Getting to know Frederick Douglass Boulevard

This week was my first week going out in the field for Harlem News Group and it was a very interesting experience. My focus area for this week was Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Basically, my responsibility was to go to every business on both sides of the boulevard from 154th Street to 110th Street that could be a potential advertiser and sell advertising to them. I’ve never done advertising before, so it was a little bit challenging at first to determine whether or not a business was a potential advertiser. The publisher (my supervisor) gave me some suggestions, but oftentimes, it is very much based on your gut, your intuition. You really have to make a judgment call as far as determining whether or not a given business would want to place an ad in your newspaper. You really just have to go with your gut; it’s a trial and error process. And there are a number of factors that you have to consider. Is it a new business in the area? If so, they may be interested in advertising. Does the organization or company do print advertising? Do they have the funds for advertising? Restaurants tend to be a good place to go.

What I also took away from the experience is that there are so many more businesses in Harlem than I realized. I was surprised to discover that there is so much more that I have to learn about Harlem. The publisher was explaining to me how most people, even people who live in Harlem, aren’t really aware of what’s in the neighborhood because people generally don’t think to venture out and explore. And it’s kind of true. I guess most people know about the Apollo Theater and the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building, for example, but there are all of these restaurants, bakeries and shops there, too. There’s Harlem Tavern, Patisserie des Ambassades, Levain Bakery, Jacob Restaurant, Manna’s Restaurant, J. Restaurant, the Kumon Center, the Capoeira Angola Center of Mestre Joao Grande, etc.

One thing that I’ve always liked about Harlem is the culture. Whenever I go there, the minute I get off the train, I always see many Africans. It’s nice to see my own people. So I was excited to stumble upon some restaurants and bakeries on Frederick Douglass Boulevard owned by Guineans and other West Africans since I am half-Guinean. I even got to speak French with some of them. It was nice to have that extra connection to them. And this is just Frederick Douglass Boulevard. There’s also Lenox Avenue, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, St. Nicholas Avenue, the list goes on. The publisher told me that she hopes I’ll know Harlem like the back of the hand by the time I’m done with this project. I’ve already got a sort of photographic memory of many of the places I visited this week. I think it might be an interesting challenge to try to do what I did this week in every part of New York City. Maybe I could even document it here in this blog!



The resurgence of the Bronx

On Friday morning, I had the pleasure of attending the opening ceremony for the Simpson Pavilion, a new health center at Urban Health Plan, a network of federally qualified health centers in Queens and the South Bronx. I really appreciated the opportunity to learn about an organization that has been in the South Bronx since 1972 and has had such an enormous impact on the community. According to a press release, UHP has served more than 60,000 patients in more than 300,000 patient visits at eight clinic sites, eight school-based clinics and four part-time sites.

What really struck me the most out of everything that I heard during the two-hour ceremony was a speech by Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz, Jr. Paloma Hernandez, UHP’s president and CEO, said that she wanted to save the best for last. After listening to his speech, I realized that she was right. He has such a powerful voice and a commanding presence. He spoke about his personal connection to UHP and the resurgence of the Bronx, an area that has so much to offer — that is rich with history and culture — yet is constantly bombarded by negative press. The borough — whose 100th anniversary is this year — is the birthplace of hip-hop, home to the New York Yankees, the Bronx Museum of Arts, the Bronx Zoo, the New York Botanical Garden, the Heinrich Heine Memorial, and the Andrew Freedman Home, among others. Not to mention community organizations such as the BLK ProjeK, Mothers on the Move, Per Scholas and The Point Community Development Corporation working to combat issues such as food justice, education and technology. Per Scholas recently announced that a new software testing center would bring 150 high-technology jobs to the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, raking in $5 million in wages in its first year alone. And since January, the BLK ProjeK has been operating the South Bronx Mobile Market, a bus that drives around select areas in the South Bronx selling fresh, affordable produce. It even runs a buying club in which individuals can buy a host of healthy food for only $30 a week.

For Díaz, UHP is more than just a health institution, it is an economic development engine, employing individuals in the area and teaching students in public schools about healthy eating. He said that he is tired of seeing the Bronx “being in first place of everything that’s bad and last place in everything that’s good.” He said that it does not make sense that the borough is in sixth place when it is home to the most world-renowned healthcare institutions and that the healthcare industry is the largest employer in the borough. UHP, he said, is helping to bring back the borough to what it used to be:

What Urban Health exemplifies is the renewal of what I call the new Bronx. You make us proud. Remember what this community was like? You saw the movies. You all lived it. I lived it. Remember what this was like and look at what we have now. Look what’s going on here. This is about rebranding the new Bronx as well, where people from as far as Arizona are speaking about Dr. Izquierdo and Paloma, the faculty and what’s happening here. When the federal government is giving out money and the Congress members were here and the President of the United States, $12-13 million, they’re not giving that to everybody, but they’re giving it to Urban Health.

He continues by stating that he came from humble beginnings but that people like UHP founder Dr. Richard Izquierdo and others during that time period were fighting to make things better for future generations:

My father’s [Rubén Díaz Sr.] not rich. We’re not millionaires. We don’t come from Beverly Hills. That’s a young man from Bayamon, mommy’s from Ponce, they came here, and the Bronx went through a really dark place, and they raised three children — my sister, my brother and I — and through it all, there were battles and there were struggles and there were elected officials and pioneers and there were people who did it all for future generations that they didn’t even know. What did Dr. Izquierdo want? What was his vision? What do you want? What is your vision? What we all want is so that in the future our kids to have just a little bit better. And so he develops a little clinic and now we have this so that one day, this little boy from the Bronx can grow up healthy enough to be able to do anything that I want to do, that I set my mind to. So that this little boy from the Bronx can one day be the Bronx Borough President. It’s emotional.

I strongly recommend taking a few minutes to listen to his speech here. It’s very uplifting and encouraging, and brings home the point that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.


A belated post-graduate school update

The last time I had a blog was when I studied abroad in Paris during the spring semester of my junior year of college. I wanted to keep track of my experiences and adventures while abroad. While I initially created this website to serve as a digital work portfolio, I always hoped to use this blog to share my experiences as a reporter and to write about things I read about in the news that pique my interest. I’m finally getting into it again.

Interestingly enough, the last time I wrote in this blog, I was still in graduate school, and now I’m in the real world. I appreciate my graduate school experience because I learned a lot and acquired new skills that I did not have prior to attending graduate school — for example, photography, video and basic HTML. I miss school sometimes because it was such a stable, familiar structure. So now, on to the more important question: what have I been up to since then?

Right now, I am working as a freelance reporter for Harlem News Group, a media company that publishes positive news and information. It has newspapers in Queens, Brooklyn, Harlem and the South Bronx. Their motto is that they publish results, not problems. I don’t deny that there are negative events occurring in the city, in the country and around the world. But sometimes it’s good to look at some of the good things that are happening and are being done. And it’s important to make sure that media coverage is more balanced. If there’s anything I’ve noticed since I began working as a neighborhood news reporter in the city, is that there are so many community activists and organizations who are working hard to improve the well-being and quality of life of city residents. Take the BLK ProjeK, for example. It’s a Bronx-based food justice organization that strives to bring about more economic opportunities for women and youth of color. Or Staten Island Arts, an organization that works to make art accessible to all residents of Staten Island and gives grants to artists in the area. Such organizations deserve more attention and recognition for the work that they do. Shedding more light onto underrepresented groups and neighborhoods is a big part of my goal as a reporter, so having the opportunity to work for HNG is a pleasure. I just started and so far, it’s been interesting. I am updating an inventory of all the local businesses in Harlem and I will be going out into the field to personally reach out to these businesses. I’m also working on stories on people, organizations and events in Harlem, Brooklyn and Queens, so it’ll be nice to discover the city a little more intimately.

I’ve also been writing for this news, entertainment and lifestyle website called, covering New York neighborhoods. It’s a pretty broad beat so I have a lot of freedom as far as what I can cover. I try to write about a variety of topics, such as politics, education, crime, health, community events, arts, etc. For example, I covered Mayor de Blasio’s speech on his first 100 days in office. I attended the opening of street artist Swoon’s immersive installation. You can publish your stories as soon as you are done writing them, which is different from what I’m used to. Even more, your pay is based on a variety of factors, such as number of page views, number of subscribers, session length, etc., which means that you have to get a little hardcore with self-promotion. Speaking of self-promotion, take a moment to read my latest stories and subscribe to my feed if you’re interested in knowing what’s going on in the city.

I’ll do my best to blog every couple of days. There’s certainly a lot to talk about as far as the news is concerned. Stay tuned!