3 things I learned from getting stood up in Harlem

I'm sitting here thinking of how I can explain to you in words how EPIC of night that I had last Friday.

So I won't just rely on the words, I've added some pics and made a video to show you as well.

I was in New York City last weekend to moderate a panel of mothers who lost their sons in police custody.

(Whew! That was a doozy! But, this post isn't for that.)
I also got a chance to present my documentary, "What We Told Our Sons: Four Families React to the Trayvon Martin Verdict." (You can CLICK HERE to learn more about that.)

So, I was supposed to meet the organizer of the group who brought me to the conference, along with some other activists and people of the "movement" at Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem at 7pm. 

I arrived at 7pm.

I called the organizer and he tells me that they are in Brooklyn and likely won't get there until 8:30pm. (But, come on...we all know...when some one is running late, always add a half hour to their guesstimate.)

So, I'm thinking...maybe I'll go inside and sit at the bar. But, no rush. I'm truly enjoying the people watching on Malcolm X Blvd on a Friday evening.

Tren'Ness Woods-Black (Sylvia's granddaughter) and Lisa (the woman who invited me to join her.)

A few minutes later, a woman about to walk into Sylvia's Lounge (the building right next to the main restaurant) stops and asks me, "Are they having the foodie event in there?" I reply "I'm not sure." Then quickly replay conversations I overheard from folks in the line earlier...when I was there at 7pm. So I quickly say, "Oh yes, ma'am! I think they are." 
Then she says, "Well, I have an extra ticket. My mom got sick and couldn't make it. It was last minute and I didn't have any back ups to invite." She continued. "Do you know of anyone who may want this ticket?"

I smiled and said, "I'll take it!"

She said, "C'mon. Let's go."

So in I go. And right then I loved myself for being myself - so open and available for situations like this.

From that point on, I tell you, it was like a dream or a movie. 

I'm going to take my time and tell you how this and thrilling night unfolded. (Now, there were people there who had planned on being there - meaning, they bought their tickets in advance, knowing who the guest chef would be, but upon her entrance, it was just as thrilling for them as well!)

We handed off our tickets and were told, we could sit down at the tables. It was hard to see, because the bar area was jammed packed with folks getting their drink on at the bar.  I had been traveling all day, and not only was I hungry, but I was on the verge of dehydration. But I thought if we could sit down, there'd be water at the table. So, I'll start there. 

I squeezed by the folks at the bar until I reached a dead end. The dining area was roped off and I was in the path of the servers, wedged between the DJ. But...at least I was in prime position to have my choice of seats when they actually did open the ropes.

While pushing past the bar, there were a few people snapping photos of someone I couldn't see. I figured it was a celebrity or something. I wasn't that concerned. Remember- traveling, dehydrated, hungry.
Moments later, that woman makes her way through the crowd to where we were and greets us like old friends. It was Tren'Ness Woods-Black, the granddaughter of the late Sylvia Woods (yanno, the restaurant's founder and namesake.) She hugs and welcomes us. She also warns that we are about to have the time of our lives.

"That's cool." I'm thinking. "But, I'm just here to eat this free meal I scored. Plus, I've never been to the famous Sylvia's before. So, lady! I've already won." (Remember, I'm just thinking this! Not saying it out loud.)

Tren'Ness dips into the back and about 5 minutes later comes back out, grabs the mic and welcomes the group. Then a few moments later, Carla Hall (Top Chef, The Chew) comes and sneaks behind her from the kitchen as she is the celebrity chef. (Remember! The other people knew this. I DID NOT!)

Here's where I was standing during the announcements!
Remember the awkward place I was standing? Well, by this time, I'm wedged at the front next to Tren'Ness and Carla. So, apologies to the folks whose photos my poofy head may have ruined. It was an accidental photobomb, I swear! 

They open the ropes. We choose our seats. Everyone is buzzing with excitement. It's already a great night. The first course, watermelon salad.
Umm..yum. Tren'Ness came by and said it's her recipe!

Next the servers placed hot cornbread nuggets on our bread plates. Followed by warm bread in the center of the table.

Chef Marcus Samuelson, apparently left his spot, Red Rooster, to check out how this dinner went. That's when I learned he was the mastermind behind Harlem Eat Up.
And that's when I find out, I'm actually participating in this ultra cool food festival!

Everyone's buzzing. By this time everyone is acquainted with who is at their table. Tren'Ness makes the announcement at the front of the dining room. I can barely see as folks gather to take photos. She thanked a few folks who helped make this dinner happen, including Carla Hall - who until I saw her spring back out of the kitchen, I forgot that she was cooking our meal!
Tren'Ness also thanked Neil Patrick Harris for being apart of the Harlem community.

I used to be a celebrity and sports reporter, so it's rare for me to geek out. In fact, I've interview the kid before for the Smurfs movie. But that night, right there in Harlem, I was like everyone else - over the moon that NPH and his husband, David Burtka, were eating, dancing and having the same great time that we were.

Next we are served Nashville's hot chicken and Hemingway style BBQ sliders.
Now we're talking! The courses are coming out regularly. So, eat, less talking and keep up.

As those courses are served bowls of rice perlow, sweet & yukon gold potato salad and collard green slaw are placed on the table. One by one they are passed down the table. Someone shouted "Carla's throwing down." And so was the DJ. 
We're eating, seat dancing, laughing and saying "This.Is.The.Best.Night.Ever!"

Tren'Ness grabs the microphone, ques the DJ and brings everyone to the dance floor.
"Get up! You and you, and you and you!"

We're two stepping, it's a little jumbled. I hear NPH say, "Not the conga white people. The Soul train!"

And so it began. The pony, the butt, the twerking, the slide. No one cared. No one teased. We just closed our eyes and went for it. Tren'Ness goes. Carla goes. NPH goes. David goes. 

Back to our seats.
We've got more courses to eat.

Out comes a southern chopped salad, fried cornmeal-crusted tilapia and grilled BBQ beef.

O.K. despite the dancing intermission, I'm officially stuffed! But we carried on. Eating and seat dancing.

The DJ played a range of music- disco, Prince, hip hop, soft rock, pop. It was so varied and worked so well.

But we were clearly slowing down. 
It's good time for another Tren'Ness surprise. She tells stories of her grandmother and great grandmother. Tren'Ness, the third generation happy to carry on the Sylvia's legacy. Her role now, head of marketing. She's fabulous in her neon green dress. But mentioned she created each center piece full of black-eye peas and flowers. I ask her if she attends all of the private dinners. She says most of the time.

Tren'Ness introduced another neighborhood friend. A young woman who she remembers running around the restaurant as a kid. Her family, the founders of the longest running off-Broadway black musical "Mama I want to sing." The young woman sang for us Minnie Riperton's "Loving you."

And...YAAAASSSS...she hit that note. 

OMG! We are so full. I am so full. 
I get a text asking "Where are you?"
I'll get to that text later, I think.

Tren'Ness surprises us with Sylvia's famous fried chicken! The room start buzzing again!

They bring out desert.
Pound cake.
Banana pudding.
Lemon chess pie bars.

The menu for the night!
We crunch those down.
Sip our last drinks.
High fives all around, because everyone knew it was a night to remember.

Check out the video montage:

As I walk to the train, I think. "Man! Every time! Every single time I'm in Harlem something like this happens." The last time was in January, when I hung out with my musician friends who are in the Wynton Marsalis band, and have a residency at the Lincoln Center. Sooo...yeah...I was with pro-musicians in Harlem! But, that's a story for another day.

What has been the craziest unexpected night of your life?  


  1. Wow!!!! This was so awesome!!! You had an amazing time and I felt like I was there reading! I love Carla and NPH too!!! Ummm.... did you ever respond to the text?? Lol #blmgirl

    1. *waves* Hi #BLM sister!
      I did eventually respond to the text as we were about to leave the dinner. I told them, I was invited to another dinner. He said their night got unwieldy. So it actually worked out perfectly on my end!

  2. Sounds like the absolute perfect night! Hmmm conclusion on the text though ?

    1. I responded to the text when we were about to leave the dinner. I told them, I was invited to another dinner. He said their night got unwieldy. So it actually worked out perfectly on my end!

  3. What an amazing story. I was like, "what's next? What's next?"

    1. thanks! i'm glad you liked it. Thanks for reading it, too!

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