Year in Rewind: Top Columbia Neighbors Stories of 2023
As the New Year fast approaches, we're taking a look back on local Columbia Neighbors stories that shaped our 2023. From community connections to cultural celebrations, this year was one for the record books! Check out the favorite finds among our readers.
January: An Uptown Welcome!
To jumpstart the year, then-President-Designate Minouche Shafik reaffirmed her commitment to building bridges with Uptown communities by attending a festive breakfast reception at Manhattanville Market where she connected with local elected officials and leaders from Harlem and Washington Heights. The celebration was hosted by Rolando T. Acosta (CC’79, LAW'82), Presiding Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, and member of the Columbia Board of Trustees. Among those in attendance included New York City Council Member Shaun Abreu, Assemblyman Al Taylor, Senator Robert Jackson, Community Board 9 members, and other leaders of Uptown-based institutions.
"These are very exciting times for us at Columbia and it should also be in the Upper Manhattan community,” Acosta shared during the reception. “In Minouche, we believe that we found the perfect candidate: a brilliant and able global leader. A community builder."
February: Celebrating the Artistic Legacy of Dominican-York Icon Josefina Báez
From groundbreaking multidisciplinary works like Dominicanish to performance theater pieces like Canto de Plenitud, Afro-Latina visionary Josefina Báez has explored the concepts of culture and community through her artistry. During Black History Month, Columbia Neighbors dove into her pivotal contributions to the creative arts space through the exploration of materials included in her archival collection, housed in Columbia's Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
"It is impossible to tell the story of twentieth and twenty-first-century Latinos in New York, global Black thought, and performance history without Báez, an innovator in method, form, and language,” shared Frances Negrón-Muntaner, founding curator of Columbia's Latino Arts and Activisms Archive, and Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. “The Báez collection signals the growth of the archive, its increasing diversity, and rising importance to researchers, students, artists, and community members."
Another reader favorite was our spotlight on the Apollo Theater's Oral History Project.
March: A Passion for Community Impact
For Harlem native Phoebe-Sade Arnold, pouring back into the neighborhood that shaped her is personal. It’s her passion for local empowerment that led her to her role as Director of Community Affairs at Columbia University, where she develops and oversees local social impact initiatives; staying in tune with the needs of Uptown residents and letting those needs guide her work.
“There is no other place like Harlem,” she shared. “There wasn’t another community I could see myself ever being as passionate for or about other than the community that raised me.”
Columbia Neighbors chatted with Arnold about her career path, navigating a role that sits at the intersection of Columbia and the local community, why she believes 135th Street is Harlem’s most iconic corridor and her favorite Uptown gems.
April: A Delicious Guide to Uptown Brunching
It’s no secret that New York City is a globally celebrated foodie haven, and Upper Manhattan is home to some of the best culinary experiences the Big Apple has to offer. This April, our readers had brunch on their minds. The meal is the quintessential weekend itinerary item in NYC where folks commune over breakfast staples, and conversations flow at the frequency of the bottomless mimosas. To celebrate National Brunch Month, we curated a list of local eateries redefining Upper Manhattan’s culinary scene and reflecting the city’s cultural diversity. From soulful dishes to Spanish-style tapas and morning meals that transport you to the Amalfi Coast, there’s something Uptown for everyone.
May: Summer Season with a Side of Learning
School’s out during the summer season, but learning at Columbia continued. Columbia Neighbors curated a list of free and low-cost summer programs—available at Columbia University and throughout Uptown, NYC—that offered unique and immersive educational experiences for local youth. From programs designed to inspire the next generation of STEM innovators to those created to teach youth about the different facets of entrepreneurship through working with local business owners, the list was packed with affordable opportunities for students to deepen their academic interests or explore new ones. The go-to guide was a significant resource for helping Uptown youth and their families map out their summer plans. Did you know you could find hundreds of programs for local residents in our programs and resources directory?
June: Commemorating the History and Legacy of Juneteenth Uptown
Juneteenth marks a day of deep reflection. For many, the federal holiday—that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865—is dedicated to participating in activities that honor Black resilience, advance the commitment to addressing systemic injustices, and celebrate the power of collective change. From community-driven gatherings like Good Vibes in the Park—a series created to cultivate affirming safe spaces for mental wellness, joy, and relaxation to rise above injustice—to the 30th Annual Harlem Juneteenth Parade and Street Festival that featured educational presentations and a celebration of Black entrepreneurship, our readers gravitated towards a list we compiled of Juneteenth festivities across New York City.
July: Advancing Local Environmental Justice at Morningside Park’s Pond
As part of its local community impact efforts, Columbia announced a historic research partnership with NYC Parks. At a City of Water Day event hosted at Morningside Park, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik, faculty, elected officials, the NYC Parks Department, and Friends of Morningside Park shared plans to address the deterioration of the green space's pond by tackling toxic algae blooms.
“One of Columbia’s missions is to apply academic expertise to real-world problems and build partnerships with individuals, our community, and organizations beyond the academy,” shared President Shafik. “There is hardly a better example of this than the work we will do in our neighboring Morningside Park, providing hands-on learning opportunities for students at local schools while engaging our Morningside Heights and Harlem community partners.”
The remediation-focused research initiative will serve as a case study to develop a city-wide solution for algae outbreaks.
August: A Vibrant Celebration of Harlem’s Rich History and Culture
Harlem Week is a celebratory staple during summer seasons Uptown. Under 2023’s banner theme, “Be the Change," the 11-day festival’s programming lineup boasted events that encapsulated the spirit of the beloved neighborhood and illustrated its local and global influence.
“The mission of Harlem Week remains the same, to provide direction, hope, inspiration, leadership, focus, and unity to the 'Harlems' of our nation and beyond,” Lloyd Williams, Harlem Week co-founder and CEO of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, in a past interview with Columbia Neighbors.
From forums focused on economic empowerment and social justice to a community conversation that centered the voices of music legends, fashion visionaries, and community leaders and explored the intersection of hip hop and fashion, our readers loved our list of must-attend Harlem Week 2023 events.
September: Behind the Lens with Harlem-Based Photographer Ruben Natal-San Miguel
The Wallach Art Gallery’s Uptown Triennial 2023 exhibition celebrated the visual artistry of 22 creatives who were from Upper Manhattan and beyond; showcasing a collection of pieces that captured sonic inspirations of Harlem’s “myriad histories, cultures, and pressing contemporary issues.” Among the collective of artists featured was Puerto Rican-born, Harlem-based photographer Ruben Natal-San Miguel. Natal-San Miguel, a 9/11 survivor, has used the art of photography as a conduit for healing. He’s dedicated his work to capturing treasured spaces and humanistic stories, in Harlem and across the five boroughs.
“After I moved to Harlem, I started seeing how parts of the community were vanishing through the process of gentrification,” he told Columbia Neighbors. “I started to document it through photography and I realized that doing that comes with a lot of responsibility. I realized what I was doing was going to be valuable in terms of the future.”
October: A Voting Guide for the Nov. 7 General Election
Civic engagement is a driving force of local change, and ahead of the November 7 General Election in New York City—where offices featured on the ballot include the City Council, the District Attorney's Office (Bronx, Queens, Staten Island), and the Civil Court—we wanted to ensure our neighbors had the tools and resources needed to let their voices be heard at the polls. In October, our local guide for voting in Upper Manhattan during the general election—which included key dates, local polling locations, absentee ballots, and more—proved to be a go-to resource for our readers. Want to stay up to date on local elections? Check out our full voting resources page.
November: A Helping Hand for Uptown Community Members During the Holidays
Nonprofits are the backbones of local communities. This holiday season, many mission-based Uptown organizations stepped up in major ways to provide food relief so families throughout Upper Manhattan could truly experience a festive Thanksgiving. From turkey drives to hot meals and community-driven celebrations, there were a number of different services available for all local residents. Our readers tapped into this list of Uptown small businesses and organizations that helped community members stay fed throughout the holidays.
December: Uptown Holiday Magic
The festive and luminous lights that shine across Harlem’s 125th Street Corridor signify that holiday magic is in full effect Uptown. From local tree lightings to winter wonderland transformations in Washington Heights, our readers were in search of community-driven events where they could connect with neighbors and bask in the light of the season. Over on Instagram, our recap of the annual Harlem Holiday Lights parade—one of Uptown’s premiere winter festivities—was a favorite among our readers as well. We hope the light of the holiday season follows our readers into the New Year!