Harlem on My Mind

Gentrification is displacing longtime residents in historically African American neighborhoods from Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn to Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles.

Gentrification - Historically Black Neighborhoods

I grew up in Bed-Stuy and went to college in Harlem where an iconic mural, the “Spirit of Harlem,” was covered up by Footaction, a sneaker and apparel company.

Spirit of Harlem Mural2

Langston Hughes famously asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?”


We know what happens if we don’t fight the collateral damage of gentrification. African American cultural heritage and presence will be erased from public memory. So Harlem activists are organizing to give the boot to Footaction.

Give the Boot to Fooaction

For me, it’s déjà vu all over again. In 2015, Pennrose Properties demolished the “Tribute to John Coltrane” mural in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood in North Philadelphia.

Tribute to John Coltrane Mural2

But rather than simply lament its destruction, I made some noise in my capacity as director of All That Philly Jazz. Fast forward two years, Pennrose Chairman and CEO Richard K. Barnhart thanked me for my activism. Barnhart told me that in raising awareness of the importance of cultural heritage preservation I “made him a better person.”

On September 24, 2017, the “Why We Love Coltrane” mural was dedicated.

Why We Love Coltrane-3

The mural was funded by Pennrose Properties and the City of Philadelphia, in partnership with All That Philly Jazz, Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Committee and Fairmount Park Conservancy.

Why We Love Coltrane Acknowledgements

Footaction is owned by retail giant Foot Locker. Together, we can make Footaction a better corporate citizen. Let’s make some noise.

UPDATE: After making some noise on Twitter, I received a DM from Footaction.

Footaction - Direct Message - 12.12.17

True to its word, restoration of the “Spirit of Harlem” mural is in progress.

Footaction - Restoration in Progress

Advocacy works!

One thought on “Harlem on My Mind”

  1. I certainly relate to your Harlem on my Mind sentiments.
    For me, it’s Philadelphia where neighborhoods and churches that were the centers of Black culture and achievement are being/have been eradicated. I am especially concerned about historic St. Peter Claver R.C. Church at 12th & Lombard Streets, which was purchased by Black Catholics and their supporters. The Archdiocese never wanted this church to exist, did not contribute to the purchase and refused to put white priests in a Black church. Their biggest supporter and now saint Katherine Drexel advocated for Black Catholics by getting priests. However, in order to get the church dedicated (January 1892) Black Catholics had to turn the property deed over to those priests, the Holy Ghost Fathers (now called Spiritans) and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. After more than a century, Black Catholics were forced out of their historic Mother Church and the Archdiocese wants to sell it. saying Black Catholics don’t need a church.bishop. Archbishop Chaput has dollar signs in his eyes. The neighborhood was once poor and black; now it is rich and white. The property has become valuable and Archbishop Chaput wants to sell it. In Orphans Court, his high-priced legal representative is asking the judge to remove language that protects this as a “church for colored Catholics and white people are welcomed.” St. Peter Claver R.C. Church is a national, state, Philadelphia historic treasure. Let Archbishop Chaput find another way to get money to make himself and the pedophile priests comfortable in a Trump Tower he would like to have built on Cathedral Square. This archbishop worships almighty money more than Almighty God and is unfit to be a spiritual leader in the City of Brother Love and Sisterly Affection. He needs to move on. Can he be impeached?

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