Programming In the Arts and Humanities
While We Are Still Here is a 501(c)(3) organization that includes long-term residents of 409 and 555 Edgecombe Avenue—the average number of years of residence is thirty. Non-resident members are interested in helping to preserve the grand history of these important sites.
WWSH was formed as a response to the threat that each building’s history would be lost and gone forever, partially due to the passing of time, and partially due to “gentrification,” which is rapidly altering the environment.
When we began, in 2015, our work was, chiefly, focused on 409 and 555 Edgecombe Avenue, but, over time, due to the input of our neighbors, we broadened the scope to include Harlem, in general. And in including more of Harlem, we seek to expand the panorama of its historical narrative, because the lens continues to be tightly focused on the Renaissance of the 1920s; the ravages of 1960s/70s-era drug addiction and dealing (and later, the crack epidemic); the crime and poverty; and now gentrification—but Harlem, in reality, is so much more than all of these things. We are not attempting to downplay or negate the realities of the preceding, but we are attempting to broaden the scope to include a perspective that reflects a resilient community of people, who lived, worked, thrived, and engaged in activities such as coaching little league teams, seeing to it that their children were educated, and who curated art shows in church basements and storefronts or on the sidewalk.
In the early to mid-20th century, 409 and 555 Edgecombe Avenue were home to African American attorneys, dancers, designers, gangsters, musicians, beauticians, playwrights, number runners, sociologists, and many more vocations. Both houses were home to a socioeconomic cross section of Black America.
The level of activism executed by the residents was so high that it resonated internationally. Paul Robeson’s performance on the battlefield during the Spanish Civil War stopped the fighting momentarily.
W.E.B. Du Bois, the father of Pan Africanism, helped to inspire the Bandung Conference, bringing issues of the “Third World” to the fore. He’s also considered the father of American sociology.
Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, developed the groundbreaking “Doll Test” that revealed the negative effects of white supremacy on children.
The Black residents of 409 and 555 Edgecombe left social justice legacies that can serve as blueprints for the current, international struggles against inequities.
While We Are Still Here and our supporters are the keepers of these, and other, histories of Harlem.
While We Are Still Here (WWSH) will educate, enshrine and preserve the extraordinary legacy of Harlem as an influential incubator that was vital to the intellectual, cultural, social, and political advancements of the Harlem community as well as the African Diaspora.
While We Are Still Here ensures that the “post-gentrification” community of Harlem and beyond will honor and find a meaningful connection to the legacy of African American achievement, and its paramount importance to world culture.
“…[H]eritage in all its forms must be preserved, enhanced, and handed on to future generations as a record of human experience and aspirations, so as to foster creativity in all its diversity and to inspire genuine dialogue among cultures.”
—From the United Nations’ Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and Creativity, Article 7
FUNDING AND PROGRAMMING PARTNERS
While We Are Still Here is proud to be a partner of:
National Trust for Historic Preservation African American Cultural
Heritage Action Fund /
This project was funded by a grant from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Broadway Housing Communities
i, too, collective (defunct)
Harlem Entrepreneurial Fund
Jazz Foundation of America
National Museum of African American History and Culture
New York Community Trust
New York Life Foundation
Thank you to New York Life for the $50K grant that will allow WWSH to install markers for the SIGNS OF THE TIMES| Harlem Heritage Markers Project
Teachers College Harlem Education History Project
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
West Harlem Development Corporation
Harlem, N.Y.C. – From Ethel Waters and Althea Gibson to Marcus Garvey and Langston Hughes, Harlem’s extraordinary historic legacy was vital to the intellectual, cultural, and political advancements of African Americans and the United States.
With funding from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, While We Are Still Here will be installing twenty-five historic markers to be placed around the Harlem community, beginning in the summer of 2021, to celebrate the historic places of this important community.
The list of locations for the markers will be announced in the spring of 2021.
“Providing historic markers is a vital way for the Harlem community to celebrate its history and understand the important people, places and stories that must be remembered,” said Deryn Pomeroy, William G. Pomeroy Foundation’s Director of Strategic Initiatives.
“We are very proud to play a role in helping to preserve the history of Harlem in order to educate and inspire future generations.”
“We are grateful for the grant from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation for these historic markers because they are critical to helping us understand the history of Harlem and of African Americans,” said Karen Taylor, Executive Director of While We Are Still Here. “These markers will help us ensure that the community of Harlem and beyond will honor and find the meaningful connection to the history and legacy of African American achievement and its importance to world culture.”
About the William G. Pomeroy Foundation:
The William G. Pomeroy Foundation is committed to supporting the celebration and preservation of community history; and to raising awareness, supporting research and improving the quality of care for patients and their families who are facing a blood cancer diagnosis. One of their initiatives is helping people to celebrate their community’s history. They meet this by providing grants to obtain signage in the form of roadside markers and plaques. Since 2006, they have funded over 1,300 signs across the United States, all the way to Alaska.
Moving against time and gentrification, the residents of 409 and 555 Edgecombe Avenue share the extraordinary history of two Harlem dwellings that were, perhaps, the epicenter of the intellectual, political, and artistic African American world in the early to mid twentieth century.
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