Usually during Harlem Week you can hear the sounds of live music and the smell of sweet barbecue wafting through the streets, but COVID-19 halted this year's celebration — but not completely.
Harlem Week IS happening — but instead of the world coming down to the streets of Harlem — organizers are taking the streets to the world — virtually by going online.
During a typical summer, it’s sounds like this that you’d hear echoing through the streets of Harlem with hundreds of people dancing shoulder to shoulder, But this year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, organizers thought they’d have to cancel.
"We determined that we weren’t going to do Harlem week this year. And as this word spread we started getting calls from Chicago and Detroit and from New Orleans saying you guys have to do Harlem Week because Harlem week is the message of our culture the message of our message of our spirit"
Lloyd Williams, President of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce says dozens of musicians, artists, business people and community organizers from around the world are volunteering their talents to put on the first virtual Harlem Week running August 16th to the 23rd.
"Melba Moore has done so, Winton Marcellus has done so, Dione Warwick has done so, Hezekiah Walker has done so, Dougie Fresh, Stevie Wonder It’s an incredible listing of artists that have come to the forefront."
Even the annual race entitled: the Harlem 5K Run Honoring Percy Sutton 100 and Charles Rangel 90 wasn’t cancelled. It’ll be virtual.
"What you’ll need, I don’t have my watch here, a smart phone or something with a GPS connection to record your run."
Michael Rodgers, who is with New York Road Runners organizing the 5K run, says signing up is free. And instead a one day event, the 5K run lasts all week long. So far thousands have registered from 43 states and 76 countries.
"One of the things I like about the virtual events is you do it on the 16th and you don’t like your time —You can do it again. It’s not like a regular in person race where you run once and you’re done. With a virtual race you have the ability to run multiple times throughout the week and then your fastest time you can use in the rankings."
The hope is to encourage people get out and move which in some ways connects to the title theme of this year’s festival: The Movement of the People.
(Lloyd Williams/Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce President)
"Our theme which we created in January not knowing what was going to happen with the theme was movement of the people. 9:20 Ironically nothing could be more appropriate with the COVID and with the demonstrations and George Floyd and elections and everything"
Williams says this movement also has a more pressing message for viewers online during the virtual Harlem Week. There’s a lot of people struggling to meet basic needs. And the entire community welcomes donations.
"We started in April 500 persons and now we’re up to in excess of 14 hundred per day."
He’s talking about the line of people waiting for food donations outside his Harlem offices.
"The 14 hundred is basically senior citizens and ah homeless and needy families and it’s just growing."
So he’s teamed with four Harlem restaurants. One of them is the world-famous Soul Food restaurant — Sylvia’s on Lenox Avenue.
Tren’ness Woods-Black is the grand-daughter of the famous restaurant’s matriarch Sylvia Woods . She says they’ve been serving lines of people free meals since mid-May.
"I wish that I could say the line is getting shorter but the line is getting longer. It’s a true sign of the times. The line literally wraps around the block. We’ve probably given out about 8 thousand meals"
During Harlem Week, viewers who visit the Greater Harlem Chamber dot com can make a donation of any amount to a Go Fund Me campaign called Support Harlem Now. There, donations collected help get meals to hungry families.
" It’s very difficult for many of us who open our refrigerator and our only challenge is if we are going to have this or that to understand that there are empty refrigerators."
And every donated dollar also helps to support local businesses who feed families and also offer services.
((Tren’ness Woods-Black) "So I’m so thankful that we didn’t have to miss a year of Harlem week. Everyone is excited because we need, we need to see a light even if it’s not at the end of the tunnel.
For a list of the events for Harlem Week, simply visit harlem week dot com.