Territorial Strife

I’m sitting at the newest cafe to open in my Harlem neighborhood – it’s called Manhattanville Coffee. The name itself describes the recent strife this neighborhood has seen in the past few years ago as young professionals began immigrating to the area in swarms in search of cheap rent and easy downtown access. Manhattanville is generally recognized as being distinct from the rest of Harlem. It’s where the Columbia University main campus is, it houses, for the most part, university affiliates many old money white families. Its what folk generally consider a “nice” part of town. This connotation is exactly why the cafe has been given this name. It is an attempts to align itself with the new Harlem, the Harlem that is less poor, less black and hispanic. One poster on yelp described this place as real estate rebranding intended to speed up the already dizzying pace of gentrification that’s taking over this neighborhood.

I’m okay with nice dining establishments and coffee shops, especially when they are independently owned like this one, but I’m scared that it’s too far removed from the original community that houses it. Why does the coffee cost $4-5? Why are they blasting indie folk music, why are there no fliers for community events and resources near the door?

A group of young black boys just walked by the door and one of them ran up to the door, looking back at his friends as if for encouragement, held onto the handles looked inside and then let go and ran away with his group. To him, what he just did was a small act of defiance. He was making to enter a place where he knows he is not welcome. I wish this were more of a place where young neighborhood kids would feel comfortable coming in. If only to get a drink of water, to rest, or maybe even to sit in on an event where a book is being read by a fellow Harlemite.

And since I’ve started sitting here…every one in the cafe is white with the exception of myself and two black men, while 90% of who strolls by the massive french windows are black. Kids on they’re low-riding bikes with the pegs, two girls with long braids down their backs run by. Adults from the neighborhood walk by too, they look inside as they walk by then they turn to look at the car of young white men parked outside, their is sadness, a sense of loss in their eyes.

I look up and notice that someone has vandalized the glass on the large French window that make up two walls of the cafe: “DEE” is etched in a childish cursive on every single window pane. I think this act of vandalism represents the territorial strife this neighborhood is experiencing. It is an attempt to assert the power of what was here before. I don’t think this would have happened had a bodega opened up no this corner.

Weekend Stories: Race, Gentrification, Random Acts of Kindness, and Race.

I typed these stories up one Sunday afternoon after thinking back on the weekend that just past. These brief moments I shared with strangers around Harlem and in New York were the most memorable part of my week.I sent them in an email to my sister. I think she enjoyed reading them, so now I’m sharing them with the world..enjoy!

I’m trying to like my class better and be a more active part of it. But it’s hard, especially when things like this happen:

On 168th and Ft. Washington
Hearing the your classmate walking behind you in a big group using fake ebonics to describe what he thought his patient interview was going to be like…just to get a laugh out of the group he was with. I cringed. Then he notices you walking ahead and catches up with you to small talk. I couldn’t fake any niceties this time.

On 34th and 8th Ave.
Seeing an elderly white man with his wife walk past you and accidentally drop $15 by your feet. You pick up the money and run after him and call out, “excuse me, Sir!” He turns around just enough to get a quick glimpse of your face then waves you away with his hand and walks away quickly holding his wife. You catch up with him and give him his money. He looks shocked, mutters an embarrassed apology and touches your shoulder…never looking you in the eye. I appreciated the fact that he touched my shoulder to show how truly sorry he was, but I still wanted to cry.

On 118th and 5th Ave.
An old black man walking out of the bodega with his bike seems me tinkering with my bike chain. He pulls up beside me. Flips my bike over, fixes my chain and proceeds to teach how to do a full tune-up on my bike myself. Then give me his number, tells me he lives in Harlem, he absolutely loves fixing bikes. And that he’ll come out and help me fix me bike if I ever need it. I love Harlem.

On 145th and 8th Ave.
Walking towards the train with my headphones in. A black girl around my age with cute cornrows who was walking towards me taps my shoulder to get my attention and says, “Sis! I love your hair” I was pretty taken aback because I’ve never been called “sis” by another girl. It felt perfect and I couldn’t help the huge grin on my face. I yelled back that I Ioved hers too! We both grinning at this point. I love Harlem.

On 120th and 6th Ave.
Walking down 120th and 6th, past some beautiful brown stones. There were a group of young men sitting on a stoop. Maybe they were playing a card game, maybe they were chatting..I can’t remember. The one that was facing me was cute, he was wearing an Kinte-print shirt. Just then I see a white boy, also about our age, walk out of of one of the brownstones in nothing but a small towel wrapped around his waist and flip flops on his feet. I was shocked and when I looked up I saw the Kinte-print guy looking at me, he gestured at the white boy with his head and we both just shook our heads. As I walked past I heard one of the young men say, “Damn, what is Harlem coming to?”

What am I going to do this summer?!

Apart from having to adjust to the massive workload and fast-pace of med school one of the hurdles of the first year is figuring out what to do for your first-and only- summer off. Sometime around November, students start scrambling to figure out summer plans. The most ambitious apply for NIH funding to work in big-name research lab doing bench science (basically pipetting [moving around] colored water from tube to tube and making up reasons for why their results don’t match their predictions). Some other options are going abroad and working at a clinic usually in a developing country. Neither of these options appeal to me.


I’ve given my summer plans some thought and I think my ideal experience would be staying in New York, doing clinical research or working for an organization that is doing work I care about – something with a focus on health disparities. I’ll need some sort of stipend so I can pay my rent, and would prefer not to be in an office staring a computer screen all day. I’ll keep you posted on how things pan out in the next few months.



I would also love to do a little personal traveling at some point in the summer. I’m in the market for a travel buddy! Touch base with me if a summer trip sounds good 🙂