When I was working at the Abyssinian Development Corporation in Har-
lem, I learned a valuable lesson.
It was the early 1990s, during the height of the crack epidemic. Every-
you looked, ­ t here ­ w ere boarded-up buildings and broken crack vials ­where
under your feet. I had just moved from midtown Manhattan to 120th
Street, leaving a ­ career in investment banking for a calling in community
I met an incredible community of ­people up in Harlem. Unfortunately,
I also saw how ­ these ­ people, despite their hard work, continued to be dis-
enfranchised and discouraged by systems and structures. As a result, their
experience of New York was very dif­f er­ent from what mine had been living
in Midtown. I saw—­not for the first time, or the last—­the lived experience
of in­equality.
Our mission at Abyssinian was to “rebuild Harlem, brick by brick, block
by block.” As you can imagine, ­ t here ­ were plenty of ­ people from outside
the neighborhood who thought they understood the best way to rebuild

Darren Walker
President, Ford Foundation
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