Contributed photos

Community Works NYC and the New Heritage Theatre Group will offer a second, larger-than-life “harlem is… Healing” outdoor exhibition at St. Nicholas Avenue (120th Street), opening on May 5 and showing through August 1. 

In April 2020, the organizations launched a campaign to highlight local heroes responding to the coronavirus pandemic by posting tributes on social media. Sadly, the need didn’t end quickly and by now, they have posted 52 tributes as the work they promote continues through turmoil toward social justice and economic pressures. These celebrations of neighbors helping neighbors have been featured on social media, on the website at and the Youtube channel, as well as in this year’s physical exhibit.  

The sidewalk display once again will highlight nine local heroes who reflect a diversity from all walks of life—people who have continued to contribute to community health through medical and mental health services; with food and teaching about urban farming; through the arts, faith, and youth activities; or in direct support to neighbors. The exhibit by Community Works NYC/New Heritage Theatre Group, in partnership with the NYC Department of Transportation’s Art Program (DOT Art), features powerful images of nine of 52 honorees, taken by Harlem photographer Tau Battice with bold design by Clara Alonso.  

According to Barbara Horowitz, founder and president of Community Works, “We have been part of a collective trauma, and we are emerging from it through the enormous work of our honorees.” 

Voza Rivers, executive producer of the New Heritage Theatre Group, said, “In this harrowing time, it becomes even more important to remind ourselves of how local heroes can make a difference.”

Response to the exhibit featuring the first nine honorees was so strong that the city extended the display through May and invited a second round to remain on display through August. 

On May 15, a historic community celebration will be held at the site to mark the opening, complete with a marching band that will take visitors four blocks to First Baptist Corinthian Church (116th Street). The opening will kick off arrangements for guided tours of the exhibit, along with short walking tours for teachers, students, community groups, and other visitors.


The exhibit honorees highlight the contributions of restaurateur Melba Wilson, who kept people working and was able to feed first responders, and Janet Rodriguez, whose SoHarlem Collective saw a chance for seamstress skills to produce protective masks and clothing. Tony Hillery seized the opportunity to teach urban farming skills, while Dr. Lena Green provided free mental health services. 

The full list of honorees includes:

Vy Higginsen, executive director, Mama Foundation for the Arts

Janet Rodriguez, founder and CEO, SoHarlem Collective

Melba Wilson, restaurateur and president, NYC Hospitality Alliance

Aurora Flores, cultural activist, journalist, and band leader

Rhina Valentin, TV host, actor, activist, and producer

Dr. Lena Green, social worker and executive director, Hope Center 

Tony Hillery, founder and CEO, Harlem Grown

Phyllis and Dodji Gbedemah, owners, Kente Royal Art Gallery

 M. Scott Johnson, sculptor, artist, and arts educator

Healing Harlem is the continuing theme of this campaign, and more broadly for Community Works NYC and New Heritage Theatre Group, which have sought to connect neighborhoods through the arts and education for 20 years. The exhibit is an extension of Community Works’ 32-year mission to connect neighborhoods.

Con Edison provided support for photography and public programming. The “harlem is…” program is dedicated to the memory of Community Works’ Board Chair Michael Davidson.

Limited free group tour information is available by email to

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