People of Color United Harlem field trip: touring historic Apollo Theater, eating soul food at Melba’s

  • POCU
    Students in People of Color United fund-raised to travel to Harlem for an end of the year field trip. Photo: Mary Custard
  • harlem2
    Students in People of Color United traveled to Harlem for an end of the year field trip. Photo: Mary Custard
  • apollo2
    Students in People of Color United traveled to Harlem for an end of the year field trip. Photo: Mary Custard
  • apollo
    Students in People of Color United traveled to Harlem for an end of the year field trip. Photo: Mary Custard

On Wednesday, May 1, 2019, People of Color United club members and their advisors, Assistant Principal Mary Custard and health and physical education teacher Elizabeth Haygood, boarded a three-hour bus for Harlem, NY.

The group typically takes a big end of year trip; in my time as a student member of POCU, we have gone to the African American History Museum, The Boston Aquarium, and now, The Apollo.

This year’s itinerary included walking around Harlem, taking a tour of the Apollo theater, eating lunch at fast food restaurants, shopping, dinner at a restaurant called Melba’s, and then heading back to The Apollo for an evening show.  

Ms. Custard  has made this trip to Harlem eight to 10 times. “So many I don’t remember,” she said.

Why Harlem? “There is a lot of history there,” said Ms. Custard. “It’s specifically related to black culture, activism, and jazz music. And despite gentrification, there are still a lot of black people in Harlem.”

She said that it’s also nice to “go to a community where you are not the minority, and you can see people that look like you living their daily lives.”

Ms. Custard said that is important to visit the Apollo Theater because of the history that theater holds. “For many years it was the place for black performers to be showcased when they weren’t allowed in other theaters because of segregation,” she said. “I’m pretty sure that there’s not many other theaters that have the claim to fame that the Apollo has as far as the number of black performers who have been on stage.”

Her favorite part of the field trip was watching all the students “soak in the history from ‘Mr. Apollo,’ [the tour guide] since he grew up there. He knew a lot of the history first hand. He lived the history, and he had personal stories,” she said. “I especially liked the story about James Brown checking on his grades to make sure he was passing school,” she laughed.

She added that the Apollo wall “with hundreds and hundreds of autographs from stars, left an impact” on students.

The group then had dinner at Melba’s Restaurant on Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

According to its web site, “The eponymous restaurant was the vision of founder, Melba Wilson.  Being born, bred and buttered in Harlem, Melba knew she wanted to stay close to home so she could nurture and provide an exquisite yet comfortable dining experience to the community that raised her.”

From the variety of foods offered, Ms. Custard chose to have oxtail, collard greens, and sweet potatoes.

“After that, I was full, so I didn’t order anything else,” she said.

Why Melbas? “There are a number of soul food restaurants I had already eaten at,” she said. “I had already been to Sylvia’s, to Red Rooster, and a couple others. I like to try different restaurants because we have so many options when we go to Harlem. That was a treat because we don’t have a soul food restaurant in Amherst.”

Ms. Custard said that the club raises money year round, to help fund whatever field trips they take. “We didn’t pre-plan it in the fall. It just came about in the winter that we decided we would go to the Apollo,” she said.

“We looked at ticket prices, priced the tour, price the snacks, the bus, and being able to have some scholarship money. We raise as much as we can, and that figure fluctuates,” she said. “In the end, we’re always happy with whatever we raise because it helps us to go where we want to go.”

Ms. Custard said she thinks students get a lot out of big, fun field trips like these.

Sophomore club member Darius Robinson agreed. “One of my favorite parts of the trip was walking up and down the streets of Harlem and the show at the Apollo,” he said. He loved meeting “Capone the comedian.”

He also spent over $200 on two pairs of shoes, two shirts and two meals.

Robinson is grateful he discovered POCU. “I like the vibes, and the people. They know when to have a good time and when to be serious,” he said.

One of POCU’s co-vice presidents, sophomore Mohammad Abdel-Maksoud loved “just walking the streets of Harlem, experiencing life outside of Amherst.”