For 55 years, the Harlem Commonwealth Council (HCC) has helped educate and empower businesses in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. Suzanne Hurley is HCC’s vice president & senior director of program management. She has been with the nonprofit for the last seven years and has also had a lifetime of experience uplifting youth, education and the community in New York City. She currently leads HCC’s education and mentoring programs serving youth and adults.
“Watching the students learn to advocate for themselves and then go to college is always the best part,” said Hurley.
Hurley, 58, immigrated from Trinidad to Brooklyn with her family when she was young. She lived on Bergen Street and was inspired by her mother’s community work to get more involved, she said. Her mother founded the now landmarked Bergen Street Community Garden.
“In the [1970s] there were poor houses across the street from us and people started using the lot to throw garbage. My mom had us clean the lot and plant a garden,” said Hurley. “That garden still exists today. It’s grandfathered. It cannot be used for development, only a garden.”
Once the family started planning programs for the garden, Hurley said she caught the community service bug early.
Hurley had a previous career in private equity, before committing to education and community service full time. She began about 20 years ago organizing for CUNY and then made the move to HCC. HCC was established under the 1964 Landmark Economic Opportunity Act and has deep ties to the Harlem community being located right on West 125th Street. Its founding members are Arthur Hill, Preston Wilcox, Isaiah E. Robinson, Jr., Leo Rolle, Marshall England, Ken Marshall and Roy Innis.
HCC runs several community programs focused on youth and business development. Arches helps “justice involved youth,” or adolescents who may have had run-ins with the law. HCC’s Arches provides mentorships and support, including a GED program, so that kids don’t go back into the system, she said. HCC participates in the city’s Summer Rising program, after school programs during the regular school year, and runs STEM at 3 p.m. to teach young children important math and science and tech skills. The nonprofit also doles out microloans to local businesses and facilitates business owners skills training classes.
“We are definitely growing,” said Hurley. “The services that we provide, even though it’s under the radar and quiet, is really part of the work.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w