Cooking under the warm Sunday afternoon sun, hot dogs and turkey burgers simmered on a grill sitting on the basketball courts near 16th Street and Susquehanna Avenue as community members told their “D” Harlem stories.
On Aug. 30, 38-year-old “D” Harlem was playing his favorite sport, basketball, at the courts before he collapsed.
“[The paramedics] got him right there,” said Pete Johnson, 43, Harlem’s best friend for 20 years, pointing to the center of the court. “He was brain dead by the time he got to the hospital.”
For nearly two and a half months, Johnson visited Harlem, who remained in a coma after suffering a heart attack before he died last Wednesday.
In remembrance, Johnson decided to gather neighborhood members for a memorial service.
“A lot of people are dying, and people are really feeling something,” Johnson said. “This gives us a chance to come together, listen to music, eat and talk.”
The service was held at the same courts where Hassian Cannon, 46, played basketball with Harlem every Sunday.
“He was a competitive person,” Cannon said, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses. “But he was also a pioneer of the neighborhood. He went through some struggles, but he was a survivor.”
Harlem, along with Salaam Wakefield, 50, was a member of an organization called the Brotherhood, which “lends a hand to help [young] people realize the positive,” Wakefield explained.
Wakefield was out of the area when the neighborhood heard of Harlem’s passing.
“I just found out last night,” he said. “Everyone was waiting for the word and then I saw those teddy bears, and I knew.”
When Harlem was 15, Wakefield said he was already “doing the right thing and leading a rich life.”
“He wasn’t out here doing this selling and dumb stuff,” Wakefield said. “He was doing the right things, playing ball, going to rec centers and helping kids.”
But Johnson said Harlem was the type of person who would help anybody.
“I just want God to bless him,” he said, adding that he would remember Harlem for his competitiveness and love of sports, particularly the Dallas Cowboys. “He was good to me, so I hope he goes to heaven.”
Ashley Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.