On the last day of our spring 2015 trip to Brooklyn, my partner and I took a few hours to go up to Harlem, have lunch at Manna’s Soul Food and look for some of the street vendors who used to be so plentiful around 125th St. As we strolled around the neighborhood, it became clear to us that the once-lively street vendor culture of Harlem had greatly diminished by the demographic and economic changes in the community. The man in this drawing was one of the few vendors still left on 125th street, and when we stopped to admire his cleverly designed Black power- and Black history-themed t-shirts, he greeted us with the usual inquiries about where we were visiting from and whether or not we’d been to the City before.
Over the next 20 or so minutes, he regaled us with fascinating stories of his family, his struggles, his encounters with law enforcement, and his lively and spirited mother (who he clearly admired). I could probably have enjoyed another 20 minutes of stories, if I hadn’t been so worried about getting to the airport on time.
He most certainly had a lot more stories to tell. I hope I run into him again, some time. He was an amazing man with a warm and welcoming spirit, whose experiences had left him not embittered, but empowered and incredibly resilient.