“You haven’t done this town till you’ve done it Uptown! So do it in Harlem.” This is the message emblazoned on the wall of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, which is considered one of the borough’s oldest business organizations.
True to the slogan, Voza Rivers, who has run the Chamber with its President and CEO Lloyd Williams since 1974, is devoted to growing and supporting the neighborhood. He has a special dedication to its art and culture, as he also leads the Harlem Arts Alliance (HAA) and is the executive producer of the Chamber’s signature Harlem Week program.
Voza describes himself as a “son of Harlem,” as both he and Lloyd grew up in the area. When the drug epidemic of the 1970s led to an exodus of Harlem residents, the men joined the Chamber to celebrate those who remained. They organized a one-day festival to rename Seventh Avenue as Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard — marking the first time that a New York City street was named after a person of color. The festivities were such a success that they became an annual tradition.
As the community became revitalized, the demand for new events rose. This led to the birth of Harlem Week, with a slew of programs for children, seniors, artists, chefs, educators, business owners, and more. Today, Harlem Week encompasses a full month that pays homage to “the cultural capital of Black America.”
The Chamber follows a model of community, benefits, and legacy. It helps develop the neighborhood, provides convenient access to schooling, dining, and entertainment, all the while encouraging people to forge lifelong connections to Harlem. Overall, the group’s objective is to give Harlem “a seat at the table” and a chance to share its rich culture with others.