The Jewels Within Harlem's Cultural Jewels

Ladies from Empire State College showing their story quilt at Harlem Cultural Jewels press reception

The press reception for the Harlem Cultural Jewels tour involved waiting for half an hour at a table in the lobby of the Studio Museum of Harlem. I came straight to the tour after two hours of exercise classes and had hoped there might be refreshments. 

But I was fortunate enough to meet two wonderful ladies at my table.  Joyce Griffen from Unique NY Tours, who is also an actress and singer, was our bus tour guide. Tequila is a journalist for Caribbean Life, which is published on actual paper. 

Witchdoctor Revisited by Njideka Akunyili, in Primary Sources

Studio Museum showed us some great art and described how the museum reaches out to the community. One exhibition, Primary Sources showcases three artists in residence who work at the museum for a year. With four exhibitions, Studio Museum set us behind schedule, so the tour director told us to “put some pep in our step.”

Joyce Griffen, singer, actress and tour guide with Unique NY Tours

As soon as Joyce began her tour talk on the bus, people started photographing her. 

I asked Tequila if she’d like to share her pictures with me.

“Oh no,” she said.  “I don’t share anything unless there’s money involved.”

I asked another photographer if he’d like to share his pictures with me for Harlem World.

“Oh, hahaha,” he said.  “Harlem World, hahahaha.”

Joyce told us how The Apollo started in 1913, run by Sidney Cohen.

“My people,” said Tequila.

Joyce informed us that the empty lot beside The Apollo will become a Red Lobster.  She also explained about rent parties at which people used to serve corn liquor and whisky and passed around a hat to raise money for rent.

Schomburg Curator, Christopher Moore. What was that fourth M?

Then the curator of the Schomberg Center took us to the corner of 135th Street and Lenox Avenue, and explained the connection between this corner and the four Ms: Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Marcus Garvey and another M I couldn't hear (Maharini?). *(I have since learned that the fourth M is MA RAINEY.) 


Harlem Stage panel with 11 waters

Then we were back on the bus on our way to the Harlem Stage Gatehouse, our last stop.  After almost five hours with no water, I felt slightly dizzy.  Since we were running late, the tour went straight to the panel discussion.  The seven people on the panel had 11 bottles of water between them. I wanted to ask for one, but there were forty participants in the tour so I just stared at the bottles.  

As we walked out, I discovered that the Harlem Stage Gatehouse has water fountains.  This is fitting, because originally the building was an aqueduct system.  Although it may not have been the best-catered event, the tour of Harlem Cultural Jewels was rich in information and these venues are definitely worth a visit.