By Lloyd Williams – President, The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce
As the great poet Langston Hughes once said, “As goes Harlem, so goes Black America”. With that in mind, it is important that we play close attention to the fact that the venerable Charles Rangel will, at the end of this year, be leaving office after 46 years of historic service to his congressional district.
Rangel, amongst other things, is the creator of the Empowerment Zone legislation, was one of the strongest voices calling for the abolishment of apartheid in South Africa, and author of the U.S. Caribbean Basin Development bill.
He has been a strong advocate for bridging the “digital divide” between mainstream America and urban communities of color, and the lead voice advocating for the relaxing of restrictions in travel to and business development in Cuba.
Rangel was also one of the original founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has now grown to include 1 U.S. Senator, 43 Congress members and 2 nonvoting congressional delegates.
Following Rangel’s announcement of his retirement at the end of 2016, there was a congressional primary in the 13th Congressional District on June 28th of this year. Rangel’s announced, preferred and chosen successor, state Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright, was narrowly defeated in the primary election by state Senator Adriano Espaillat. Therefore, it is inevitable that beginning in 2017, Harlem, for the first time in its history, will not have an African-American Congressman.
Harlem’s first Congressman, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., was elected in 1945 and he served through 1971 when he was replaced by Mr. Rangel, who has served as Harlem’s second Congressman ever since.
Now the 13th Congressional District must come together to work with Espaillat – who is virtually assured to be elected to replace Rangel in the November elections – to make sure that the traditional and historic unity of Harlem, between its Hispanic, Caribbean and African-American residents, as well as with the new and growing white and Asian electorate, come together to keep Harlem’s historic legacy of unity alive and well.
Harlem/Havana 2016-2017 is Congressman Rangel’s last major initiative. The first annual Harlem/Havana Music & Cultural Festival will kick off in August of this year. It is a visual, performing arts, fashion, education and culinary exchange celebrating the rich artistic connection between two iconic, world-renowned cities – Harlem, New York and Havana, Cuba.
Harlem/Havana Music & Cultural Festival will bring world-renowned Cuban musicians, visual artists, dancers and chefs to the U.S. this summer as part of HARLEM WEEK activities on August 15-21. In February 2017, during Black History Month, a Harlem, NY delegation of artistic, cultural, religious and educational leaders will travel to Havana and take part in a number of curated events.
Plans for this unprecedented cultural exchange have been in development for over two years, with efforts led by Congressman Rangel and The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY 5), the Congressional Black Caucus and the Cuban Ministry of Culture.
We are pleased that this international initiative has now been embraced by President Barack Obama, NY State Gov. Andrew Cuomo, NY City Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYC & Company, and I Love NY. You will be hearing a lot more about Harlem/Havana in the upcoming weeks and months.
For information, please visit harlemhavana.nyc, or call (212) 862-7200 and ask for Ms. Ricketts, Vice President.