It’s not SoHa or SpaHa, just Harlem, she says
A Harlem poet, who is fighting to preserve the name of her beloved neighborhood, took first place at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night for her original piece focused on the ongoing gentrification that has rattled the nerves of many long-time residents.
Jaylene Clark, 23, said she was brought to tears when it was announced she was the winner of the world famous talent show on Wednesday.
“I was overwhelmed with emotion,” said the spoken word artist. “I just felt so blessed because I’m from Harlem, and this is a legendary stage.”
In Clark’s poem she addresses issues of gentrification in Harlem, specifically the altered names that have been given to her hometown.
“By calling it SoHa or SpaHa, you aim to make it sound chic, hip and cool; like in every Harlem apartment there’s a security camera and a doorman in the vestibule,” Clark says as part of her performance.
“But if you ask me, nothing sounds cooler than living in Harlem!”
Clark, who graduated from the Frederick Douglass Academy and Ithaca College, continued to express her pride for Harlem and her disappointment with the new names that have popped up on signs, like SpaHa (Spanish Harlem), SoHa (South Harlem), SoMar (South of Marcus Garvey Park), E-Ha (East Harlem) and We-Ha (West Harlem).
“If I wasn’t from here, yet wanted to move here, it would be the culture and the history that would make me choose it,” she says during her act. “Not the actual ridiculous names that I’ve heard like SoHa and SoMar and E-Ha and We-Ha. No Ha’s. Just Harlem.”
But Clark said she’s not against the changes that have come to her neighborhood.
“Harlem is changing, but one thing that needs not to change is its name,” she told the Daily News.
Amateur Night is notoriously known for its tough crowd, but Clark was able to keep the audience on her side.
“I think the crowd really understood what I was talking about,” she said. “I feel like the content was a big factor…It’s about keeping Harlem what it is, and people really connected to it.”
The News first wrote about Clark and her three friends – known as the Harlem KW Project – who collectively penned a play called, “Renaissance in the Belly of a Killer Whale.” The traveling play also focuses on the gentrification of Harlem.
Clark’s Amateur Night performance was a piece of the play that has already had a successful run at the National Black Theatre.
Clark will return to Amateur Night on Feb. 29 with a chance to advance to the next round of the competition, which offers a $10,000 grand prize.
Still, Clark said in her poem that she’s not against the new faces that have moved into the neighborhood.
“This is not about saying, ‘This one is not welcome, or that one is taking control of our neighborhood. It’s not about pointing fingers or assigning blame,” she said at the end of her performance. “We welcome positive change in Harlem. But if you’re going to come here, live here, see here, at least have the decency to call her by her name – Harlem.”
By Michael J. Feeney / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS