Growing up in Harlem in the 60’s and 70’s was quite an experience. The sixties I barely remember, and not because of the pharmaceuticals in circulation – I was only 5 years old when the sixties ended. Unfortunately, I don’t remember my father because he passed when I was 4 years old. What I do remember is my stepdad stepping in (pardon the pun). The family had moved a couple times, always in the Harlem area, but no matter the neighborhoods were rough in just the ways you might imagine.
Though we were in Harlem, I knew no other style of living and we made the best of it. I recall a rather tough realization that came about one day my stepdad was helping me with my English homework where I had to write sentences for each of my spelling words. One of the words in this group of words was “ghetto”. My dad was checking my homework and we were talking about the sentences I had written. The sentence was “People live in the ghetto”. For this homework discussion he had changed up each of the sentences for the sake of discussion. When he got to the “ghetto” sentence he said, “we live in the ghetto”. When he said that I was shocked!
I thought we were doing great because we had a household of 7 along with 2 dogs – Coco & Pepper, and our black cat named Snowball (go figure). We had plenty of friends, we never missed a meal, we saw extended family regularly – how could we be in the ghetto. I think I was seven or eight at the time and it made me look at my surrounding differently. I didn’t begin to hate or dislike my surrounding I just looked at it differently. And I had to ask a few of my friends and classmates – do you know we live in the ghetto. There were actually a few of them who were in denial of living in the ghetto.
As an adult looking back, I remember The Children’s Aid Society having a program that sent kids from low-income families, with health issues and physical issues to a camp upstate. A wilderness camp that gave kids an experience away from the city. I had asthma really bad as a kid and my Mom had to come get me from schools a number of times to get me either home for treatment or to Harlem Hospital. I’ve let her know that I am thankful she let me run around like a normal kid because today I have not been hospitalized for my asthma in decades. In fact, I’m an avid cyclist who’s now riding between 30-70 miles per week.
Back to the camp. I had been a part of the camp program for 3-4 years, and I called it Camp Wagon Road. Now that I’ve reconnected with the organization, I realize it’s actual name is Wagon Road Camp. I’ve said all of this to say, the Children’s Aid Society supported me and my family for years. And as the founder of The Harlem Watch Company, I pledge to support the Children’s Aid Society for years.