“An Island Girl’s Ode”
Dear New York,
There are few things I know to be true,
One is, how much I love you.
I was born on this rock,
An island girl
On Lenape land;
Raised in a tiny village called Harlem.
This rock from which I grew felt as big as the world—
Each bombastic block, another language heard.
Each curve and curb another dream dreamt
Growing up here is where I got my rhythm
And came to know my Blues.
Freestyling as a way to be,
Jazz standards have nothing on me.
A journey hard to capture but not to be missed;
Harlem, a village where the impossible exists.
It is all true, that's why New York, I love you.
Burned into my memory forever will be
Corner cyphers and fly girl steez.
Brownstone stoop hangs,
Studio Museum openings,
And The Schomburg’s texts.
HSA (Harlem School of the Arts), DTH (Dance Theatre of Harlem), NBT (National Black Theatre)
Are all the institutions that raised me.
My religion took place at Sundae Sermons in St. Nick Park
And St. Nick’s Pub where brown liquor was served in red solo cups;
Introduced me to the world of jazz in a way that would indelibly last.
Hurston and Hughes,
Hustle/Bustle and Holiday;
Bearden and Baldwin;
Beatboxing and Street talking;
Bean pies and Bombers;
ASAP and Art Walkers;
Trendsetters & hair braider;
Artists of all shape, size and color.
All Harlem encounters
That still make my heart flutter,
The timeless Lenox Boulevard strut,
Sunday go to meeting fits
And Sunday at Ms. Marjorie’s fetes.
Every Trappy Hour and First Friday sweat;
Harlem the Mecca ,
A bastion of Black culture,
Where my heart is always met.
You haven’t been anywhere until you’ve visited Harlem.
A holy ground for truth seekers and soothsayers.
A place so brave that it holds gratitude and grief
In different chambers of the same heartbeat.
The same incantation that transforms Marcus Garvey Park
Into ancient rituals of drum circles until dark.
This City, my dearest love, a place I simply call home.
You never cease to amaze me;
From 9/11 to Hurricane Sandy
From the blackout of 2003 to the shuttered uncertainty of Covid-19
From Malcom X to Eric Garner
Our medicine has ALWAYS been each other.
Love, hard or soft is an act of heroism
I learned that here, first hand on the isle of Manhattan
Through good times and bad,
Devastation has never been a destination
For this great city of mine.
She teaches me everyday
There will always be a new way
To love her more fiercely.
The opportunity to lose ourselves
And become ourselves
Over and over again.
A resilience unknown
Anywhere else to man.
There’s nothing we can't get through together.
In this year of yearning and learning,
Of uncertainty and unpredictability,
The one thing that has never wavered
Is our care for one another.
From health care worker cheers at 7pm
To marches of solidarity for slain unarmed men and women.
Every church, mosque, temple and synagogue;
Every soap box preacher and public school teacher,
Helps guide us back to who we are.
A city defined by limitless imagination;
By grace and grit;
The endless possibility
Of Lady Liberty’s prophecy
Continues to light our way.
New York you have never let us down.
New York tough is our rallying sound.
New York heart is what always remains;
This concrete jungle from whence all my dreams have been made.
New York, New York, I could not love you more.
Oh! And one more thing that I know to be true,
New York the best is still in front of you!
Sade Lythcott is CEO of the National Black Theatre.