Long time residents and newcomers of 114th St. come together
Roberta Coleman has seen it all on her beloved Harlem block.
For the nearly 40 years she has lived on W. 114th St. between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvds., there’s been a turf war between the mothers and grandmothers on the tree-lined street and the never-ending stream of drug dealers.
Profile of W. 114th - between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Jr Blvds. has been a haven for drug dealers for decades. Now with new condos being built, young urban professionals are joining forces with long time public housing residents to rid their storied block of crime.
But now there is hope that power may finally be shifting for good to the long-suffering, law-abiding citizens of the storied block.
With gentrification moving at a blazing pace in Harlem, Coleman, still going strong at 67 as president of the public housing tenant’s association, has a new partner in fighting crime: the young urban professionals who have moved into two luxury condos on the corner.
After two murders on the block this summer – not involving people who lived there – newcomers and oldtimers have joined forces to drive out the dealers.
“Whatever help we can get to make it a better block and get rid of the crackheads, we are happy about it,” said Coleman, noting that most of the 300 people who remain are senior citizens, many of whom are afraid to go out at night.
Coleman said she was initially angry the condo owners did not reach out to her and her neighbors, but were able to get the prompt attention of local officials and police with their calls and letters.
“Without getting to know the residents, they lumped us together as if were were all animals and drug dealers,” she said.
It’s a sociological and economic earthquake on the street, where long-time residents of NYCHA’s Philip Randolph Houses never expected to see $500,000 to $1 million dollar apartments replace vacant lots. Or restaurants that charge $26 for shrimp and grits.
Young professionals have been moving in, drawn to new, roomier apartments that cost less than other parts of Manhattan. They are also drawn to Harlem for its rich history and friendly feel, where long time residents, many of whom moved to New York from the South in the 60s and 70s, still greet each other with a warm hello on the street.
“It seems like everyone wants the same thing-a safe environment,” said condo president Ron Peterson, who moved in with his wife last year after working abroad.
“The hardest part for us was coming home on a Saturday night and have police escort you around crime tape. That was very strange, especially for people with kids.”
Peterson and Coleman are now the dynamic duo of W. 114th St. They have planned a Christmas tree lighting at 5pm Sunday on the block, with condo owners and residents baking cookies and making hot chocolate.
Local officials and police will be on hand as well, including State Senator Bill Perkins, who has an office on the block and recently held a community forum on the quality of issues life facing the block and the area.
“The good news is the coming together of those who have been here and those who just arrived to move the community forward,” said Perkins. “Unfortunately, the common ground is as a result of drug dealing and guns. But you have to give credit to the leadership on W. 114th Street for having persevered and having kept the faith.”
There was a time some 30 years ago when more than 600 children gave the block life, playing jump rope and riding bicycles while grownups looked on from their stoops.
The drug of choice was heroin then, users keeping to themselves, said Coleman. Now it’s crack with “younger players who have no respect for themselves or the community.”
Coleman, who moved in as a young mother from Alabama in 1975, said she welcomes her new -and mostly white-neighbors.
“It looks like we are all on the same page now,” she said.
“No one really wants to move because we love our street. We are here to stay.”
BY Heidi Evans
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS