Harlem, primarily on tour buses.  They get off the bus to hear gospel music at a church, but usually leave before the worship service ends, and have a meal.

Harlem is the third most visited tourist destination in New York City.  Yet most visitors have no idea what there is to see or what to expect.  Unbeknownst to many visitors, Harlem has three distinct areas: Central Harlem, where African Americans first settled in the early 1990s; East Harlem or El Barrio, which is home to Latinos, with Puerto Ricans first migrating to the enclave after WWI; and West Harlem, which includes a diverse population of African Americans, West Indians, Latinos, and whites.  As a bonus we included Washington Heights’ home to Morris-Jumel Mansion, Manhattan’s oldest house.  We want people’s feet to hit the ground to explore Harlem’s rich history, which is unparalleled by any other New York City neighborhood.  Its ethnic diversity makes it a fascinating place to visit and this app will help visitors and residents alike navigate its nooks and crannies.


  • More than 360 entries with over 2000 photographs
  • This visually rich app consists of detailed New York City visitor’s information from visitor centers, tourist websites, weather, news, holidays, sales tax, smoking rules, tipping and transportation to and from airports and in the city
  • Detailed descriptions which include uncommonly known cultural and historical facts, websites, phone numbers, hours of operation, prices, menus and hyperlinks that link entries and lead to websites for additional historical and factual information.
  • Entries sorted by name, category, distance, price, and neighborhood
  • Once click to websites, phones, online ordering, online reservations, current menus and more
  • Live calendar
  • Ability to share user comments and mark and save favorites
  • Ask the authors questions through in-app comments to get personalized feedback at your finger tips
  • YouTube videos
  • GPS enabled Google maps with walking, driving and mass transit directions
  • Access offline content anytime
  • Free upgrades for life

What’s inside

  • Nightlife and entertainment from jazz, Latin salsa, opera to classical music;
  • Theatre, dance, spoken word and more;
  • Restaurants featuring soul food to French cuisine and everything in between;
  • Unique ethnic retail shops;
  • Museums that celebrate various cultures;
  • Fine art galleries;
  • Majestic churches and gospel music;
  • Amazing landmarks;
  • Parks and free recreational activities;
  • Guest accommodations;
  • Free internet access and Wi-fi locations;
  • Authentic tours ofHarlem;
  • Annual events and festivals;
  • Sales & Deals

About the Authors

The authors are both homeowners and long-time residents of Harlem. Carolyn D. Johnson operates a tour company, a visitor’s center, and a website that provides information about Harlem under the umbrella of Welcome to HarlemValerie Jo Bradley operates a PR and special events planning firm and is proprietor of a small guest house inHarlem. In addition to collaborating with other Harlem-based tour companies to develop unique tours of Harlem, she has trainedHarlem residents to conduct tours in their neighborhoods.

Download the free Sutro World @ and purchase the Harlem Travel Guide today for $2.99!

Follow Welcome to Harlem on:

Trip Advisor

Fire Breaks Out Below Harlem’s First Corinthian Baptist Church

HARLEM — A fire broke out inside a grocery store and spread into a popular church on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard early Thursday morning, authorities said.

Emergency crews received a call of a fire at 1916 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., at the corner of West 116th Street, at 5:41 a.m., the FDNY said. There were no injuries reported, officials added.

The ground-floor Falcon Deli and Grocery where the fire originated sits below the 6,000-member First Corinthian Baptist Church, and parishioners arrived there early Thursday to survey the damage.

Aside from broken windows, fire officials at the scene said the church appeared to suffer no damage.

“It’s a miracle. … I’m just thankful,” said church trustee Evelyn Gleason, adding that the house of worship recently underwent renovations. “There’s enormous love for this church and the pastor of this church. The community loves this place.”

Church Pastor Michael Walrond said the congregation “would have had services in the street” if the damage was worse.

“Whatever would have happened would have been fine,” he said. “Crisis is what defines us. And crisis is when you show your strength.”

The grocery store suffered extensive damage in the blaze, said FDNY Capt. Steve Lonergan at the scene.

Owner Hamid Hizim, who said he arrived at the store Thursday morning to find smoke pouring from the deli’s security gate, vowed to reopen.

“[I’ll] wait and decide what’s my next move,” he said.

A total of 25 units and more than 100 firefighters responded to the scene, bringing the blaze under control at 6:15 a.m., the FDNY said.

Read more:

Harlem artist, neighborhood work to preserve murals

Franco "The Great" Gaskin poses with a tourist on Jun. 19, by one of his painted murals on West 125th Street. Photo: Edric Robinson

Surrounded by tourists on an early Sunday morning, Harlem artist Franco “The Great” Gaskin signs autographs and poses for pictures in front of his painted mural storefront gates, as his wife, Kimmi, encourages others to sign his petition. 
Since 1978, Gaskin, 83, has changed the scenery on West 125th Street by painting 200 murals on storefront security gates free of charge to business owners.

Kimmi Gaskin joins him on Sunday mornings before businesses are open and while gates are still down to greet tourists and sell memorabilia across from the famous Apollo Theater. They are collecting signatures to help relocate and exhibit the gates in East Harlem because of a new city law that changes the appearance of the gates.

A group of 15 French tourists were concerned about the possible loss of the artwork and signed the petition. French tourist Ismael Gace, 24, said, “We like his designs; it’s beautiful. Seems good for the town and better than the regular look.”

Ulrich Chatelain, an independent company tour guide who has for many years brought tourists to see the mural gates on West 125th Street said, “It’s impossible to lose the gates. These paintings should be here forever.”

Many Harlem residents consider these gates a part of the neighborhood’s history.

“Over the years the artwork gave us hope. We saw beauty through the urban jungle,” said Shanny Herrera, 35, who has lived in Central Harlem all her life.

On July 1, new business owners throughout New York City are no longer permitted to secure their stores using solid security metal gates due to a 2009 law passed by the City Council. New stores must now use metal gates that allow at least 70 percent of the area covered by the gate to be visible. Stores secured with the solid metal gates, like the ones Gaskin has painted murals on, must replace them by July 1, 2026 to avoid fees.

According to the Council, the new gates will deter vandalism and improve quality of life on the streets.

“This bill not only helps first responders when they are called to protect our businesses, but it carries the additional benefit of beautifying our city’s landscape,” said Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., chair of the Public Safety Committee, in a 2009 press release.

Vallone, who led the charge for the gate changes, was not available to comment. With only 25 of his 200 painted gates remaining, Gaskin has accepted the change but would like to see the remaining gates preserved.

“I don’t want to stand in the way of progress, but my idea was to find a new home for the gates; a place they can still be appreciated,” said Gaskin.

To date, more than 1,000 signatures have been collected. Gaskin is also working with the Harlem Community Development Corporation to find a new home for the gates. The proposed new location for the gates is on East 125th Street between First and Second avenues. The relocation, which is estimated to cost about $250,000, is supported by Community Boards 10 and 11 in Manhattan.

“We’re willing to do all we can to help advance his efforts to preserve his last gates,” said Jessica Bellamy, a CB 10 member on the Arts and Culture Committee.

Gaskin continues to raise awareness of this initiative through his petition. If you would like to join Gaskin’s efforts to preserve the gates, you can now sign the new online petition here.

PayPhone Personal Ads! Gold-Digger’s Need Not Apply!

I saw someone tweet about this so I had to check it out. A Harlem man posting ad’s for that special someone?

It’s real! A 40 year old man who still lives at home with his mom is set on finding Mrs. Right – by any means necessary. His name is Malik Turner and he seems normal enough from reading his bio.

1.      He’s single

2.      He’s got a job

3.      He likes sports

4.      He likes Coney Island and Atlantic City

So what’s the deal? Why is a man so great on paper still single? Maybe he comes across being too blunt? Maybe looking for Mrs. Perfect is more complicated than it would seem? Here is a taste (in his own words) of what he is looking for…

…seeking a blond, long-haired, “big-chested, curvy, leggy, voluptuous (NOT FAT)” woman — or women — age 21 to 45, “willing to take turns paying on date (NO GOLDDIGGERS!!!!!).”

The actual ad has been posted on about 4 or 5 pay phones around Harlem…

Find the original article here – with even more details about this guy and his ad!

Confusing and Sloppy Copyediting on the New Ballot?

Change is usually associated with being a good thing, but sometimes going from a trusted method to a new and improved method can cause problems and bring about questions that were non existent before! Lets take a look at the new optical scanning method to reading paper ballots. So the person casting the vote will need to fill in the “bubble” on the paper to check off who they are voting for. Once the vote is cast, the paper ballots are fed to a machine which reads and records the votes using an optical laser.

So what’s the big issue and confusion?

Poor instructions!

New Yorker’s have had a rocky transition from the familiar mechanical voting machines to another method which can be compared to a “Scan-tron” type ballot. These paper ballots are then collected and read by optical scanners just got a little more difficult.

It has been reported that a legal scholar at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice discovered an error in the instructions sent out with the city’s sample ballot. FANTASTIC, right?

In the sample ballot that was sent out the instructions tell voters to fill in the oval above the name of the candidate they want to vote for.

Lawrence Norden, the Center’s senior counsel, said Thursday those instructions are wrong.  Voters should be filling in the oval below the candidate’s name – not above it.

We have been using the levered machines for over 4 decades – now the confusion is all about some bad copyediting!

What do you think about this? Did you receive your sample copy? Is this really the case?

Look Up In The Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s… a UFO?

I am not sure how many people caught a glimpse of what many are calling a “UFO” hovering over Manhattan’s West Side today. I cannot say that I saw it firsthand but the stories began to pop up online everywhere. Many people also began to update their facebook statuses and tweeting about this odd occurrence.

From the stories I have read it looks like the initial calls began to pour into the FAA and Police stations early this afternoon, around 1:00pm EDT from people frantically reporting the shiny object hovering over the Chelsea area.

Of course law enforcement gave the statement that it was likely some sort of balloon but even going into the evening hours they were not able to confirm or deny exactly what it was (insert X-Files creepy music here)

Eyewitnesses guessed the “Unidentified Flying Objects” height of about 5000ft over the crowded sidewalks. It was pretty easy to spot since the sky was clear and the weather was near perfect for UFO sightings! 😉

There was also a lot of commotion on Twitter regarding a press-release which announced the publication of a book by a retired NORAD officer predicting October 13th as being the day extraterrestrial vehicles to hover over Earth’s major cities. To read the press release click here.

The FAA has yet to provide an exact explanation of what this “thing” was in the sky. Spokesperson for the FAA, Jim Peters commented ” We re-ran radar to see if there was anything there that we can’t account for but there is nothing in the area. There was some helicopter traffic over the river at that time and we checked with LaGuardia Tower. And they said they had nothing going low at that time.”

You have to agree, that if this was some sort of weather balloon or other organized balloon release that the authorities would have been notified in advance, right? I am very interested in seeing what sort of explanations come out in the days to follow!


UFOs over New York! on Twitpic

click the picture to see the original - it's much clearer!