There are roughly 4,000 chambers of commerce in the U.S. but few can match the annual events conducted by the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce (GHCC), particularly its HARLEM WEEK that each year since its inception in 1974 expands in length and events. Last Saturday, the GHCC celebrated its 125th anniversary with a glorious gala at Shephard Hall on the campus of City College of New York.
At the fulcrum of the event was a space retrofitted to resemble the fabled Savoy Ballroom, replete with beautifully decorated tables. And if the club’s spacious dance floor wasn’t available, much of the attire, particularly sparkling gowns replicated the previous decades. And when Jeff Foxx’s big band kicked in with “Take the A Train,” with a chorus line of dancers from the Uptown Dance Academy, the past was present.
This musical interlude happened much later in the evening, and long after the benediction by Rev. Dennis Dillon, and the opening comments from the emcees G. Keith Alexander and Debi B.
But the Savoy setting was a perfect moment for a trip down memory lane by former Congressman Charles Rangel, 92, who was among those being honored at the event and one of the senior citizens who had memories of those halcyon days, but certainly not of 1896 when the Chamber was founded. And a semblance of the Savoy must have brought back memories to him of meeting his wife, Alma, there many years ago. Seated in a wheelchair not too far from his office at the college where the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service is located, he calmly surveyed the settings of the gala, as his image appeared on one of the hall’s giant screens.
“The Chamber is a great institution, and I am proud to be honored, and keep up the great work you’ve been doing,” Rangel said in a brief comment on the acceptance of the award. Similar expressions of appreciation were cited by other historic honorees, including Dr. Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University; Hazel Dukes, President of the NAACP NY State Conference, as well as Chamber Board honorees, Betty Park, owner of Manna’s Restaurant, each of them thanking President and CEO Lloyd Williams for his leadership. “I am so glad to receive this honor and I promise to do more for the Chamber in the coming years,” Park said.
Saluted also was Carver Bank and Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Nancy Dalton, Head of Community Experience and Customer Marketing, Amazon Access, expressed her excitement about the event and the collaboration with the GHCC. “The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce has served as an anchor of continued stability, bridging the periods of urban neglect to the future of urban prosperity since its inception,” she said, as a message from the presenting sponsor.
“We are excited to collaborate with the Chamber in its quest to advance access in the Greater Harlem region,” she added. “Everyone here has an essential role to play. You are here because you care about this work, this community and are committed to being the change. Together, we can cultivate more hope, joy and love in Harlem, in New York, across the country and ultimately the world.”
Later, in the summer, a commemorative coffee-table size book, Harlem Evolution, which captures the history and images of Harlem’s illustrious evolution over the last several decades will be on sale nationally and globally through Amazon.com.
Before the evening concluded a short but compelling documentary film was teased by director and producer Jamal Joseph with the film’s premiere scheduled to be screened on June 22, 2023 at the Schomburg Center. At the close of the festive occasion there were accolades from a number of attendees, notably Clayton Banks, City College President Vincent Boudreau, Representative Adriano Espaillat, Michael Sutton, and earlier in the evening Public Advocate Jumaane Williams was present to help in delivering the state’s congratulations, and setting the stage for the Chamber’s receiving a proclamation. Among the dignitaries enjoying the jubilation were Denardo Coleman, Ornette and Jayne Cortez’s son, and Attallah Shabazz, the eldest daughter of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz, the legendary political leader H. Carl McCall, and former Gov. David Paterson.
Some of the hands waving the air as things came to an end were applauding the celebration, others were bidding on the items from the auction with Billy “Mr. Apollo” Mitchell as the auctioneer. One of the winners came from nearby Lafayette Theater table, just one of the tables that denoted famous clubs and institutions in Harlem, a subtle idea of the Chamber’s team. This hardly noticed touch symbolized the Chamber’s glorious Quasquicentennial (125 years), and counting.