Harlem Diary

These nine heartfelt stories of youth and its inevitable hopes for a future have a very poignant message about growing up in the ghetto. There is a stigma to growing up black and in a poor neighborhood such as Harlem. Many kids have their hopes dashed by a lack of resources to better themselves and their families, many of whom do not have both a father and a mother. In many of these stories there is a lack of parentage in some form or another. The film makes it clear that growing up black and being black have very unfair consequences, most of which are simply products of the sub-par environments that most black children are raised in.

It is important to realize that being born into the generally abhorrent conditions of ghetto life provides a sense of disposability to those who live and grow there. When parents struggle to or simply cannot provide the resources necessary for their children to assert themselves into a society that considers them outsiders perspectives on life can become harsh. Take for example Akida Bailey, whose hard work and perseverance led him to attend Connecticut College and return to New York City in search of a promising career in finance. Though he took the common path to career success and economic well-being he found himself altogether displeased with his life. He found that he was not truly himself, he was a reflection of the environments that he had to apply himself to get into (i.e. college and the world of finance), yet discovered that no matter how hard he might try he would still be looked at as black.

There is no one path to success, of course, and it pays to remain positive. Bailey eventually found himself in the employ of a youth organization in Countee Cullen that allowed him to work with inner-city kids, ones that grew up just the same as he. It was a far cry from the world of finance and fiscal security, but it is one that has brought more meaning and peace of mind into his life. Damon Williams is another example of the power of resilience. Williams was born into a life with absolutely no promise. His father, having been incarcerated, had left he and his older brother to live with their drug-addicted mother, who eventually had contracted HIV and died. Damon’s brother and he turned to live’s of crime; Damon, selling drugs, and his brother, doing stick-ups. Both were imprisoned as a result, however, Damon remained upbeat and willing to do his time so that when he got out he could try to provide the life he had always wanted for his daughter. It is difficult to imagine the harsh reality of a life without parents to guide one and money enough to provide for basic human needs. When Damon was released from prison he commented on the incredible loneliness he felt due to the fact that there was no one to greet him or share in the experience. He had to find his own way home.

Though each of the nine subjects have distinct obstacles they must overcome, each of these stories has a similar tone. It is a tone of recognition for one’s surroundings, whether it be from the perspective of a child actor or from the perspective of a juvenile convict. Growing up in Harlem has had a noticeable impact on each of these individuals and they exhibit a determination to sidestep the barriers that have held their elders and friends back and that they see before them. Resilience is the key to getting out of the ghetto, but it is also a motivator in and of itself to spread its benefits for those others in the poor conditions of life in the ghetto. What I see in all of these kids is a will to do right by others and to support themselves and their families of their own volition. Any success experienced on part of these individuals would more than likely harbor the will of others to spread good intentions of peace and prosperity throughout their communities.

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