Karen Carpenter, Daughter of Headmaster

NOTE: This reflection was formerly posted on the Harlem Prep blog back in 2011 and has been re-posted here.

“Step by Step
You’re in the race at Harlem Prep.
For the race has just begun,
There’s a goal for everyone.
Open the gates,
And open them wide.
For those who hunger
And thirst inside.
For the creative free,
Who once were denied.
Keep on marching…
Until you reach the other side.

Through the halls of opportunity,
To the stairway of success!
Work your show,
You’re on the go,
Just keep those students coming through.
For there’s so much work for us to do
With the help of God and the hand of faith,
We’ll make our dream come alive, hey, hey, hey
No matter what it takes.”

-Shirley Jones & Milton Hamilton

The words of the song state, “no matter what it takes.” Determination, never quitting, talent, brilliance, and unstoppable energy are some of the words that come to mind when I think about Harlem Prep.

I’m inspired to start this blog to capture and memorialize the work that my parents, Drs. Ed and Ann Carpenter, did back in the 1970s. If you recognize the words to the above song, you will remember how proudly we sang them – they became the “national anthem” of Harlem Prep. “Step by Step” was sung at graduations, while changing classes, in television appeals for donations. I still remember the words and melody quite easily. Some of you may even remember me running around, then a kid with pigtails. No matter how young I was then, I still remember the vibrant energy and excitement that I felt when I visited the Prep. To this day, I’ve never seen students so jazzed about learning, nor teachers as inspired to impart knowledge.

The 40 year anniversary of the school’s founding recently occurred. Forty years! I began to ask myself, “I wonder how many lives were changed by Harlem Prep? What became of all those people? What if I tried to find former students and teachers? What stories would they tell about their experiences?” Those questions gave birth to the current project – a documentary about the Prep and how it impacted the teachers, students, and the face of alternative schools in America.

We’re still in the early stage of producing the documentary. I recognize that there is a wealth of stories out there, many of which I’m unaware. Please use this blog to dialogue with me and share your recollections. Please include your contact information as I foresee expanding the project to include a reunion (with video camera, of course!)

Harlem Prep family, the story must be told. The time for the telling is now. We all know how strong oral storytelling traditions are. When we had the Prep, we didn’t have the technology we have today. Let’s use it to reconnect, re-energize and infuse our spirits. The Prep is who we are. We would not be who we are today without having lived it.

Please visit the blog regularly as we will keep you posted about the reunion, projects and the like. Thank you, be blessed.

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