Vital Humanity












o                                                                                                                         o

u                     a      human       b                                     3 train                          r

t                      c                       o                             Harlem-148 Street                d

o                     h                       d                             New Lots Avenue                  e

f                      e     resilient      y                                                                        r


Screechy loud train leading to noisy sound-polluted Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard leading to quiet and tranquil intersections of 145 Street with Clayton Powell and Malcolm X Boulevard and everything in between.


It is quiet. The rain had just ended.

Vanessa sits in front of the Fine Fair Supermarket in her wheelchair. Windy day, lots of traffic, broken umbrellas, rushing people, an aftermath of storm-like rain. She is calm, composed, aware of her surroundings. We are in the louder part of the area so we have to talk louder. I am constantly reminded of this fact but her? Her speed of narration, tone of voice, facial expressions, the time she leaves out to think about my question or dive deep into nostalgia — she seems to be completely unaffected.

Can you compare a posture of a living human and hustle and bustle of the living environment? Animate and Inanimate? Subconsciously, she juxtaposes herself against the background, like a stone-carved statue.

She is not apologetic and would never be. She says she is comfortable on the street because she had been homeless for five years before that. She says she is okay with her old rusty wheelchair as opposed to a newer electronic one because it makes her stay active and get some exercise. Access-A-Ride passes by as we speak, something she does not have access to because she is not registered with the NYC government. She takes her time to think about what she would want the government to change the most: fix the elevators. Walking is hard for her but doable so she laughs at others’ confusion and even anger when they see her pushing a wheelchair in front of her.


145 Street and Vanessa in the background.

She seems to be very connected to other pedestrians. She loves New Yorkers. They always help her when she needs it the most. They jump down when she conquers curb cuts. They stop their cars to help her cross the road. When she was homeless and woke up after Thanksgiving, she could not see the street because she was surrounded by piles of food. New Yorkers are much better than people in New Jersey where she is from.


She lights up when she talks about her youth when she worked as a dancer at Times Square. She says she stays positive, stays human despite the struggles of living disabled and in poverty because of her boyfriend. When she was going through her worst, she did not commit suicide out of spite because of her mother who always called her weak.


Oh, she is anything but weak. When I ask her for a picture, she smiles and raises her chin high up, something I find symbolic of her attitude and relationship to the neighborhood she lives in.

Check an interview with Vanessa and other similar-minded residents of Harlem here.

— Sasha

~ by Sasha Solovyeva on November 2, 2019.