The Truth About Being a Black Woman in a Liberal City

Dispatches from a disingenuously “progressive” city that still appears to have a race problem

Lakeya (Omogun) Afolalu, Ph.D.
Published in
8 min readJan 28, 2019


Illustration: Khabirah Osayame

II had to kneel to tighten my shoelace before beginning my long-distance run from 120th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue toward Central Park North. From the sidewalk, I looked up at yet another new, partially completed high-rise apartment building sitting on top of the local bodega. The store’s yellow awning sheltered a group of men and women who routinely congregated to discuss the latest neighborhood news. Their home had always been Harlem, but new luxury apartments and increased rents were threatening their residency.

While running, I was encouraged by occasional chants from Black men and women who had just woken up on the metal benches they’d used as beds the night before.

“Get it, sista!”

“Go on, Black girl.”

I smiled and nodded, taking care to acknowledge their existence while building up a steady pace.

Gentrification loomed in Harlem’s air. The neighborhood was at war with the city’s new innovation plans, but its history and conglomeration of ethnicities was grounded in a strong and unmovable Black spirit. Harlem’s native residents’ roots were firmly planted. Public housing towered over the city while the Apollo Theater’s bright red lights pierced the crowds.

In a single day, I turned down hair-braiding requests from persistent West African women who stood on street corners, heard reggaetón blaring from apartment windows, saw local Blacks and Latinos walking to and from school in the latest sneakers, witnessed Senegalese men break from selling oils and incense to lay out mats that faced east in preparation for daily prayer, and watched white women hurry down the streets, eyes darting side to side, with rolled yoga mats strung across their backs. Young professional Black and Brown millennials like me were sprinkled among the bustling crowd, too.

The scene was beautiful, lively. Harlem was where I felt a sense of belonging.

Pondering a westward move

Three years into living and working in New York City, I learned I had been accepted…



Lakeya (Omogun) Afolalu, Ph.D.
Writer for

Professor of Language, Literacy & Culture | Writer | Speaker | Twitter @LakeyaOmogun