Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce 125th Anniversary Gala Credit: Gerald Peart photo

A close facsimile of the fabled Savoy Ballroom welcomed a huge turnout at City College’s Shepard Hall Saturday evening for the celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce (GHCC), and if the club’s spacious dance floor wasn’t available, much of the attire, particularly sparkling gowns, replicated the previous decades. 

And when Jeff Foxx’s big band kicked in with “Take the A Train,” with a chorus line of dancers from the Uptown Dance Academy, the past was present. This musical interlude happened much later in the evening, and long after the benediction by Rev. Dennis Dillon and the opening comments from the emcees G. Keith Alexander and Debi B. 

But the Savoy setting was a perfect moment for a trip down memory lane by former Representative Charles Rangel, 92, who was among those being honored at the event and one of the senior citizens who had recollections of those halcyon days, but certainly not of 1896 when the Chamber was founded. A semblance of the Savoy must have brought back memories to Rangel of meeting his wife, Alma, there many years ago. Seated in a wheelchair not too far from his office at the college where the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service is located, he calmly surveyed the settings of the gala as his image appeared on one of the hall’s giant screens.

Rep. Charlie Rangel Credit: Gerald Peart photo

“The Chamber is a great institution, and I am proud to be honored, and keep up the great work you’ve been doing,” Rangel said in a brief comment on accepting the award. 

Other historic honorees, including Dr. Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University; Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP NY State Conference; and Betty Park, owner of Manna’s Restaurant, made similar expressions of appreciation, thanking Chamber President and CEO Lloyd Williams for his leadership. “I am so glad to receive this honor and I promise to do more for the Chamber in the coming years,” Park said.

Saluted also were Carver Bank and Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Nancy Dalton, head of Community Experience and Customer Marketing for Amazon Access, expressed her excitement about the event and the collaboration with the GHCC. “The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce has served as an anchor of continued stability, bridging the periods of urban neglect to the future of urban prosperity since its inception,” she said as a message from the presenting sponsor.

Credit: Gerald Peart photo

“We are excited to collaborate with the Chamber in its quest to advance access in the Greater Harlem region,” she added. “Everyone here has an essential role to play. You are here because you care about this work, this community, and are committed to being the change. Together, we can cultivate more hope, joy, and love in Harlem, in New York, across the country, and ultimately the world.”

Public Advocate Jamaane Williams was present to help in delivering the state’s congratulations and setting the stage for the Chamber to receive a proclamation. Among the dignitaries enjoying the jubilation were former Gov. David Paterson; Denardo Coleman, son of Ornette Coleman and Jayne Cortez; and Attallah Shabazz, the eldest daughter of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz.

Before the evening concluded, director and producer Jamal Joseph teased a short but compelling documentary film that is scheduled for its premiere to be screened on June 22, 2023, at the Schomburg Center. 

At the close of the festive occasion, there were accolades from a number of attendees, notably Clayton Banks, City College President Vincent Boudreau, Representative Adriano Espaillat, and Michael Sutton. Some of the hands waving in the air as things came to an end were applauding the celebration, while others were bidding on items from an auction. One of the winners came from the Lafayette Theater table—just one of the tables that symbolized famous clubs and institutions in Harlem, a subtle idea of the Chamber’s team. This hardly noticed touch symbolized the Chamber’s glorious quasquicentennial (125 years), and counting.This coming summer, a commemorative coffee-table size book, Harlem Evolution, which captures the history and images of Harlem’s illustrious evolution over the last several decades, will be on sale nationally and globally through 

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