Harlem remains our home base

David Goodson | 11/9/2012, 1:26 p.m.
A plethora of societal ills hindering dwellers in urban America is pushing people over the...
Harlem remains our home base


Young Harlem (l-r): Jammie Waldron, Tiffqny Bender, Alize Beal, Donavan Woodley, Keisean Marshall (Bill Moore photo)

A plethora of societal ills hindering dwellers in urban America is pushing people over the edge. For Harlemites Tiffany Bender and Alize Beal, a particular summer's night served as the impetus for a project that could help spawn the next generation of great minds and spirits to emanate from Harlem and impact the globe.

Bender reflects, "We witnessed what I would consider a massacre on 125th Street. It was after a cookout, and we were leaving the park. It was a shootout in which 14 people were wounded and about eight died. We were driving down the block and saw a young man leaning on one of the benches outside of the state building, and the cops were asking him if he knew who did this to him. We later found out that he was shot about six times.

"To see a person literally dying is an experience I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, and it's not fair that either my peers or I have to see this kind of thing. It doesn't happen a few blocks south of here, so why does it have to happen in our community?"

Later that night, she and Beal spoke, and instead of focusing on the "why" of what they had seen, they devised a plan to prevent this type of situation from happening in the future. They hashed out some solutions, and that gave birth to the organization YUNG Harlem (Youth Under New Guidance). The organization has designs on helping children ignite their creativity by presenting artistic after-school activities, as well as presenting education as a realistic option by offering academic support, college preparatory courses and mentorship.

Toiling in obscurity is definitely a thing of the past as of Sunday, Nov. 4, for the duo were celebrated along with some of the world's most prestigious women of color on the recently aired third annual "Black Girls Rock." The MAD Girls (Making A Difference) honor was bestowed on them as well as Yasmine Arrington and Glennita Williams. Those special ladies shared their moment with fellow honorees actress Kerry Washington, recognized for "Star Power"; Janelle Monae, "Young, Gifted and Black"; Dionne Warwick, "Living Legend"; Dr. Hawa Abdi and her daughters Dr. Deqo Mohamed and Dr. Amina Mohamed, "Social Humanitarians"; Susan Taylor, "Inspiration"; and Alicia Keys, "Rock Star."

That's some good company, to say the least, and yet the enormity has still yet to set in.

"Last year, a friend got us tickets to the show, and I said to my friend, next year we're going to be on the show. Even though we were saying it, we weren't really saying it like it will happen--it just shows the strength of positive affirmations," says Tiffany. It was a positive thought that was drilled into her as a child that also helped mold who she's become.

"My parents had us recite all the time, 'To whom much is given, much is expected.' So I grew up with a moral compass that some way, somehow, I have to give back. So while we're excited, we're also humbled and realize we have much more work to do," she says.