By DYLAN TRAN, age 12
For years, Renée Watson walked by Langston Hughes’s home in Harlem, NY, wondering why it was empty. The house on East 127th Street, where the poet, social activist and playwright lived for 20 years, is covered in plants. It looks old and unused. Every time she saw it, she thought, “Someone should do something.” Harlem, a historically black community, has gentrified quickly in the last decade. In July 2016, Watson decided to try and save Hughes’s home to preserve his legacy and what he stood for.
Watson, a Harlem resident, writer and educator, planned to rent Langston Hughes’s house to make it an art center that would honor Hughes’s writing and his activism on behalf of the black community and push back against gentrification. She used Indiegogo, a crowdfunding website, to try and raise $150,000 to renovate and restore the house. In order to provide support for her efforts, Watson started her own organization, which she called I, Too, Arts Collective.
Speaking to NPR News, Watson said, “I think it’s important for the young people who still live in Harlem to know that in their own neighborhood, blocks away from where they’re playing basketball…that a literary giant lived there.”
According to an update Watson posted to her supporters online on September 1, she was able to raise $115,250. And as of October 31, she had signed the lease for the property. The space will hold open mic, poetry workshops open to youth, and other literary and community events.
Addressing her supporters, she noted that her “heart is full” and she is “moved by [the] encouragement and enthusiasm.”
Harlem Renaissance: The artistic and intellectual movement led by black artists, writers and musicians in Harlem from the end of World War I to the mid-1930s.
Preserve: To care for and look after
Gentrification: The displacement of low-income families, often in communities of color, by richer people and companies due to the rising cost of real estate