Tina McRae has spent her life in Harlem. Not necessarily every moment. She’s traveled places and gone on vacations and such, but she always came home. McRae was born in Harlem Hospital, attended P.S. 119 (which is no longer around) and J.H.S. 136 (which is now, along with two other schools, known as the Percy Sutton Educational Complex).
As McRae said to the AmNews: “It don’t get more Harlem than that.”
McRae works for Congressman Charlie Rangel as a district administrator/scheduler in the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building. Growing up, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do for a living, but she knew that she wanted to be “somebody.” When asked about the biggest influences in her life, McRae pointed to family—those who share her blood and those who don’t.
“My parents and my immediate neighbors [were my biggest influence] because the neighbors were your extended family members,” McRae said. “It was the lady down the street that had her eyes on me. The lady on the first floor had her eyes on me. There was always some sort of protection right here in the community.”
The protection came in many forms. McRae obtained her bachelor’s degree from Virginia Union and her master’s degree from the Metropolitan College of New York. Before she went off to school, she had a chance encounter with a man she knew in her neighborhood.
“He said, ‘What are you doing with yourself?’” stated McRae. “I told him I was going to school. He said ‘When you come back, I’m gonna tell Charlie Rangel about you and he’s gonna hire you.” After coming back from school, McRae worked at a daycare center and as an adjunct professor at MCNY. She eventually ran into the same guy from the neighborhood and he arranged an interview. She officially became the congressman’s receptionist case worker in 1975.
“Ten years later down the road, Rangel said ‘I hired her because anyone with that positive attitude I gotta have on my staff,’” said McRae.
So what has it been like working for Rangel? McRae equated it to school.
“I tell everybody that the best school I ever went to in life was the University of Charles B. Rangel,” McRae said while laughing. “Because you always have challenges facing you and you always have to prove that you’re willing to go the extra mile. I learned a lot from Rangel.”
McRae has traveled the world—from Harlem to London to Hong Kong to Taipei to Bangkok. But she told the AmNews that growing up in Harlem was a crash course in how to deal with different cultures and with people in general.
“When I had the first opportunity to travel abroad, I felt like I had been so well prepared,” said McRae. “A friendly smile, a nod hello and knowing when to be cautious.”
With the culture changing in Harlem, McRae believes that people like her, who lived in the neighborhood when other people avoided it, should have the power to stay if they want to.
“The number one thing on my mind would be the ability for people to be able to afford to live in Harlem,” McRae said. “I want people who have contributed so much all of this time to be able to afford to continue to stay here, to live here, to pay rent here , to buy here.”
And therein lies the essence of Tina McRae. She wants to help others and make sure they have a chance to call Harlem home just like she has. She wants others to benefit, like she has, from Harlem’s transformation.
As a kid, McRae once sang at a school assembly attended by radio personality Hal Jackson. He was so impressed by her that he told her, personally, that one day she was going to grow up and “be somebody.”
“I spent a lifetime trying to interpret what he meant,” said McRae. “I ultimately decided to be somebody who when they walked up and down the street in the community, people knew who I was and that I was trying to make a difference.”
When asked about her influence, McRae said “If I wanted anyone to take a lesson from my life, it would be to stay positive and continue to keep yourself educated and see if you can pass it on to someone else.”