When Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts moved to New York City from sprawling Texas, she never imagined she would find the very definition of happiness in the hideous green walls and matching carpet of a Harlem brownstone with no kitchen.
My arrival in Harlem was not the arrival of a fugitive or a refugee. I had come to New York for a visit, with the faintest unresolved notion of making a move. I bought the Amsterdam News on a Thursday, when the apartment listings would be new, and called up the cheapest spots. I saved the paper, so I can tell you that the listing described as Harlem 1 bedroom / Renovated, locked doors / No fee. By Owner, for $775 with a minimum income of $40,000 that I did not have, was already taken when I called. The one bedroom for $775 with hardwood floors and new appliances in an elevator bldg and quiet neighborhood must also have gone quickly.

That would have left the studio apartment on Edgecombe Avenue for $675, which was not actually an option. A previous bad experience of cramped studio living had taught me the true nature of my Texan sense of space. At the top of the page I found the ad for 3 Rms. Floor-thru apt. No Kit. Clean, Non-smoker. Ref ’s req’ d, $750/mo. When I called the number the owner said the apartment wasn’t taken. In the margin of the now-creased and aged newsprint are the directions I quickly scrawled. I went uptown at once.

Reprinted from Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America, copyright 2011, by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, with the permission of Little, Brown and Company.


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