The rich legacy of El Barrio can be felt at East Harlem Scholars Academies through a tradition that was started eight years ago. East Harlem Heroes Day was created to pay homage to the individuals who have made an impact in the community and serve as role models for the students who will become the next generation of change-makers.
This year’s honorees included Francheska ‘Hey Fran Hey’ Medina, wellness advocate; Adrienne Alverio, EHTP alum and founder of Red Carpet Curls; Justice Sonia Sotomayor, U.S. Supreme Court; James Baldwin, renowned novelist, playwright and activist; Evlina López Antonetty, civil rights activist; Nicholasa Mohr, children’s book author; Javier Valdes, co-executive director of Make the Road NY and Eric Velasquez, children’s book author.
These Heroes joined an impressive roster of their peers and predecessors — among the 43 include renowned writers, artists and activists the likes of Maya Angelou, Julia de Burgos, Celia Cruz, Langston Hughes, Tito Puente, Hiram Maristany and more. As scholars celebrated Heroes in the classrooms named in their honor, the Heroes had the chance to ignite the curiosity and imagination of our youth, and inspire them to strive for the best.
Maristany, a master photographer whose Smithsonian collection documents scenes of East Harlem life, described efforts to capture some of his most well-known images and urged scholars in his classroom to take advantage of their education: “Use this time well. Dream big. Work hard. And try your best to do your best.”
There’s nothing like building love through a network of individuals who are committed to our scholar’s educational and personal growth. As our Heroes joined scholars at Community Circle, and walked the halls of our elementary, middle and newly-opened high school, they had a chance to share their personal journeys with scholars.
Medina, a Harlem-based voice of conscious day-to-day living, advised the 9th graders on how to be successful and navigate the world: “No one has gone through what you’ve gone through or can share your story the way in which you can. Your story is your energy signature and it’s your responsibility to share it authentically.”
Trevor Baldwin, nephew of James Baldwin, answered thoughtful questions from high schoolers who read his uncle’s “The Fire Next Time”: “I’m always proud to represent my Uncle Jimmy and being with you today, let’s me know his legacy continues. I’m so inspired by your school’s motto, ‘Love, Liberate, Heal,’ and cannot wait to see how you will carry the torch to transform our communities.”
We’d like to welcome our 2019 Heroes to the EHTP fold, and to a community that is much richer than the sum of its parts. As Hero Orlando Ortiz put it, EHTP means one thing: “Mi familia.”