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Architect of the New Harlem Renaissance

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lloyd williams GHCC
Lloyd Williams GHCC

On March 1, a healthcare worker in Manhattan tested positive for the coronavirus.  Two days later, a Westchester lawyer with strong ties to New York City tested positive, along with his entire immediate family.  In a matter of weeks, New York became the epicenter for the outbreak of a pandemic that would soon sweep across the nation.

Fully aware of the crisis and its impending impact on Upper Manhattan and the entire City and State of New York, pioneering leader and Harlem innovator Lloyd Williams immediately rose to the challenge.  Williams, who serves on many corporate boards and community institutions including MetroPlus Health Plan, NYC & Company (the City’s tourism arm) and The City College of New York, organized weekly and biweekly update meetings with elected leaders and the heads of key Harlem institutions covering education, business, culture, health and social engagement.  Teams were organized to ensure food security, family safety, adequate PPE support, technology support for social distance learning, the monitoring of healthcare services and its impact, and the necessary reinforcement for struggling small businesses.

Consistent with his habitude, this community trailblazer and genius of the Harlem 2020 Renaissance is truly a transformational leader who is helping to set in motion a success pendulum for a renewed Harlem, vibrant and strong beyond COVID-19 and this tense season of systemic racism and economic injustice.  And because “as goes Harlem, so goes Black America and the world,” the Lloyd Williams impact is global.

Hon. Charlie Rangel recently noted, “Lloyd Williams has been able to fill a great vacuum in our community.  He brought us together and fuels hope.  One of my great nightmares is that Lloyd Williams will one day retire.”

The New York Christian Times joins with other key institutions and leaders in paying tribute to Lloyd Williams, President of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce and HARLEM WEEK.  The following is a reprint of a special to The New York Christian Times and the New York Black Press, written by journalist Herb Boyd.

A HARLEM LEGEND … An American Trailblazer

By Herb Boyd, Special to The Christian Times

When a huge oil truck left Lloyd Williams only a small amount of space to get his vehicle out, he asked the driver if he could possibly move his truck a few feet.  At first the driver seemed a bit annoyed, and Williams kindly asked him again.  “Wait a minute, I know you.  You’re Lloyd Williams.  Look, I’ll give you all the space you need.”

 This response from an ordinary worker in New York is indicative of Williams’ popularity and reputation, even for a man who mainly operates from behind the scenes with only occasional appearances that would give him greater visibility.

Of course, working from behind the scenes doesn’t mean you are unseen because those sponsors, presenters, producers, performers, the folks out front running the show, hosting the event, or taking the bows are well aware of Williams’ insight and genius.  They know the extent of his ability to coordinate activities, to make sure all the pieces are in place and people are properly informed about their roles and responsibilities.

 “I think I can talk about Lloyd’s management skills and integrity as well as anyone since I probably have known him longer than most of the people in Harlem,” said Rep. Charles Rangel, when asked about Williams.  “He has been an indispensable organizer and promoter of this community and its institutions.  And without his consistent and valuable support, I would not be where I am today.”

Harlem Week crowd
Harlem Week crowd

 For Black History Month, a coterie of friends and associates, both here and abroad, was eager to discuss the impact of Williams’ life on their careers, businesses, and general well-being.  Each person interviewed had at least a dozen or more contacts willing to provide testimonies about this “man for all seasons,” as Voza Rivers declared and Tony Rogers voiced an “Amen.”

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 And no season has benefited more from Williams’ involvement and overall creativity than HARLEM WEEK, which no matter how far he removes himself from the stage or from the spotlight, participants somehow know that the success of the events has much to do with his wise counsel and orchestration.

 “Let me say without equivocation or reservation, that Lloyd Williams has played a decisive role in countless numbers of cultural organizations, and their seminars, conferences, and concerts,” said Walter Edwards, chairman of the Harlem Business Alliance. “Working in partnership with him, as I have done for so many years, has given me an opportunity to be in close contact with his thinking and ideas on far too many projects to list.”

EARLY 1980’S:  Lloyd Williams (center) speaks as then NYPD Commissioner Benjamin Ward (left) and then Mayor Ed Koch listen intently.
EARLY 1980’S: Lloyd Williams (center) speaks as then NYPD Commissioner Benjamin Ward (left) and then Mayor Ed Koch listen intently.

 Listing just a sample of the notable local, national and international leaders, activists, and elected officials would exhaust the limits of this profile, and many of them who have joined the ancestors include the venerable Percy Ellis Sutton, Wilbert “Bill” Tatum, Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee, Tito Puente, Paul Robeson, Hope R. Stevens, Max Roach, Nancy Wilson, his godfather Malcolm X, Basil Paterson, and Lloyd Dickens, to name a few. “My father always recognized Lloyd’s ingenuity and determination, his love for Harlem,” said Assemblywoman Inez Dickens.  “And I am a witness to that promise my father observed as well as a recipient of Lloyd’s dedication to my political journey.”

 But it isn’t just the prominent Harlemites who want to luxuriate in this celebration of Williams.  Ask any of the vendors along 125th Street and they all have a warm and memorable story to tell about him.  “For me, and he knows how I feel about him, Lloyd is a ‘man of the people,’” said Ben Armstrong.  “A lot of those people in high places rarely have the time of day for you, but Lloyd is willing to give you more than a few minutes of his precious time.”

 The NAACP’s Hazel Dukes, who has been on the frontline of our struggle for freedom and equality in this country, knows a lot about how Williams spends his time, and she was effusive about his standing shoulder to shoulder with her on many of those campaigns for justice.  “Lloyd is an unwavering civil and human rights activist, who is not afraid to speak truth to power,” she began.  “I hope our young people will get a chance to study his life and commitment.  

 As President and CEO of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Williams has, on an annual basis, summoned practically every business, civic, cultural, educational, political and youth organization and their representatives – many who have not shared extended relationships – to meet and share thinking in some form or fashion, whether in the regional Think Tank breakfast meeting settings which he co-chairs with H. Carl McCall, at luncheons at Columbia University during Economic Development conferences, co-sponsoring and co-organizing educational and other activities wtih Dr. Vincent Boudreau of The City College of New York, exchanging political strategies with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, making sure the young generation are aware of Harry Belafonte and his contributions to our culture and politics, or helping to commemorate and honor one of his and Harlem’s renowned mentors.   

 Most of his activities are conducted with a true sense of family and they are an obvious outgrowth of Williams’ own paternal and maternal bloodlines that stretch across five generations in Harlem from the Caribbean, and includes members as distinguished as he is: his fabulous and talented wife, Valorie, an educator; his sister, Grace, an internationally acclaimed fine artist and sculpture; his brothers Ronald, co-founder of the national Stay-N-Out Program, and Hugh, a renowned photographer, and his creative son, Lateef Ade, who for many is the go-to-guy at the Apollo Theatre.  “Dad is leaving an enormous footprint,” his son said, “and it’s a legacy I hope I can uphold and extend.”

 Ade is not alone among the thousands of young people who have been mentored by Williams through Each One Teach One, Our Children’s Foundation, Movement of the Children Dancenter, Impact Repertory Theatre, or the never ending line of impressive interns who have gone on to successful careers in various walks of life in the public and private sectors as doctors, lawyers, teachers, businesspersons and plain everyday people.

 Rev. Dennis Dillon, pastor of Rise Church New York and publisher of The New York Christian Times, credits much of his success and empowerment thrust to the mentorship of Lloyd Williams.  “Within the mind, spirit and body of this human frame we call Lloyd Williams is a smorgasbord of talent, brilliance and a prodigious power that defines his God-festered purpose.  I am a proud beneficiary of his mentorship, guidance and bodacious leadership,” Dillon expressed.

 Williams may take exception to this salute, always shying away from the tributes and awards he so rightfully deserves. But there comes a time – whether he likes it or not – when he is worthy to be honored, his leadership applauded, his esteem shared, and the rewards he has given so lavishly to others now bestowed on him. 

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