Updated: Feb 27
By Shayler Richmond
Haven't yet been to Howard, but I've been to Harlem and while there I visited the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; I now know the Mecca isn’t just one place; like everything else sacred the Mecca can’t be confined because our greatness is unyielding.
The past, present and future impetus of Blackness exists in Harlem. I believe TaNehisi Coates when he bestows Howard as the Mecca, but I also believe my soul when my heart tells me I'm home because I'm surrounded by everything that’s good in me. Thus far that’s happened in two places, New Orleans and Harlem.
Harlem is ground zero. Since Black people first gathered in Harlem it has been the epicenter for the progression of our culture; Black people have gathered here to change our world for the better through art, music, rallies, demonstrations and so much more.
If Harlem is a piece of the Mecca then the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is church. The Schomburg Center is a library devoted to the research, preservation, and presentation of materials surrounding the African American experience, African people and the African Diaspora. Featured here is diverse programming and collections that illuminate the richness of global Black arts, culture and history, some of which I have captured.
Black people first gathered in Harlem in the 1630s and the number of us continued to grow. In 1910, Central Harlem was about 10% black and by the 1930s 70%. The fellowship of Black people ignited the Harlem Renaissance, an artistic explosion, which began around 1920 and the aftershock is still being felt today.
Spaces like Harlem allowed for the birth of the New Negro movement, which empowered Black people by promoting Black pride and refusal to submit quietly to Jim Crow laws and every other form of oppression.
Black existence in its entirety is resistance because we survived a genocide, and continue to fight daily to thrive in a politcal and econcomic system that wasn’t built for us. The roots of Blackness are African, so the declaration of being Black in America is a reclamation of life that was severed at its root; this is embedded in the chemistry of Blackness.
When Congresswoman Maxine Waters says, "I'm reclaiming my time!" She is speaking for all of us, past, present and future!
Blackness is resistance because we give oppression rhythm; we turn closed doors and lack of opportunities into art. For generations we have pushed forward just for the next generation to come around and say we have further to go. We carry the triumphs of those who were able to break the chains and carry the untapped potential of those who weren't able to do so. We're not done. Blackness is infinite.
Langson Hughes' ashes are buried in Harlem under the beautiful painted stone mural pictured below. This artwork was crafted into the floor of the Schomburg Center in commemoration of Hughes' full life, his love for Harlem, and his impactful work. The craftmanship of this murial pays homage to one of Hughes' legendary poems titled, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," the floor art includes stanzas from the poem.
Walking in the same space where the physical remains of Hughes lie and the history of our people is kept and continues to be explored and researched is overwhelmingly captivating. This artwork and Hughes' connection to Harlem is further discussed in the video below. The spirit of our resilience and beauty is still very much alive.