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Walking in soulful footsteps

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Amsterdam News Staff | 3/28/2013, 11:52 a.m.
Walking in soulful footsteps

Tren'ness Woods-Black is following the lead of her grandmother, legendary Harlem restaurateur Sylvia Woods, whose world-famous soul food eatery has been serving up classics like smothered chicken, collard greens, mac and cheese, candied yams and cornbread to folks from all over the world for more than 50 years.

But with all that good food also came the other kind of soul food--the spiritual kind, complete with lessons about love of God and family, the value of honest hard work and giving back to the community.

Woods' passing last year at age 86 left a hole in the very heart of Harlem, but the house that Sylvia built stands as strong as ever, thanks to her children and grandchildren.

Woods-Black has a lot on her plate, including working with the Sylvia and Herbert Woods Scholarship Endowment Foundation, which, since its inception in 2001 after the passing of Herbert Woods, has sent 76 kids to college.

"I'm so grateful for the opportunity, because our students are so awesome. I'm not just saying that because they came from our foundation, but these kids have really excelled. They have overcome some major obstacles and challenges. Every year we do a meet-and-greet for new students. The old students come to meet the new Sylvia's class. The kids just click and bond, and that's what the foundation is really about--getting to know the kids and getting to know their families. We let them know that we believe in you and we're not just giving you a check," she told the AmNews.

"The roots of the foundation are based on the principles that our grandparents were raised on and that was, 'education, which leads to opportunity.' It's not just about you making it. It's about the village making it. It's about the community making it. My grandparents came from a little town in South Carolina and that's how it was. It was about community. 'Each one, teach one.' My grandmother would say that all the time.

"We have relationships with the high schools in the area, and we also encourage our patrons to fill out an application. The process is to write an essay on why they feel that they should receive this scholarship and we select from there. We have an amazing committee of volunteers--that my grandmother called Sylvia's Angels--who help with everything from recruitment to all the other nuances that go along with running a foundation. My aunt Crizette is president of the foundation. Nan Puryear is the executive director. This is all volunteer.

"A lot of our kids graduate and go on and get their master's. We have two right now who are going to medical school. We have a great relationship with Dr. Joseph Feldman and his wife, Julie, who live in Harlem. We've got kids who have gone from sleeping on a gymnasium floor because they had nowhere else to sleep to being college graduates.

The mix of students that we have shows that if you put your hands on their shoulders and say, 'I believe in you and I know you can do this,' you have no idea the impact you can make on that person. You ignite something in them that they did not know even existed. With our scholarship foundation this year, we've partnered with the United Negro College Fund. We're really proud of that,"she said.