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How to Celebrate and Support Black Culture and Businesses in Harlem

We tapped a Harlem resident who effortlessly embodies the neighborhood’s mix of style, culture, and community for all the best places to discover here.

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Some of Harlem’s beautiful brownstones

Photo by Jeenah Moon

“If you’re visiting me, then you probably like food,” says writer and activist Tenicka Boyd when asked where she takes out-of-towners in New York City, adding, “when people are traveling here on their own, they’re going to go to Midtown, they’re doing Times Square. They may go to the West Village or Soho…so sometimes I like to…take people to places that they wouldn’t necessarily go to on their own.” Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Boyd has lived in New York for the last ten years and is infatuated with her home city.

For the longtime resident, it’s places like Washington Heights and her Harlem neighborhood where the magic happens, from music in St. Nicholas Park and street fairs that seem to pop up all around the city. And for a foodie like Boyd, the city’s restaurants play a big role in what makes it feel like home. She’s particularly enamored of African and African American food options, from Renaissance, her favorite Senegalese spot in Harlem, to classic soul food spots like Melba’s. “I love that New York City is like an African diaspora food hub,” she says, naming The Edge Harlem, Ponty Bistro, and BLVD as other go-tos.

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Renaissance, one of Boyd’s favorite Harlem restaurants

Photo by Jeenah Moon

Another of Boyd’s New York foodie recommendations? Street food. “You can go to street corners and get some of the best food. It just reminds you of all your favorite international cities where that is also possible,” says the frequent traveler. And she describes herself as “a tried-and-true ‘date night at Cecil’s or Red Rooster for dinner and live music’ kind of girl!”

And there’s much more to Harlem beyond food. “Harlem is one of the meccas for Black history and Black fashion,” she says. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a mainstay with its bookstore that’s “effortlessly curated even with trinkets and bowls, and all kinds of things.” She also recommends catching standout local and international acts at the Apollo and keeping an eye out for frequent pop-up galleries. “You can walk around Harlem and absolutely get into anything. That’s the beauty of it.”

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The Apollo marquee

Photo by Jeenah Moon

For more culture, Boyd also puts iconic places like the Met and the Whitney on her list for “must-do” New York experiences. In fact, it’s the places that she visits again and again that make the city feel like home to Boyd. Though New York is often seen as one of the most innovative cities in the world, few things can compare to the comfort of a local community staple, particularly after enduring a rough few years.

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A typical Harlem streetscape

Photo by Jeenah Moon

Like many New Yorkers, Boyd was touched by the way the city pulled together during the pandemic, saluting essential workers from their windows and doing their best to ensure that their favorite local spots pulled through. Many of the smaller local businesses that Boyd frequented struggled to make it, so now that the city is opening back up, these are the very places that she’s most excited to get back to. “I’ve just been so excited to go see waitresses that know my name and catch up with people,” citing Nail Suite by Lisa Logan, JolieDen’s Beauty Bar, and Make My Cake among the independently owned spots that she loves to support in her neighborhood.

For Boyd it’s this kind of personal interaction that really makes New York special and something she finds more easily in the lesser-frequented corners of Manhattan. As a resident, she feels a bit of a responsibility to make sure these great parts of the city also get explored by visitors. “When they’re visiting the local, someone who lives here,” she says, “I think it’s important to take them to places they wouldn’t necessarily see.”

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