BMCC’s Uptown Initiative Provides Educational Opportunity in Harlem

October 20, 1998

BMCC’S Uptown Initiative Provides Educational Opportunity In Harlem


BMCC is holding open houses at the Adam Clayton Powell Office Building on October 22, November 5 and 19, to introduce the Harlem community to its spring semester education programs at Theresa Towers.

Two years ago, Charles Harris was an alcoholic, a drug dealer with a thirty-year criminal record, a man with little education. Today, he is sober, employed and working toward a college degree. The difference: a Borough of Manhattan Community College flyer he spotted on 125th Street that he says “changed his life.”

Harris credits BMCCãs Uptown Initiative at Theresa Towers with helping him to turn his life around. He enrolled in two classes in speech and computer information systems last spring, and is continuing his coursework this fall. Harrisãs dream is to earn his associateãs degree and become a computer programmer, a dream that he is well on his way to realizing. Heãs traveled a long and difficult path since his childhood in Harlem, growing up without ever knowing his father, in a single parent household with three sisters.

Harris was a rebel and troublemaker in his teens, largely because of an incident in which a close friend was beaten by a gang of Italian boys. While Harrisãs friend suffered great physical injury, Harris suffered emotionally.

“I had nightmares and had a very negative outlook toward Caucasian people,” he says. “I had a very different outlook on America as a whole. I lived through it (the incident and subsequent trial), but I was damaged.”

Harris sought solace at the age of 13 by turning to drugs, and later to crime. After being expelled from school in 1967, he became a “drug dealer, drug user and stick-up man,” finding himself “in constant trouble with the law. There are many times that I think that under normal circumstances, I should be dead,” he says.

After many unsuccessful attempts at changing his life, he entered a rehabilitation program last year, this time sticking with it. When he saw the flyer announcing a new BMCC outreach program in Harlem, he thought he would give it a try.

Last winter, Harris was in the inaugural class of students taking courses as part of BMCCãs “Uptown Initiative.” Erwin Wong, associate dean of instruction and curriculum at BMCC, says Charles Harris is one of many successes that have come out of the Uptown Initiative in its first year of existence.

“We started with twelve students last fall, and now there are 120,” Wong says. “Former students are very positive about the experience, and the current students are very enthusiastic. Charles Harrisãs way toward a better life was through education, and thatãs probably true of a lot of the students uptown.”

Wong says the Uptown Initiative at Theresa Towers is part of BMCCãs plan to serve all of Manhattan, and not just the downtown area, where the main campus is located.

“The philosophy in expanding class offerings to Harlem is if they canãt come to us, weãll come to them,” Wong says.

BMCC is holding three open houses in October and November for those interested in taking classes at Theresa Towers next semester. Introductory courses in business, statistics, marketing and finance, as well as courses in computers, business law, accounting, macroeconomics and English composition will be offered beginning in January.

Sandra Rumayor, BMCCãs director of partnerships and collaborative programs, says students enroll in the classes for a number of different reasons.

“Some of the students just want to pick up a class,” she says. “Some are there taking classes four nights a week. But theyãre all credit bearing courses and the students can eventually continue their education at BMCC if they choose to.”

Wong adds, “The Uptown Initiative at Theresa Towers allows Harlem residents access to a quality college education, or it can be a start for someone wanting to eventually earn a degree. The Uptown Initiative is serving a need.”

For Charles Harris, the Uptown Initiative did more than serve a need. It provided him with a second chance. In continuing his education and building upon what began as two evening courses at Theresa Towers, Harris is making the most of that opportunity.

“BMCC is the chance,” Harris says. “Now that I see life in a different way, I want to see if I can actually take advantage of what it has to offer.”

BMCC will host open houses for the Uptown Initiative at Theresa Towers, on October 22, November 5 and 19 at 6:00 P.M. The open houses are at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building, 163 West 125th Street. Call (212) 220-1265 for more information.

Borough of Manhattan Community College, the most diverse community college in the history of The City University of New York, provides quality programs and services in Lower Manhattan to nearly 17,000 students in 20 degree programs. Nationwide, BMCC ranks #1 in awarding associateãs degrees to African Americans, #2 in awarding associateãs degrees to minorities and #5 in awarding associateãs degrees to Latinos.


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