Friday, August 29, 2008

Mo the Mayor

Mo is the affable, unofficial mayor of his public housing project. Having transformed himself from high school basketball star to feared street legend to inspirational East Harlem community leader, Mo embodies the gritty paradoxes of his environs.

Having lived in the same 8th floor apartment at 1641 Madison Ave. virtually his entire life, Mo routinely asks neighborhood residents “You aight?” with an unshakable confidence that he will be able to respond accordingly even if the answer is “no.” Mo conveys the impression that his power extends well beyond his building, one of four towers in the Lehman Village Houses, spanning from 110th St. to 107th St.

When Mo drives across 110th Street, neighbors approach his vehicle to inquire about the affairs of the block on the other side of the Metro North viaduct. Mo responds, “I have the situation under control.”

Mo’s neighborhood is composed of virtuous souls and unsavory characters. Since gregarious Mo learned how to hustle, he has been ambitiously multi-tasking. “I’m an ex-drug dealer who never went to prison,” says Mo, whose real name is Malik Jenkins.

“Mo is known everywhere,” said Ansar “Pacino” Bing, a film editor at Universal Remote Productions who is a longtime friend of Mo’s. “We have the same ‘862’ tattoo on our forearms.”

Mo says this number represents a pact that a group of Harlem men formed in the late 1990’s, involving gang activities around 143rd St. and Convent Ave. Mo will not comment on the record about the extent of the group.

Mo feels comfortable mentioning that, by his 16th birthday, he drove luxury sedans and earned his father’s bi-weekly paycheck in 36 hours. But, his demeanor is perpetually nonchalant, with an alternatively boyish grin and intent stare. Sometimes he betrays an almost Southern charm that derives from his parents’ Carolinian origin.

34 year-old Mo grew up in a two-parent household, but his parents both passed away in 2007. Mo has a seemingly wholesome relationship with his gentle wife Kendra, a public school teacher. Mo’s most recent birthday was celebrated by renting out a party bus for his 15 year-old son Madison and his teenaged pals.

He is dedicated to fostering a positive climate for his son and stresses his penchant for sponsoring youth basketball, film, and music programs. He is also on his building’s housing board. Although Mo seems to have a new cell number every week, he says he is fully extricated from the urban pharmaceutical industry. Regardless, the mayor never stops serving his constituents.

“I’m here for a reason - my story has to be told,” says Mo, adjusting the three rosaries around his bulky neck. “Some of the things in my life were meant to be done. Yet, I’m a young, black man with no felonies – how is that?”

Sam, the DJ at one of Mo’s recent parties for neighborhood adolescents, said, “God has a cloud around this man, but stop me there, I don’t want to start preaching about Mo.”

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