Harlem is one of those American neighborhoods that speaks volumes about an era, a culture and a struggle, but stands alone as its own beat. Hell’s Kitchen, the Lower East Side, the West Village–if you hail from one of these neighborhoods, it takes an instant to figure out what you’re all about. Then you have the south side of Chicago or south central Los Angeles. We know, or think we know, what those places are about, too. After all, these neighborhoods have been canonized by pop culture and are emblematic of a societal trend, contemporary or historic, which extends beyond a 20-block radius.
Harlem, however, is an American icon, and the Harlem YMCA is an African-American landmark. Providing programs for youth and family development, adult health and wellness, hospitality services and transitional housing since 1919, the “Harlem Y” has played a vital role in the day-to-day lives of African-Americans.
David A. Hargraves, senior vice president and chief of retail banking at Carver Federal Savings Bank, understands this connection. On March 31, he was honored at the 35th Annual National Salute to Black Achievers in Industry Awards, which celebrates the collaboration between professionals and the youth community of Harlem. As mentors and guides, top managers and employees from leading corporations provide not only leadership and support to the community, but are also investing in the innate cultural wealth of Harlem, its youth.
According to its mission statement, the Harlem Y strives to “provide a safe haven and to enhance the quality of life for residents of the Greater Harlem community.” Nearly 35 years ago, the Black Achievers program was started as a joint venture between schools, the corporate community and the YMCA to provide positive role models for youth and to draft road maps for success. “[Hargraves] has a natural passion for youth and making a difference in the community,” says Elaine Edmonds, executive director of the Harlem YMCA.
With an extensive background in banking, Hargraves volunteers his time to encourage youth and families to invest in themselves through financial seminars and training. Investment equals community empowerment; therefore, his involvement with Black Achievers is nothing short of a natural partnership.
Deborah Wright, chairman and CEO of Carver Federal Savings Bank, agrees. “It is fitting that David receive this award for having achieved so much in the banking industry. [He] is helping to elevate a historically Black financial institution to provide even greater service to those without full access … to the American Dream,” she says.
Hargraves started his banking career with Citibank in 1990, where he ultimately served as the regional vice president for community relations. He joined Carver, a full-service urban community development bank, in 2004, and is responsible for the retail branches as well as the management of a $552 million financial distribution network.
Carver takes its name from George Washington Carver, the child of slave parents who later would become a world-renowned agricultural researcher and scientist, bridging stereotypes of race, gender and class. In honor of Carver’s birthday, on January 5, 1949, the financial institution bearing his name opened its doors on 125th Street, just 10 blocks south of the Harlem Y.
Harlem has always been synonymous with transition, sparked when the Great Migration gave way to the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s. That’s why Harlem is Harlem. As the real estate market encroaches on the neighborhood, threatening to erode its cultural base, financial and community ownership is essential. David Hargraves, Carver Federal Savings Bank and the YMCA are at the forefront of the effort to preserve the neighborhood. Harlem’s youth are its gatekeepers.