Black Belts and Blessings

A classic 1994 New York Times article on nuns in East Harlem learning martial arts as they perform charity in the community:

Sister Marie Chantal could be the scariest dream imaginable for legions of smirking, snickering Catholic schoolboys: a nun adept in judo and tae kwon do.

They can relax.

The martial arts are just a diversion for the smiling, shy 33-year-old member of the Fraternite Notre Dame, a French religious order dedicated to serving the poor. She and five other sisters run a cramped soup kitchen in East Harlem that feeds 300 people daily as part of their ministry to the hungry, the homeless and the sick.

Dressed in traditional habits of black and gray, they live and walk among some of the toughest, most drug-filled blocks of the city, so perhaps it is just as well that Sister Marie Chantal and the others know a bit about self-defense. But they don’t see themselves in any special danger. ‘It’s Just a Sport’

“The fact we know tae kwon do does not change anything,” said Mother Marie Martha, the group’s mother superior. “It’s just a sport.”

The order was founded 20 years ago in France by Bishop Jean-Marie Roget Kozik, and considers itself Roman Catholic but independent of the Vatican. There are many young members among the 60 nuns and 30 priests and brothers assigned to missions in France, Cameroon, Haiti and New York. Members of the order said they were encouraged to keep up with outside pursuits like music, art or even martial arts, to be happy in their vocation.

The sisters arrived in New York three years ago with little more than plans for a soup kitchen that would serve the poorest of the poor. Mother Marie Martha said they were rebuffed by countless landlords who did not want dozens of the down and out cluttering their doorways.

One landlord eventually leased them a storefront for $1,000 a month in what had been a beauty parlor on First Avenue near East 117th Street. They opened the House of Mary Nazareth with a two-burner hot plate and a meager pantry stocked with food donated by hotels, groceries and restaurants. Sister Marie’s Black BeltXxx

Their martial arts training began soon after they arrived in the city, when they lived for a while on the West Side. Sister Marie Chantal, who had earned a black belt in judo before she entered the convent, said she had been eager to resume the sport and she found a tae kwon do master in, of all places, Hell’s Kitchen.

While Sister Marie Chantal is the most avid athlete of the group, Mother Marie Martha said the other nuns also learned basic self-defense moves because they had heard the neighborhood was dangerous. Yet they say they have had no problems in East Harlem, even considering that they now live near the soup kitchen, in a building steps away from a chaotic street-corner drug trade.

One recent morning, three nuns squeezed into the tiny kitchen to prepare the day’s meal of soup, pasta and salad while the hungry lined up.

“I’ve got good stuff!” Sister Marie Valerie declared to the group, some of whom had no doubt heard that line many times before when they wanted something a little stronger.

A grimy man wearing a button that read “I Love Everybody and You’re Next!” woozily took a cup of tea from a nun. He stirred it slowly before making the sign of the cross as he muttered fragments of long-forgotten prayers. No Value JudgmentsXxx

Gregory Robbs, a 51-year-old homeless man, squeezed past him, his stomach as full as his plastic bag holding bread for his afternoon snack.

“Some soup kitchens you don’t go to because they look down on you,” he said. “Here, they don’t make value judgments. You’re just a person in need. People down on the streets are appreciative of that.”

The sisters eat after they have fed those in line. Later in the day they prepare meals to hand out at night by the Port Authority bus station, while others bring food and company to people in the neighborhood who are suffering from AIDS.

“We give them the friendship they need,” said Mother Marie Martha. “We’re not afraid of their illness. We have lots of respect.”

But little money. That is why people like Dolores Baca, a Manhattan hotel manager, have been donating food and time.

“I have never seen something so sincere and real,” Ms. Baca said. “They do their work from the heart. Unfortunately, you cannot feed and clothe people from the heart.” Expanding the Mission

The nuns want to expand their mission here by acquiring a building to house a program for unwed mothers and their children. The ambitious order also has plans for an orphanage in Mongolia and a program for street children in Brazil. The nuns hope to raise money through a concert in May, when 40 members of the order will travel to New York for a performance of religious music.

Wherever they do their work, the sisters said, they do not proselytize, preferring their actions to speak for themselves. For them, their work in East Harlem is their biggest concern.

“We know the neighborhood is dangerous, but we don’t have any problems,” said Sister Marie Francesca.

Sister Marie Valerie agreed, echoing a sentiment familiar to many Americans in Paris. “The people are nicer than in France,” she said.


Join Sinergia and Public Health Solutions on our upcoming free webinar via Zoom on 10/12 from 12 PM-1:30 p.m. 

Event Name: Your Home & the Smoke-Free NYC Program

Presenting Organization: Public Health Solutions

Date: Thursday, 10/12

Time: 12-1:30 PM EST

RSVP via Zoom:

Questions/Accommodations: Contact Mariam Chardiwall via email at [email protected].


For everyone (meaning all New Yorkers) who’s ever thought that there’s got to be a better way to deal with trash – better than just putting out plastic bags after 8pm – Amsterdam comes to the rescue.

The new proposed system would operate like a typical garbage chute, but the trash would not just go down into the visible bin, but deeper, underground, into a holding bin.

This bin would then be hoisted, out of its hole and emptied by crane into a garbage truck. It’s an amazing idea for a city like New York that also does not have alleys, at least in Manhattan, to store rolling bins, access trash storage in the back, etc.

25th Precinct Community Meeting Tomorrow at 6:00

The National Black Theater Building’s Crane, At Night

9th District Civil Court

A gorgeous neo-Romanesque Courthouse in East Harlem has a brownstone scroll with embossed text (seen just above the scaffolding in this photo):

The text on the scroll reads “9th District Civil Court”:

Joshua Clennon’s Fundraiser – One Week From Today

The candidate writes:

“I’m a 4th generation Harlem resident, husband, and father, deeply committed to fighting the widening economic disparities that threaten to displace families like mine from the community we love. With 8 years of hands-on experience in affordable housing, I’ve been on the front lines of this battle. Now, I’m ready to take this fight to Albany to enact real, lasting change.”

Neighborhood Streets

Join CIVITAS in a fun workshop on understanding our streets. To register, click here:

Fenimore Cooper

The old Fenimore Cooper School (East 119 to East 120, between Madison and 5th, is now Bethel Gospel Assembly. In the porticoes above entrances, you can still see remnants of cast concrete basreliefs of a number of school disciplines.



Self-Defense For Children at the 28th Precinct

EGN Youth Sports & Development is a non-profit organization missioned to improve youth and their communities through the art of Karate. Our goal is to strengthen the minds, bodies and hearts of the youth in our communities through Karate training.

(Note that the transcription incorrectly misidentifies the Harlem Precinct. It should be the 28th Precinct, not the 20th.

We are a firm believer that physical training leads to increased spiritual connection and strength through patience, which in turn leads to better decision- making from our children. We aim to deepen relationships between children of diverse backgrounds to create community-minded and open–minded individuals who value friendships, and authentic relationships with themselves and the communities they exist in.

Celebrate 50 Years

The 125th Street BID is 30

Signed into law in September 1993 by Mayor David N. Dinkins, Harlem’s BID is 30 years old.

East Harlem Church for Sale

A church and parish house on 119th Street near Pleasant Avenue are for sale:

As Catholic attendance numbers shrink and costs associated with lawsuits continue to rise, the New York Diocese has been shedding property to save on maintenance costs and to get capital.

Asking Price: Not disclosed.

Deal terms are not currently defined. You can request your own specific terms when submitting a non-binding offer.

Cabaret, in German+English, in Harlem

The German Cabaret artist Sylvia Brecko will entertain you in the Harlem Rose Garden this Sunday from noon to 1 PM in both English (if the majority doesn’t understand German) and German.

All welcome.

Art Sale From Private Collection

Studio Vladimir Cybil presents:

Selected pieces from Axelle Liautaud’s Collection

September 15th -17th, 2023 Preview: Friday September 15th, 4-8 PM

Saturday 16th, 1-5 PM; Reception: September 16th, 5-8PM

Sunday September 17th, 1-5 PM

11 East 124th Street, Between 5th and Madison Avenues

A curated recurrent art event in the heart of Harlem

Georges Liautaud, Luce Turnier, Ti Ga, Jose Bedia, Edward Duval-Carrie, Mirlande Constant, Azor, Pascale, Monnin, Celeur, Pasko, Clotaire Bazile, Lherisson Dubreus, Nasson, Mireille Delice

Selection from the Jonathan Demme Collection

RSVP encouraged for preview & reception:

[email protected]

[email protected]

Big Russ’s Barber Shop Gives Back

Big Russ’s Barber Shop on Madison Ave at 124th Street is helping with back to school by offering free hair cuts to kids.

Today! Saturday Soiree

Lauren Flanigan, Director/Founder
Music and Mentoring House

Acclaimed soprano Lauren Flanigan is the Founder/Director of Music and Mentoring House, a New York State not-for-profit that provides affordable programs for opera singers, hands on mentoring and an upscale residency program to students studying in the arts in NYC. She has enjoyed a thirty-year career that included performances at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Glyndebourne, the New York City Opera, ten world premieres, one movie, eleven cd’s, five Live From Lincoln Center telecasts and fifteen awards for musical and humanitarian work. 

Music and Mentoring House, Inc is a fiscally sponsored project of Black Women Playwrights’ Group. All donation amounts are greatly appreciated and a very important contribution to continuing our efforts to serve artists of all disciplines.  Black Women Playwrights’ Group is an IRS recognized 501(c)3 non-profit corporation. All donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowable by law.

Le Tropezienne Bakery

1st Avenue at 110th Street

Le Tropezienne has back to school cookies. Note the Teacher Fuel edition, and the 1st Day Of Classes edition:

it’s an amazing bakery and our go-to for amazing croissants and pastries.

AC Coming

A great B/W image of the Victoria Theater on West 125th Street. In addition to a Gary Cooper film – Unconquere – note the heads-up at the bottom of the marquee:

“Modern Cooling System Now Being Installed”

Harlem of the North?

“As hip-hop marks its 50th anniversary worldwide this month, a dedicated Montreal group known as “Harlem of the North” is determined to shine a spotlight on the city’s hip-hop scene.”

“Black history is very rich in Montreal and the hip-hop experience directly came out of that community,” said Alsalman.

He says what makes Montreal’s hip-hop scene unique from the rest— is its bilingualism.

“There’s really two stories happening at the same time which is the French scene and the English scene and at times you see that cross paths through specific artists or producers…there is a natural crossroads on a creative level but on an industry level, rarely do they present us together.”

Block Party

A 1980’s View of East Harlem

See a great 1986 snapshot of East Harlem:

New Parent Support Group