Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Step By Step

Step by Step:
The Story of Harlem Preparatory School

“Step by Step
You’re in the race at Harlem Prep.
For the race has just begun,
There’s a goal for everyone.
Open the gates,
And open them wide.
For those who hunger
And thirst inside.
For the creative free,
Who once were denied.
Keep on marching…
Until you reach the other side.

Through the halls of opportunity,
To the stairway of success!
Work your show,
You’re on the go,
Just keep those students coming through.
For there’s so much work for us to do
With the help of God and the hand of faith,
We’ll make our dream come alive, hey, hey, hey
No matter what it takes.”

-Shirley Jones & Milton Hamilton

The words of the song state, “no matter what it takes.” Determination, never quitting, talent, brilliance, and unstoppable energy are some of the words that come to mind when I think about Harlem Prep.

I’m inspired to start this blog to capture and memorialize the work that my parents, Drs. Ed and Ann Carpenter, did back in the 1970s. If you recognize the words to the above song, you will remember how proudly we sang them – they became the “national anthem” of Harlem Prep. “Step by Step” was sung at graduations, while changing classes, in television appeals for donations. I still remember the words and melody quite easily. Some of you may even remember me running around, then a kid with pigtails. No matter how young I was then, I still remember the vibrant energy and excitement that I felt when I visited the Prep. To this day, I’ve never seen students so jazzed about learning, nor teachers as inspired to impart knowledge.

The 40 year anniversary of the school’s founding recently occurred. Forty years! I began to ask myself, “I wonder how many lives were changed by Harlem Prep? What became of all those people? What if I tried to find former students and teachers? What stories would they tell about their experiences?” Those questions gave birth to the current project – a documentary about the Prep and how it impacted the teachers, students, and the face of alternative schools in America.

We’re still in the early stage of producing the documentary. I recognize that there is a wealth of stories out there, many of which I’m unaware. Please use this blog to dialogue with me and share your recollections. Please include your contact information as I foresee expanding the project to include a reunion (with video camera, of course!)

Harlem Prep family, the story must be told. The time for the telling is now. We all know how strong oral storytelling traditions are. When we had the Prep, we didn’t have the technology we have today. Let’s use it to reconnect, re-energize and infuse our spirits. The Prep is who we are. We would not be who we are today without having lived it.

Please visit the blog regularly as we will keep you posted about the reunion, projects and the like. Thank you, be blessed.

Moja Logo,



  1. Thank you for doing this. I think it is an important project. I am sitting here now with the melody of Step By Step running through my head. It has been many years since I thave thought about the Prep and my memories have faded a bit. I spent 6 months as a student and a couple of years teaching there; an important part of my life...

  2. Hi, Ed! I think it's important to celebrate and memorialize the work that was done - it was quite revolutionary and certainly paved the way for today's alternative schools. Since the Prep occurred pre Internet, each gem we uncover from the past takes a little bit more work, and thus is truly treasured. Maybe share this with us when you post again: What was your most inspirational moment while at the Prep? What lessons did you learn that you carry with you to this day?
    Blog us back,
    Karen M. Carpenter

    1. ....Hey Karen...you don't remember me but I owe much to your parents Ed and Ann..words cannot express the admiration I hold for them. I graduated from Harlem Prep in 1970. I was there when step by step was written...

  3. Hi Karen,
    I am pleased to join you in documenting an important part of educational history in NYC, the formation of Harlem Prep. Your father and mother were instrumental in its establishment and profoundly affected the lives of many who passed through those doors. I will be following your blog and will be blogging myself, sharing pictures and remembrances of my time at Harlem Prep. Moja Logo

  4. Hi Karen,

    I had the good fortune to attend The Harlem Preparatory School from January 1971 to graduation in June 1972. I remember your father, Mr. Carpenter, and Mr. McFarlane, who were like fathers to me. Harlem Prep not only rescued me from the mean streets of NYC, but also put me on a sound footing for my life. Now, at age 56, with children and grandchildren, and a stable, productive life, I look back at Harlem Prep with gratitude and love. I have always felt proud to have attended and graduated from Harlem Prep. I feel as though I was one of the chosen few to be so blessed. I will always have a special place in my heart for her. Thank you for this blog. I hope is discovered and shared by many, many more alumni. Moja Logo.

  5. Hello all,

    I hope you are all well! My name is Barry Goldenberg, a Doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University in the History and Education program. I stumbled across the documentary "Step by Step: The Story of Harlem Prep" at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and extremely fascinated by your school. It sounded like a beautiful place with remarkable success, and I surprised the "story of Harlem Prep" is not more well known.

    Anyway, I am very interested in learning more about Harlem Prep, and would love you to speak with any alumni who are interested in sharing their stories. Please let me know if you would be willing! My e-mail is bmg2136@columbia.edu.

    Warmest regards,

  6. Hello Karen,

    I am doing research on Harlem Prep with Dr. Hussein Ahdieh and would be interested in hearing about your memories. If you would be available for this please contact me at hillarychapman@gmail.com, Thanks, Hillary Chapman