Since the last update in October, a lot of progress has been made on writing my dissertation -- on writing the Harlem Prep "book." Each day I wake up and write...and then write some more! Although it can sometimes be hard to stay disciplined, I continue to be inspired as I write your stories into this manuscript and explain all that is Harlem Prep, going through all my wonderful conversations (the oral history transcripts) and the hundreds of documents I have collected. I love flipping through pictures of the Prep, trying to find the proper words and sentences that can best represent the learning and personal growth occurring in these photos. Each quote, each picture, each document is snapshot of the Prep, and the challenge is to take each of these snapshots and weave them all together in a complete, accurate, and meaningful way. On a "good" day of writing, I can write four, sometimes even five or six pages. Other days when I can't seem to find the right words, I may only write a few pages. But, thankfully, the beauty -- and beautiful complexity -- of the Harlem Prep story inspires me to have mostly "good" days of writing!
As of today, I have written 131 pages into this story -- it is really coming a long! A few weeks ago, I completed the first draft of Chapter Two (I skipped my first chapter onto the history of Harlem for now), which details the founding of Harlem Prep: all about the New York Urban League and their Street Academy Program, as well as about Dr. Eugene Callender and the people who came up with the idea to start a prep school in Harlem. Each chapter begins with a quote, and this chapter starts with this one:
"The school would represent more than quality education. It would become a symbol of educational hope." --Dr. Eugene Callender, 1967
Callender was certainly right in his early hope. The rest of the chapter explains in detail the hiring and biography of Ed Carpenter -- one of my favorite sections to write -- and how Harlem Prep came together in terms of staffing and partnerships (with the nuns at Manhattanville College, for example). Finally, the last thirty-five pages of the chapter describes the inaugural year at the Harlem Armory, including the teaching that occurred, student stories (with plenty of student poetry), and the first graduation in spring of 1968.
Currently, I am working on "Chapter Three: The Rise of Harlem Prep, 1968-1971." I am about 43 pages into this chapter, and it's also coming along. The first third describes Harlem Prep in relation to other Black alternative schools emerging in the country as a result of the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power -- and I argue how Harlem Prep was different and unlike any other school. Then, the rest of the chapter is about Harlem Prep as an educational institution: what was the school's educational philosophy? How did Headmaster Carpenter employ his "unity through diversity" concept? How did the teaching happen and what did the pedagogy look like? How did the open-space work each day? What was daily student life like? Activities and clubs? For these questions and many others, I am relying primarily on my conversations with many of you -- and please feel free to reach out if you have more stories to tell or would like to make sure your story is included.
Perhaps the quote that I begin this chapter with is most fitting when I think about the wonderful challenge of writing this Harlem Prep story. It is from Dr. Joshua Smith, who worked at the Ford Foundation and would become Harlem Prep's biggest advocate, helping secure funding for Harlem Prep at its most dire times. However, when he first visited Harlem Prep, he did not know what to expect! He wrote in 1970:
"To visit this school is an emotional experience which will require considerable sorting out of stimuli over a period of time. Never having visited the institution before, I was somewhat unprepared for that which was to follow my cross the threshold. The haze of blue smoke floating toward the ceiling and the high decibel level made it unlike any other educational institution I have visited."
After 131 written pages, Harlem Prep, to me, is still unlike any other educational institution I have ever learned about or visited. I think of each of you every day, trying my best to piece together your stories of achievement, of struggle, of empowerment, and of love. I wish so very deeply that I could share each page of this book with you as it is being written, and just know that while I am out of sight, Harlem Prep is never out of my mind.
I hope you have a happy and healthy New Year, and look forward to sharing more progress with each of you in 2018. Please always feel free to reach out to me if you would like to chat more -- on here, through e-mail, or on the phone -- about my progress or to share your story, or about anything at all! Sincerely,
P.S. A few pictures that I have been enjoying. Don't forget to view the photo gallery for more.