The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce (GHCC) is in a celebratory mood, all a-twitter with a host of activities to mark its 110th anniversary this year. That means the chamber, which was incorporated in 1896, came into existence about a decade after the opening of Harlem Hospital and the birth of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the legendary entrepreneur, philosopher, journalist and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association.
During its long existence, the chamber has played a vital role in a number of civic projects. It was a sponsor in the building of both the George Washington and Triborough Bridges, and in 1939 it helped finance and coordinate the 1939 World’s Fair, which attracted more than 200,000 visitors to its grand opening. But it’s over the last generation or so that the chamber has truly established its identity in the grand scheme of things in greater New York.
The ever-expanding Harlem Week stands as an enduring tribute to its contribution to community enrichment and urban development. And to a large degree it has been centrally involved in sparking the widely discussed “Second Harlem Renaissance.” This notion of a renewed renaissance, with its attendant cultural, political and economic components, is getting a major boost as the chamber stages an array of events to mark its 110th year in existence.
Lloyd Williams, the chamber’s president and CEO, and who, for 30 years, has held a variety of positions in the organization, earlier noted “with considerable pride” that the celebration would have “at least three” signature events. These included a July 19 evening affair on the Great Lawn of Gracie Mansion, hosted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and a luncheon tribute on August 8 at Columbia University, in which some 300 business leaders and professionals assembled to salute the Chamber.
Attendees at the Columbia University event, which was chaired by Mark A. Willis, executive vice president of JP Morgan Chase’s Community Develop-ment Group, included such local luminaries as Columbia University President Lee Bollinger; Debra Wright, president and CEO of Carver Bancorp Inc., the nation’s largest Black-owned bank; New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr.; and New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
From September 11 through September 17, New York Fashion Week is the focus, and a tribute to the chamber will take place at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square. “And on October 26 we will host a gala award dinner at the Great Hall at City College. At this occasion we will announce the awards for two top institutions in our community,” Williams says. He is quite sure, he says, that the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture will be one of those selected. Baseball immortal Jackie Robinson is slated to be honored, but less for his accomplishments on the diamond than for his leadership as co-founder of the Freedom National Bank.
These are but a sample of the events scheduled to salute the chamber and it would seem the leaders and staff there will be working overtime to complete all of the arrangements. “That will be nothing new for us,” Williams says. “That’s what we do all the time.”
The chamber will be publishing a coffee-table-size book to document its illustrious past, Williams adds. The book will include photographs marking the chamber’s evolution, in particular highlighting the numerous concerts and performances sponsored during previous Harlem Week festivities.
Since its inception, the chamber’s mission has been to improve the quality of life of Harlem residents and to attract quality business and professional services to the community. This year’s tributes to its longevity offer every indication that it is continuing to fulfill its mission and that an even more promising future awaits the organization.
By Herb Boyd