Lil’s World: HFC And Its Foundation Reaching Out In Harlem

June 27, 2023

By Lil Nickelson

Harlem Festival of Culture (“HFC”) and it’s foundation, Harlem Festival of Culture Foundation (“HFCF”) kicked off the month of June 2023 with two noteworthy events in the village of Harlem.

HFCF and Northwell Health had a groundbreaking discussion on Friday, June 9th, 2023, at the Harlem School of the Arts located at 645 St. Nicholas Avenue titled, “Supporting Black Men and Their Mental Health.”

The panel discussion was led and moderated by HFC Director of Community Impact & Health Equity, Dr. Yolanda Lewis Ragland with four male panelists in-house and one female panelist joining the discussion via Zoom.

The panelists included C.J. Penny, who produces a podcast and then a short film titled “Normalized,” which has amplified the voices of those affected by the stigma of a Bipolar mental illness where he reveals his very personal and ongoing struggle. The film and podcast.

Musa Jackson, another HFC co-founder of HFC who spoke of his personal journey as a parent that had to deal with the mental health issues that arose in his children and doing his best to advocate and navigate them through as a caring parent.

Dumebi Oforah, MSN, APRN, PMH-BC, PMHNP Psych Mental Health Nurse Practitioner & Board-Certified Registered Nurse- Northwell Health possessing 6 years+ experience in Behavioral and Mental Health, and author who is Nigerian heritage.


Dr. Melvin McDowell Jr., DSW, LCSW, Private Practice Psychotherapist, Professor, and Behavioral Health Consultant in Saginaw, Michigan. As a Clinical Masters Social Worker, Melvin is perfecting his craft in Psychotherapy, specifically Trauma Focused. Melvin is the Owner and Clinical Director at McDowell Healing Arts Center as well as a Social Work Professor at Saginaw Valley State University.

Dr. Jehan El-Bayoumi, MD, participated via Zoom and is an internal medicine specialist in Washington, DC, and has over 37 years of experience in the medical field. is the founding director of the Rodham Institute of Health, part of the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Each panel member shared their background and experiences in working in and/or personally navigating through helping Black men dealing with mental health issues. Enough time was saved to open up the mike for attendees to make statements and/or ask critical questions. Eliminating the stigma of seeking professional assistance that has persisted within the Black community is necessary and was stressed by every panel member.

C.J. Penny’s podcast and short film have done wonders to awaken empathy in the average person, allowing his audience to relate to CJ in a way he hopes will remove the stigma associated with Bipolar disorder and even challenges what it means to be normal.

Attendees came forward to ask questions, as well as make comments about a mental health journey they have experienced as Black men and/or in support of Black men that are in their lives. This was the first, but not the last of events like this to be sponsored by HFCF and Northwell Health.

As part of the Juneteenth weekend celebrations Selena Hill hosted the 2nd annual Harlem Festival of Culture’s Black Independence Awards was held on Saturday, June 17th, 2023, at the Harlem Parish located at 258 West 118th Street.

Nominations were made over several categories and the winners are:

Entrepreneurial Award – Black n Ugly owner Sherifa Gayle. Awarded to a person or company that exemplified excellence and innovation in entrepreneurship.

Social Impact Award – Rachel Noerlinger, National Action Network, Global Public Strategy. Awarded to a person or company who has advocated to ensure equity, well-being, access, and quality of life for the Harlem community.

Cultural Heritage AwardLee Lee’s Baked Goods. Awarded to a person or company whose efforts provide a platform to preserve and/or elevate Black culture and its influence on culture/arts, music, film, design, and commerce.

Visionary AwardDenny Moe’s Barbershop owner. Awarded to a Black creative who has celebrated and/or elevated the Black cultural experience through music, art, photography, film, literature, and design.

Maverick Award – Harlem Hops owners Kevin Bradford, Kim Harris, and Stacey Lee Spratt. Awarded to a person or company that has “disrupted” their industry or marketplace by creating a new space for commerce, representation, etc. for the Black community.

Flex Your Style Award Presented by Shark Beauty – Felicia Michelle Strong who is a freelance hair stylist that offers an exceptional and professional salon experience.

An additional three awards that were presented were:

Vanguard Award – Harlem Week division of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce as they celebrate their 125th anniversary this year.

Champion Award Tamika D. Mallory is an American activist. She was one of the leading organizers of the 2017 Women’s March and is the co-founder of Until Freedom,  an intersectional social justice organization rooted in the leadership of diverse people of color to address systemic and racial injustice.

Legacy Leader Award – rapper Cam’ron (born Cameron Ezike Giles) spoke so candidly from his heart about his journey from childhood to adulthood to fatherhood in Harlem, and his early dreams of going into the NBA. He cited friends and associates like Ma$e and Damon Dash who helped him turn his musical career that began with hit songs but no money to getting paid cash money. He ended by saying Harlem is with him wherever he goes.

Violinist Mapy AKA The Violin Queen played a special surprise musical tribute to Cam’ron performing some of his greatest hits.

Another highlight of the evening was Marc Morial President & CEO, of the National Urban League (“NUL”) who spoke about the organization’s plans to remain in NYC with one of the largest and most significant building projects in Harlem in 50 years – which will include its headquarters, New York’s first civil rights museum and the National Urban League Conference Center for Race, Equity and Justice and will be located on 125th Street between Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd, and Lenox Avenue.

Harlem Festival of Culture (HFC) Foundation

Harlem Festival of Culture (HFC) Foundation is dedicated to creating social impact for the Harlem community in the following areas: Economic Development, Health Equity and Youth Development. https://www.hfcfoundation.org/

Lil Nickelson

Lil Nickelson, a seasoned accounting/finance professional, appreciates the daily renewal of her relationship with God, walking, water aerobics, writing stories that touch people deep, cooking, enjoying great meals, the company of family and friends, and listening to music.

Photo Credits: 1) Cam’ron. 2) Harlem Parish for Black Independence Award. by Harlem Festival of Culture.


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