By Kent Larsen
Look at Harlem Block Discovers LDS Church Among Changes
NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- Six years after it first looked at a
then-drug-infested block of 129th Street in Harlem, the New York Times has
come back with a new three-part series on the block and how it has changed.
The series, which started Monday and ends today, discovered residents
bettering their lives and coping with work instead of welfare under recent
laws. It also found developers entering Harlem and this block, renovating
buildings and in the process pushing out long-time poor residents and
bringing in more affluent White and Hispanic residents. And, it found a
Church of Jesus Christ (LDS Church) on the block, trying to integrate its
Harlem members with the mostly White and Hispanic members in the rest of the
New York New York Stake.
The series gives a very human face to the changes on the block and in
Harlem. Long-time residents have resisted much of the changes to their
neighborhood, and tried to ignore the new rules of developers, who are
trying to make the neighborhood palatable to more affluent tenants. Despite
many changes, drug trade continues on the block, both for non-residents who
see the block as a traditionally dependable place to buy crack, and for some
residents who are still caught by addiction. But in the past six years new
landlords and developers have renovated many buildings on the block,
bringing new tenants to mix with the long-time residents that they are
required to allow to return to the renovated buildings under city law.
The Church of Jesus Christ on the block is a three-year-old congregation,
the Harlem branch, which first met in the landmark Harlem soul food
restaurant Sylvia's, which is owned by the family of a branch member. But
the branch both outgrew the facilities at Sylvia's and found it difficult to
meet the restaurant's requirements, which meant that the branch had to
complete its Sunday meetings before the restaurant opened for lunch.
The Times article puts a positive view on the church's influence on the
neighborhood. Calling mormonism a "patriarchal" culture, the Times' Amy
Waldman says that the branch is building bridges between blacks and whites
in Harlem. In keeping with the church's teachings on the family, one recent
white speaker in church urged women in the branch to call on the men.
According to Waldman, the speaker explicitly addressed the single mothers
and urged them to invite their priests, elders and home teachers, "to come
to your home and talk to your children."
In context, Waldman's report makes the church's effort seem an important
response to the changes in Harlem. She reports that children growing up on
that same block of 129th Street are often raised by single mothers, learning
that a single, strong woman can raise her children. Then, when they are
adults, that knowledge leads men to feel that they are not needed and women
to believe they don't need men.
In the article, Developers are one of the drivers of change in Harlem, and
while the article doesn't mention Mormons involved in these efforts, some
members of the New York New York stake are currently involved. At least one
stake member is in the process of purchasing and renovating a Harlem
brownstone, and has sought Mormon tenants from those in the stake. Other
stake members have also looked at purchasing brownstones in Harlem near
Columbia University and renovating them for their personal use.
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