NEW YORK—Police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers, and congressmen—50 years after the Civil Rights Movement almost 2 million African-Americans fill just about every thinkable position throughout the city.
The annual African-American Day Parade in Harlem attests to that, being the largest celebration of the day in the United States.
Spanning from the edge of the Central Park at 110th Street to 136th Street along the Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., the parade encompassed a variety of marching bands, cheerleader squads, city workers, and public officials.
Congressman Charles Rangel, Public Advocate Letitia James, former mayor David Dinkins—the first and the only black man to hold the office—all came.
Non-profit organizations, a major part of the neighborhood’s social fabric, showcased their notable causes.
“Self-reliant community! Stop police brutality! Protect yourself!” activists’ chants reverberated.
Still, the parade isn’t the same any more, according to locals.
“It used to be really, really big and a lot of people,” said Elizabeth Gomez from Harlem.
“But you don’t see too many people like it used to be,” Gomez said.
That doesn’t mean the event is less significant to her.
“It means a lot. It’s our culture,” she said. “I wish it was bigger though.”
“It used to be more interesting,” said Assane Diop. He came from Senegal over 30 years ago and comes to the parade every year, for the past decade with his son Ousseynou.
“It means a lot to me, because this is a black parade,” he said. “I’m proud to see my people here.”
“Black people showing they are not sleeping,” his son added. “They are working for the city, for the American development, and they are doing a lot for the American society.”
“The neighborhood’s changing though,” Gomez said, referring to creeping gentrification. “It used to be a lot of blacks here,” she said. “I don’t know where they’re going, but they’re not here.”
“A lot of white people coming over right now, taking the building,” Diop said. “Apartments very expensive here. Black people moving, white people coming here.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio entered the parade route at 125th Street to make a speech and greet onlookers.
“This neighborhood has always stood for inclusion of all,” he said.
“Living up to values of Harlem means acting on inclusion,” the mayor said. “It means Harlem can stay affordable to people who live here and neighborhoods all over the city can be affordable to people who made them great.”
His plan is to build 200,000 units of affordable housing in the next 10 years. Whether that’s soon enough or enough at all remains to be seen.
“In five more years everything will want to be in Harlem,” Diop said. “Watch and see.”