Michael Preston Credit: Contributed

Michael Preston has been committed to service and support of the Harlem community throughout his professional life. He has served as a board member with Harlem Week for the better part of 30 years, going back to 1992, and is the co-founder of Harlem Rocket, a Black-owned high-speed boat tour of Harlem on the Hudson River that is set to launch this summer.

Preston is also vice president of customer experience & government affairs for Paradise Express, the parent company of Harlem Rocket. He has also been a customer service manager and theater manager with the Atlanta Civic Center. 

“There is something about being able to provide people with an experience, and that has resonated throughout my life,” Preston said about his professional career.

One of five children, Preston has many cherished memories of growing up in Harlem and becoming immersed in the culture. His father was in the military, so Preston was born in Sacramento, but he and his family moved back to Harlem, where they were originally from, when he was 3 years old.. He attended St. Thomas the Apostle and Powell Memorial High School. 

“Between 115th Street and 125th Street was our playground,” Preston said. 

His father held numerous jobs and was heavily involved in the arts as a jazz musician, photographer, sculptor, painter, jewelry-maker, and cartoonist, which inspired Preston’s passion for managing and producing shows. At a young age, he would work with his father as a poet, collecting tickets, or managing the lights. 

“My appreciation for the arts, culture, painting, music was something we experienced every day of our life,” Preston recalled.

In 1979, when Preston was 16, his father died from a heart attack. He attributed this tragedy to high blood pressure, which motivated his life decision to switch to a vegan diet. 

After graduating from high school, Preston was set to go to Penn State, but chose to attend HBCU Virginia State University thanks to being guided by his grandfather, who was an alum. While at Virginia State, he switched to vegetarianism, which he has followed to this day. He also eventually transferred and earned his bachelor’s degree from City College of New York in 2012. He holds both Virginia State and City College dear to him, since one is an HBCU and the other is in Harlem.

When Preston first came aboard Harlem Week, he had been managing a law firm in addition to working with Greyhound. Tony Rogers, former executive board member of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, asked him to help out government affairs, managing permits, etc., during what was a difficult period for Harlem Week in the early 1990s. 

He was asked to join the board, and has renewed every year since with the exception of 2003–2005, when he worked with the Atlanta Civic Center. 

“We give away more than 110,000 in scholarships, grants, and awards to nonprofits and students going and returning to college,” Preston said of his work with Harlem Week. “I love the concept of us supporting our own—but it is also about us bringing the art, the culture, and the experience to first, the residents of Harlem and New York, and then, the visitors from throughout nationally and internationally,“ Preston said. 

While at City College, Preston connected with his current business partner, Garry Johnson. They created Paradise Express in 2012 and more recently established Harlem Rocket, which is expected to launch at the end of July.

The boat tour will take passengers on a tour of Harlem on the Hudson River, going north from 125th Street to the northern top of Manhattan at Spuyten Duyvil Creek and then coming down as a thrill ride. Tour elements include history lessons about Harlem sites and Black people in the maritime industry, such as Crispus Attucks and Matthew Henson. 

Harlem Rocket is partnering with sponsors such as the electronics company Ray Marine and Universoul Circus. 

More information can be found at the website Harlem Rocket.com, where tickets will become available, and on Instagram @HarlemRocket

The Harlem Rocket is part of the larger Harlem Waterfront Initiative, which aims to spur economic development in Harlem. Other elements of the initiative will be a ferris wheel called the Harlem Wheel and the Harlem Maritime Museum. 

Preston cherishes his family, including five adult children—four daughters and one son—and four grandchildren. 

“I’m proud to be of Harlem—living in Harlem; my children born and raised in Harlem; and connected to institutions like the Apollo, the Studio Museum, the Schomburg,” Preston said. “Being a part of Harlem Week is all-encompassing.”

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