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SoHarlem's Why & How

History:

The inspiration:

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Harlem, New York, became the center of black intellectual thought, art, music and literature. Due to the concentration of middle and upper-middle class blacks in Harlem, the ability to produce and consume black culture within a culturally unique enclave provided a stable mechanism for community growth and development. The “New Negro” that emerged from the era of the Harlem Renaissance came to embody the realization of black economic and cultural success. However, as many blacks fled the South between the 1940s and 1970s in search of greater economic opportunities in places like Harlem, the economic prospects for success grew slimmer. While Harlem has remained a Mecca of black culture, its ability to produce an economic return for blacks continues to dwindle. The historical significance of Harlem in the consciousness of black America is significant in that it continues to symbolize an era of cultural transformation and unity.

West Harlem, also known as “Manhattanville,” was one of New York’s most important 19th century villages. Throughout the 1800s, Manhattanville bustled with industry due to its convenient location close to the Hudson River. This allowed for easy accessibility for ferries and steamboats carrying both people and products to the boroughs and surrounding areas.

A mainstay in the Manhattanville industrial district is the Mink Building a 105-year-old industrial site, once home of the Bernheimer and Schwartz Pilsner Brewing Company, and later a storage facility for mink coats, ere the name. After years of public debate over the future and zoning status of the building, The Mink Building continues to exist on Amsterdam Avenue, with creative entrepreneurs and thriving startups calling it home.

SoHarlem’s Founder and CEO, Janet Rodriquez, calls Harlem home. Born in San Juan Hill, today known as Lincoln Center and her family had to move to Williamsburg which she described a cultural desert, her family eventually moved to East Harlem. Janet began to see the patterns of how gentrification can displace neighborhood residents, and saw an opportunity to take the challenge head on.

As a Columbia graduate and former VP of JPMorgan Chase’s Philanthropy Group, Janet combined her backgrounds in the arts, education, entrepreneurship and philanthropy to make a difference in her community. Janet’s journey to make a difference began with a storefront location called, Straight Out of Harlem (SOH), which provided a retail location for local and global artisans to sell their pieces. Straight Out of Harlem existed as a creative outlet from 2004-2009 when Janet made the decision to close its doors because of its rising financial needs.

Janet developed a relationship with Janus Properties and presented an opportunity to assist in the development of the Manhattanville Factory District community, and through a charitable investment from the Janus Properties Company, SoHarlem was born.  SoHarlem has, over the years, run a number of successful community-based programs with the vision of ensuring that the local residents of the Manhattanville Factory District participate in local economic development. SoHarlem has hosted an extensive range of culturally driven events and provided space to dozens of creative artisans, offering products such one-of-a-kind jewelry and fashion pieces, and provided workforce training to unemployed women, including women trying to rebuild their lives after being incarcerated.

SoHarlem As A Movement

SoHarlem is dedicated to ensuring sustainable living and work conditions within the Manhattanville Factory District. We are driven to produce programs that offer resources for growing businesses, help build their workforce, and create a welcoming and inclusive work environment within our community.  SoHarlem envision the Manhattanville Factory District as a vibrant neighborhood where creative people run successful micro-enterprises and earn livable wages, a place enhanced by green pocket parks and public art, sending a clear message to all members of the community that they matter.