The Mystery of Change: “Harlem Is Everywhere We Are”

267px-Langston-hughes-house-20e127My wife, Sena, brought to my attention the recent effort to save the Harlem home of poet Langston Hughes, which looks like it may be successful. Sena said it reminded her of what is happening to Dr. Jenny Lind Porter’s house. There are parallels. In some of the articles, Hughe’s home is described as “dilapidated” and so is Porter’s house. They were both poets. In both situations, there is a level of concern about change and a need to preserve the past so people will not forget some abiding principle more important than the fleeting whim of the moment on its way to something else. Renee Watson is a writer who formed the I, Too, Arts Collective  and someone in the video said something I thought sounded very wise–“Harlem is everywhere we are.”



It’s true. At first, I thought I didn’t really have a stake in the Harlem issue. The only time I’ve ever been to Harlem is on a Gray Line bus tour a very long time ago when I was in New York in connection with a study of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in treatment-resistant depression. For all I know, we might have passed right on by Hughes’ home.

But there is a reason why issues like this go viral. I think it’s because they revivify something in our souls which, despite recognizing the primacy of change in our lives, also affirms the need we have to make the merry-go-round stop for a while so we can breathe…and remember…and be inspired.

Change is always happening; it’s happening now even as I speak, in science, medicine, and even in my own field whether we want to call it Psychosomatic Medicine or Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry. Just to pick one example, I can’t help thinking (and feeling) that the decision to change the logo of the Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine from the Janus head to something rather nondescript might have been a mistake. After all, Janus was the Roman god of doorways, transitions, passages, and time itself–a fitting symbol for psychiatry in all its history.

Jenny Lind Porter

Dr. Jenny Lind Porter

Hector Grant

Pastor Hector J. Grant

My teacher, Jenny Lind Porter and her house with the threat of demolition over it. I would never even have met her had it not been for Dr. Hector J. Grant, who came to Mason City and recruited me to Huston-Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University, an independent, church-related, historically black institution in Austin, Texas. I had never even considered going to college before meeting him. No one will ever know what a miracle that was.

Anyway, I don’t know if anyone else thought of Aretha Franklin’s cover of Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem,” but I sure did, almost immediately. I’ve always thought of it as just a song about a pretty girl in East Harlem. On the other hand, the image of a black rose puzzled me. I don’t believe everything I read on-line but the black rose (even though it probably doesn’t exist in nature) might symbolize more than just death and mourning. It could be a symbol of rebirth, upheaval, and the mystery of change itself.

“Harlem is everywhere we are.”


Picture credit, Langston Hughes home in Harlem: By Americasroof – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

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