During African-American History Month, we celebrate the rich contributions of African-Americans to the cultural fabric of our diverse nation. For more than 165 years, the Y has provided safe, welcoming spaces where people of diverse backgrounds can find resources and a supportive community to develop their talents and reach their full potential. For African-Americans living in New York City during segregation and through the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century, the Harlem YMCA was one such place.
Established in 1901, the Harlem YMCA played an integral role in the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural, social and artistic movement in the 1920s and 1930s that brought African-American art, music, literature, theater and political thought into the forefront of American culture.
Sometimes called the “living room of the Harlem Renaissance,” the Harlem YMCA hosted African-American visitors to New York City who were denied access to segregated hotels, theaters and other public spaces. Literary giants such as Claude McKay, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes and James Baldwin lived and interacted at the Y during their peak creative years, while the Y’s “Little Theater” program would go on to launch the careers of actors such as Paul Robeson, Sidney Poitier, Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones. Jackie Robinson, who in 1947 became the first African-American to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball, was a volunteer coach at the Harlem Y.
Today, the Harlem Y continues its legacy as a safe and welcoming space, helping families improve their health and well-being, serving thousands of children in afterschool and day camp, and helping new Americans assimilate through its New Americans Welcome Center.
In the Y, we believe that in a diverse world, we are stronger when we are inclusive and our doors are open to all.