If anyone had asked me one year ago where I would be living and working today, never would I have imagined that my youthful dreams of experiencing “the big city” as a local would come to fruition so quickly. I hail from a town diametrically opposite of Manhattan, raised in the Dey Hill development of Totowa, New Jersey – a quiet, suburban town of about 10,000 quiet, suburban families.
I left my hometown for college but didn’t go too far, traveling only 20 miles away to Newark to spend four years of my university life. I went on to work as a reporter in Jersey City while living in Paterson and soon decided that these minimal shifts were not the change I needed. So I put my career on hold for something new; for me, that meant three months working on organic farms in Idaho and Montana this past summer, with plenty of road trips and west coast adventures in between. Country life was beautiful, serene and fulfilling, but at 23, I still pined for more people, more action and more hustle. And so, I moved to Harlem in late September, just two weeks after my return to the east coast, bringing my zestful ambitions alive. Today, six months later, I say with great pride that my expectations have not failed me once.
…the soul of Harlem is unlike any other.
Though I’ve lived and worked in urban cities before, the soul of Harlem is unlike any other. Maybe part of the allure is credited to the handy subway system in New York City that’s absent in New Jersey, a convenience that allows me to explore and escape to the rest of my Manhattan backyard whenever I have the urge.
Or perhaps it’s the particular history of Harlem that draws me in unlike any other – its jazz roots, its cultivation of an artistic renaissance or its nurturing of literary giants like Langston Hughes and James Baldwin.
I could also just prefer the charm of my own fire escape, a perfect nook for people watching, the abundance of street vendors and Halal carts seemingly at every corner, reminding me of my Muslim background, or basking in the camaraderie of West 125th Street’s Starbucks, where all the patrons, young and old, seem to know each other.
Harlem, in a way I had yet to experience with any other area, took me in and reassured me that I am just where I should be, that this is the destination for a growing mind, rather than remaining in a town that though has nursed me the majority of my life, has shielded me from the thrills of a busy metropolitan.
There is something very powerful in living on my own, working for myself and making my own ends with familial ties across a river and beyond. Now, I am independent. This new chapter in my life is a pivotal one, leaving me apprehensive and excited all at once, and I know the invincibility I feel now is credited largely to my backdrop in all this, my Harlem. I am oozing pride just like the neighborhood that envelops me.
I have found my niche in city life, becoming accustomed to the daily commute, adapting the quick feet of a New Yorker always having somewhere to go and retiring to my small studio on 145th Street, my comforting haven that lies in a city of endless inspiration. A stark contrast to Totowa, where coming across people of varying walks of life and different races is a rare occurrence, the spirit, the life, the people of Harlem have become my own.
Sugar Hill has never been sweeter, and this feeling of acceptance and gratitude has not escaped me once. I am proud to be a part of Harlem’s 21st century history.
By Sarah Rahman. Ms. Rahman has pursued a career in writing ever since her university days at Rutgers. She recently moved from her home state of New Jersey to Sugar Hill and is continuously inspired by the charm of her new home, her Harlem.