A Tribute To Lloyd A. Williams, CEO of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce

The Harlem Renaissance was the spawn of a cultural movement in the 1920s, also known as the “New Negro Movement,” an era flourished with intellectual and literary emancipation, and the fostering of urban expression and cultural identity — an inexorable outburst of creative activity after centuries of slavery and the struggle for abolition.

After WWI, an era preceding the New Negro Movement, many African Americans migrated to the industrial North, pursuing more tolerant environments. The Harlem Renaissance was an unprecedented cultural revolution, and an undeniable precursor to contemporary social movements.

Lloyd A. Williams, is The President and CEO of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce (GHCC), a local organization established in 1886, as the Harlem Board of Trade. Entering its third-century increment, their continuous effort to provide services in the upper Manhattan location has been the crux of political, social and economic discourse. The last two or more decades were focused on the revitalization and enhancement of businesses and professional services in the area.

Williams is the Vice-Chairman of Harlem Arts Alliance, (HAA), an organization dedicated to artistic growth and development in Harlem and surrounding communities. The organization consists of over 800 richly diverse emerging artists, as well as internationally acclaimed performers.

Williams is also a Member of the Executive Board of Directors at NYC & Company; the city’s official tourism and partnership organization that maximizes tourism opportunities around the metropolitan area. NYC & Company is a privately run nonprofit member-based organization consisting of over 2,000 businesses from multiple sectors. One of the major benefits of being a member is the ability to participate in a variety of marketing and promotional programs.

Williams is the Chairman and Co-Founder of Harlem Week, Inc., an organization that promotes a series of events to remember the past, celebrate the present, and embrace the future. This is the largest summer attraction in the northeast area; a joyous chained-tandem of over 100 events between the between July and August.

To add to his astonishing array of accomplishments, Williams teaches courses on economics, tourism, small business, and urban development at the University of Massachusetts, Malcolm-King College, University of Michigan, Hostos Community College, Fordham University, Shaw University, Pratt Institute, Hunter College, Cooper Union, the City College of New York, Rutgers University, Central State Colleges, and the New School for Social Research.

“Williams is not just a prominent figure in the community, but also a leader and role model. The hallmark of his success is uncanny — his accolades permeate the hearts and minds of the Harlem community. It was an honor to interview him.”

1. Question: Why is it imperative for residents and businesses to become active members of a local chamber of commerce?

Answer: I don’t think it’s imperative for residents and businesses to become active members of a chamber, I think it’s imperative for residents and businesses to become active members of organizations in their service — whether that is the Community Board, Local Planning Board, Block Association or Global School Boards. The bottom line is we need to be active in our community. We hope that many businesses and professionals will seek to become more active members in their local organizations, and that will provide opportunities for conferences, workshops, technical assistance, and also open doors to other businesses and professional people in their area.

2. Question: how can we influence residents to become more an active part of the community?

Answer: By simply letting them know decisions are being made, decisions that influence what’s happening on their block; sanitation services, housing developments, and job opportunities, etc… These things are happening conveniently around them and they’re unaware of what’s being built or why it’s being built… They need to be able to have access to the people providing services to them. And of course, we need to have the residents be able to speak to their elected officials, who are there to represent their interest, and to share with their officials priorities that they believe are most important to them. So it’s very important that residents become more active.

3. Question: What major role can social mediums play in the advancement of community based developments?

Answer: It plays a critical role, because more and more we’re communicating through social mediums, because it allows us the ability to access the information on a new kind of platform — special programs, job opportunities, apartments, or just knowing what’s being built in your neighborhood. Social media is very important.

4. Question: You’re the CEO of the Harlem Chamber of Commerce, chairman and co-founder of Harlem Week, member of the executive board of NYC & Company and vice-chairman of Harlem Arts Alliance… What inspires you?

Answer: At the end of the day, what’s happening with minorities inspires me — Latinos, Caribbean Americans, Africans, Haitians, African American etc… We need to connect the dots, and until we understand how this all comes together, we’re missing the boat of unity. I’m honored that Malcolm X, (who was my Godfather), was a major role model in my life. Years ago he took me under his wings, and as a child he would take me to these meetings with him, just to listen to what was being said. I’m honored to say that when I was nine years old, I was with Percy Sutton, until he passed away about three years ago.

I traveled around the world with Percy Sutton — to Asia, South-America, Africa, Europe, throughout the Caribbean. And, I know people like Hope R. Stevens, who was the first Black President of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce. He came from the island Saint Kitts and Nevis and spoke 19 languages fluently. Hope wrote the Constitution for the Government of Kenya and the Bahamas. He organized the National Conference of Black Lawyers. But my most important connection is my Grandmother, who passed away at the age of 103. She was my major role model, and she forced me to make education a priority, and make the people of color a mission of priority — she forced me to understand and love Harlem.

My family has been in this community for five generations, and I hope that they will be here for generations to come. I think Harlem is the most special place in this country. Wherever you go in America you will not find a community that is better known than Harlem – whether it’s for history, politics, music, etc. So if you know there’s people of color who live in America, you’ve heard of Harlem. So whether you go to China, Vietnam, India or Greece, people know of Harlem. Harlem has many colors — there’s Jewish, Italians, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Africans, and the Korean section. Harlem is an international community, and I’m honored to be a Harlemite. I’m honored to be a part of the history of Harlem.

Atelston Fitzgerald Holder 1st is a journalist, writer, and comedian. He can be reached at Mr Pregnant Production, www.mrpregnant.com.