1.23.2018

THE PAIN OF LOSING LES: Mourning and Celebrating the Memory of Leslie Wyche - Our Mayor of Harlem

By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

Hello All:

You never know what the day will bring - and today is one of those days that I am reminded that everything's in God's Hands.   I have to admit that I'm in a great deal of pain and shock at this moment.  I just recently learned of the passing of my brother/friend Little Willie Kgositsile, the South African Poet Laureate and a lifetime friend, and was in the process of making a spiritual farewell to him, that I got the news from my brother/friend Zach Husser telling me that Leslie Wyche had made his transition to the realm of Ancestor/Angel as well.   That news tore through me like a knife.  I found myself crying, to the point of speechlessness.  And I guess I've been somewhat in a state of shock since then, having flashbacks to the first day I met Leslie - whom I used to call Mr. Bon Vivant (Mr.  Good Life), because of his irrepressible energy and friendship. 

MAYOR OF HARLEM & MR. BON VIVANT - LESLIE WYCHE

 And as write this, I'm sure all of us who knew and loved (love) Leslie all have our own favorite Leslie Wyche stories, remembrances and experiences.  There was definitely nothing bland about Leslie.  Ordinary was not in his DNA.  He stood out no matter where he was, or what was going on, whether he intended to or not. He basically left an indelible impression on everyone he met - and if not, it was more than likely that the individual was probably dead from the neck up.  How do you get over a 30 plus year friendship with a brother who was quite definitely a force of nature? The answer is -you don't!


I am a firm believer in synchronicity.   I had just returned to New York after having been in California for over 9 years, and there was a major shift in everything - friends had moved, the City had changed considerably, having been traumatized by a major (deliberate) economic downturn.   I had lost track of many of my friends - even the Apollo was closed!  I was kind of like a fish out of water.  In fact,  I didn't even live in Harlem,  I was in Riverdale, where the possibility of coming across a friend on the sidewalk was somewhere between slim and none.    It was June 30, 1985. I was trying to get back into the rhythm of Harlem, and  had no idea what was happening.  I had been hearing about the Jackie Robinson Foundation's Afternoon of Jazz on WBLS,  which was being held in Norwalk Connecticut, hosted by Rachel Robinson, widow of the baseball great; and decided to take a chance and check it out.   Being  totally out of the loop for 9 years, I didn't have anyone to go to the event with me, and decided to go solo. I had polled some of my newly made friends, most of whom said they were not going, because it was little more than a fashion show. But I was determined to make it to Norwalk, CT.   When I got on the  Metro North, I was informed it only took me to Norwalk, CT,  but not to the exact location of the event. There additional form of transportation that I would have to take. I admit that I was apprehensive (and most of my New York buddies know that I'm rarely, if ever apprehensive about anything), but I went on anyway. 

As I settled myself on the train and waited for it to pull of, this guy gets on with all kinds of paraphernalia – in a shopping cart. Blankets, food, portable radio – he was loaded down!!  And he was headed directly for the vacant seat next to me. It was Leslie Wyche!  I looked around.  There were other vacant seats; but he seemed determined to sit in the one next to mine.   He immediately launched into a conversation as if we had known each other all our lives.  I remember looking at him initially like he had two heads and a tail, for a hot minute.  But as I began to concentrate on his conversation,  and his friendly manner, I realized that he wasn't trying to “hit” on me.  He looked around me, he noticed that I didn't have any food or a blanket and asked, "Is that all you brought with you?" - I just had a shoulder bag, and was wearing a large brimmed hat.   When I said, "Yes, why?"  He then said, "Oh, you're meeting somewhere there."  And I responded, "No.  It's my first time going."  He looked at my high heels and said, "You do know this is a picnic, right?" in that sonorous voice of his.   And when  told him I thought it was a jazz concert, he laughed and explained that it was not going to be concert with seats; instead it was a grand picnic with folks bringing their own food and blankets, and listening to some of the greatest jazz artists while networking and partying together. In the back of my mind I was trying to decide whether I should turn around and go back;  concerned that once I got there how I was going to get from the train to the event itself.  When  I expressed my misgivings to him, Leslie  put my mind at ease, took charge, and told me not to worry.   He pointed out the yellow school buses that served as shuttles to and from the concert. As we got on the bus, headed for the concert, he invited me to hang with the Ques, his frat brothers, who, he said, had more than enough food to spare and to share (now you know, that as a Delta, being invited to hang with Ques was like being invited to heaven).   We talked all the way to Norwalk and I felt I had known this brother all my life.  We had a blast, and it was the beginning of a long and wonderful friendship.  As a result,  I was also introduced to the brothers of Xi Phi and Kappa Omicron chapters of Omega as well as connecting with Sorors of the New York Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta.  (Which was another great thing I ascertained about Leslie immediately - he knew everyone, and everyone knew and loved him.  He had no compunction about putting people of like minds and interests together). 

That was 33 years ago - and I can say that Leslie has that our friendship has remained strong throughout all those years.

So when they say that there is no such thing as loss in life, I have to differ with them -  the loss of Leslie Wyche  on this plane of action is very painful to me.   When I learned from our friend,  Zach Husser, told me he had gone into Montifiore hospital for a “procedure” from which he did not recover and had made his transition to the realm of Ancestor/Angell, tears came rushing forth so fast, I had to hang up and get myself together. Or at least try to get myself together. And I admit I haven't done so, quite yet.

It's taken me a couple of days to absorb the finality of it all. To me, and to most of us who knew and loved him, he will always be  affectionately known as the the “Mayor of Harlem.”  Leslie was probably just over 5'8”, but he was a gigantic personality. He was a spirit unto himself. Whenever he entered the room, regardless of the occasion, you knew Leslie was there. The entire tenor of the room suddenly brightened.  How many of us remember his famous, “Hello, I'm Berry Gordy.” Leslie admired the great genius and founder of Motown and likened himself unto him. So bold was he in that belief that he resembled the great Motown Mogul,  that when Berry Gordy was honored in New York by the NNPA (National Newspaper Publishers Association), Leslie walked up to him and greeted him by saying he was his twin. They took several pictures together, with Leslie putting on his imitation Berry Gordy smile - he walked on a cloud for quite some time after have met him. (Of course the two looked nothing alike, but you couldn't tell Leslie that - LOL).  Leslie was always the resilient, bounce back from anything spirt we all knew and loved He was like our own ambassador of Good Will and fun.


There was no event that Leslie could not get into; and not an event that Leslie missed, if it had any significance. He was either integrally involved in the planning of the event, or the world's greatest “gatecrasher.”  Leslie was a  welcome presence at the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus in Albany New York, as well as at the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, DC. He attended Rev. Jesse Jackson's Wall Street Project (Omega Frat Brother) and Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network conference. He was involved in programs that were integral in helping Black youth enter college, including the Black College Tour sponsored by Omega Psi Phi Fraternity – something my son and daughter both participated in – which made it possible for hundreds of Harlem youth to attend college, obtain scholarships, and make intelligent decisions about their choice of majors. Leslie worked with ConEd in helping hundreds make career choices via their annual outreach program.

I don't think a party got started right if Leslie wasn't there. And when he entered the room he made sure you knew he was there.

I remember when Leslie first assumed the title of Mayor of Harlem, and a great deal of controversy arose because another friend, DeLuis Blakely, had also been accorded that title. All of a sudden my phone was blowing up between the two of them asking me to write an article endorsing them as the rightful Mayor. I knew them both well, loved them as friends each in their own right – but now I was caught between a rock and hard place – so I deflected by giving them both accolades, and ended by saying that Leslie had become more popularly recognized as the Mayor of Harlem. Yeah, it was a cop out, but I tend to like to keep my friends friends. In the long run, Leslie was the clear victor in the dispute, and lived up to the accolade in every sense of the word.

Leslie worked with the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) and helped my son, Rais, get his first job working at the Statue of Liberty.  Not waiting til the last minute, each Spring, prior to the summer vacation period, he would  begin reaching out to the community and the schools to get their recommendations for young people for the many job opportunities that were provided through the program. He was very diligent in making sure that Harlem youth had ample opportunity for jobs placement, and followed up to make sure they were having a positive work experience.  

He was a proud graduate of Edward Waters College, in Florida (I admit I had never heard of Edward Waters until I met him), and made sure that everyone was aware of this wonderful HBCU.  He carried their banner high at most HBCU forums; but I have to admit he was the only person I have ever met that actually attended there.

Everyone knew how much Leslie loved being an Omega, as well as being a member of the prestigious One Hundred Black Men of New York, and devoted his time to those two great organizations. I remember Leslie and Rev. Jesse Jackson taking photos together as Omega Brothers at 2016 Rainbow PUSH Wall Street Project Conference in NYC. He was so proud of being a member of Xi Phi Chapter, and was instrumental in coordinating their annually held Founders' Day Event. Leslie had an amazing voice and loved singing the Omega song. We partied together on many a Que Boat ride Black in the Day.  Before his knee surgery, Leslie loved showing off his agility in still  being able to execute the intricate Que Steps (There's nothing in the world like a Que step show - right?).  

And if he loved being an Omega Man, he loved even more exalting the contributions made by his fellow Frat brothers, contemporarily and historically.  This is an email I received from him three years ago: 

WE, WHO, EMBRACE, THE OMEGA PSI PHI FRATERNITY, INC. WILL NEVER FORGET!!! BROTHER CARTER G. WOODSON, THE FOUNDER OF BLACK HISTORY MONTH OR NOW, COMMONLY, KNOWN AS THE STUDY OF AFRICAN AMERICAN LIFE AND HISTORY. THANKS BROTHER  CARTER G, WOODSON, OMEGA MAN!!!
Sat, Dec 19, 2015 at 5:58 PM:  On this date December 19th in the year 1875 Carter Godwin Woodson was born in New Canton,Virginia...Woodson was an African-American historian, author, journalist and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Woodson was one of the first scholars to study African-American history. A founder of Journal of Negro History, Woodson has been cited as the father of black history...
After leaving Howard University because of differences with its president,Woodson devoted the rest of his life to historical research. He worked to preserve the history of African Americans and accumulated a collection of thousands of artifacts and publications. He noted that African-American contributions "were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.Race prejudice, he concluded, "is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind.
In 1926, Woodson pioneered the celebration of "Negro History Week"designated for the second week in February, to coincide with marking the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The week of recognition became accepted and has been extended as the full month of February, now known as Black History Month.”

When I say that Les was my party buddy, memories go back to the wonderful days of Perks Fine Cuisine, our favorite gathering place. It was the Go To place in Harlem, and in New York City. People came from all over to rub elbows at Perks. We were the “Regulars,” always making a bee line immediately after work to be the first at the bar - which could easily become 10 people deep by 6:00PM  Of course they had the best Happy Hour, and the best food. 

With Hank Perkins standing at the end of the bar trading humorous "insults" with Leslie and the rest of us, it was our home away from home.   And whenever he entered the door, Leslie would make a grand entry, “The Mayor of Harlem is here!” And everybody would respond in Cheerslike manner, “LES!!”  Regardless of the occasion, Leslie was always dressed to impress.  He always looked like he just stepped out of GQ, or Ebony Male magazine, or was on the way to a fashion shoot. Always fashionable, always dignified, with that hint of humor and wit that kept him from being pretentious, you had to admire his good taste.  And Les could really rock a Derby or a Top Hat!  With his coat draped capelike across his shoulders in a rakish manner, a hint of the old days when brothers used to maintain a wardrobe.   When he entered the club, he would pause in the doorway for a minute or two as if surveying the room; but really to be noticed, and smile with a slight flourish, as if to say, "I have arrived!" I think one of the reasons Hank and Les got along so well, in addition to their mutual birthdays - was that they were both always well dressed, no matter what.  And of course, we were die-hard Knicks fans, making sure we were front and center to catch the games while also catching up on the events of the day. If you didn't love the Knicks, you were relegated to the other end of the bar. 



At one of Hank Perkins' owner of PERKS birthday parties. Dressed to impress, L-R The late Cuba Gooding, Jr., of the singing group, The Main Ingredients, Roy Ayers, Perk (Hank Perkins) and Leslie Wyche, Mayor of Harlem celebrating their joint birthdays.



Hank Perkins and Les shared the same birthdate, April 23rd. Perk would have a massive birthday celebration each year, and of course Les would celebrate his there at the same time – a sort of joint venture. Between Hank Perkins and Leslie Wyche, it was impossible to have a bad time.  We would party from one end of the club to the other, generally spilling over to the sidewalk, and closing well after the normal 4:00 AM New York closing time. 

When  I called Perk  to inform him of Leslie's transition, he was very upset, and started recalling all the great times they had together.  As one of Perks' regulars, he was a fixture at the club, which included hosting events and political forums there.   Like most Black New Yorkers, Leslie had an active nightclub life and could party from one end of Manhattan to the other. He was known for being the last to leave the party or the club, often emerging just before sun up, to go home change into corporate attire and report to work on time. (Actually, we all were kind of guilty of that. We balanced work and party in a very precarious manner, and interlaced it with community service. We were the “in crowd”).  And if we were the In Crowd, Perks was our In Place, and Leslie, Mayor of Harlem, considered it his headquarters. 

I was going through the many correspondences I had from Leslie over the years. He loved my Blog and would often respond to something I had written. Or he would update me about an event that he felt should be highlighted in my Event Alert Column such as volunteering for Thanksgiving dinner for needy Harlem residents; opportunities for HBCU graduates; or events and issues of concern to Black people, such as the one he sent me after the massacre that took place in South Carolina:

(NOTE: Les always corresponded in All-CAPs). DEAR PAN HELLENIC MEMBERS: WE NEED TO SHOW OUR UNITY AND/OR SOLIDARITY IN THE WAKE OF THE UNFORTUNATE, SHOOTING AND/OR KILLING SOUTH CAROLINA Inbox Leslie WycheFri, Jun 19, 2015 at 2:04 PMTo: Gloria Dulan-Wilson , | DEAR PAN HEL MEMBERS: WE NEED TO SHOW OUR SOLIDARITY IN THE WAKE OF THE SOUTH CAROLINA MASSACRE IN CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA.  THE UNFORTUNATE, KILLING OF THE REVERENT AND NINE (9) MEMBER OF  HIS CHURCH, WAS A MEMBER OF ALPHA PHI ALPHA FRATERNITY, INC.  I AM, SUGGESTING, THAT, WE COME TOGETHER IN MEET AND/OR SHOW OUR SOLIDARITY AT THE HARLEM STATE OFFICE BUILDING, 163 WEST 125TH STREET (THE CORNER OF 125TH STREET AND ADAM CLAYTON POWELL, BLVD.) PERHAPS, WE COULD, DEMONSTRATE AT THE ADAM CLAYTON POWELL, JR. STATE OFFICE BUILDING WITN THE ASSISTANCE OF CONGRESSMAN CHARLES RANGEL'S OFFICE AND COUNCILMAN INEZ DICKENS, STATE SENATOR BILL PERKINS AND ASSEMBLYMAN KEITH WRIGHT.
PLEASE CALL ME AND/OR EMAIL ME AT: WYCHE.LES@GMAIL.COM 


Between 2011 and 2016 I guess I received over nearly 300 emails from Les - but then again, he probably received triple that amount from me.  Reading through them the other evening brought about some bitter sweet memories of a long standing 33-year Brother/Sister Friendship, comradeship.  One that I will treasure all the more.




As I write this, I'm sure that by now Leslie has already established himself as the new Mayor of the Ancestor/Angels. I can see him walking around greeting everyone with the wave of his hand and that engaging smile of his. Tipping his hat, cane in hand with signature gloves, and his unique sartorial flair – coat draped over his shoulders, impeccably dressed, strolling through, completely at home in his new realm, confident that no one can challenge him in his role.  He is being joined by three other friends - Rev. Wyatt T. Walker,  Little Willie Kgositsile and Hugh Masakela.  There is bound to be a lot of celebration tonight, as three of the Finest Black Men take their place in the pantheon of those who go before us, while leaving so many wonderful memories and examples for us to treasure and follow.

The pain of losing Leslie Wyche will linger for a long time, only made bittersweet by remembering all the wonderful times we shared while he was here among us.
But if losing Leslie Wyche is painful, it has been rendered even more painful at the news that his nuclear family (siblings) has not recognized the fact that we loved him as much as they did, according to his Fraternity Brothers of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.    There are special rites of passage that are to be performed upon the passing of a Brother.  This tradition is more than a century old, and should not be denied him.  Also,  while his New York/Harlem family are gathered and ready to pay homage to him, including his Omega Brothers, Delta Sisters and members of the Panhellenic community, as well as the rest of us in Harlem who knew, loved and worked side by side with him for more than 50 years, I have been informed that his sisters apparently are ether unaware, or unconcerned about how we feel.  WE know they are in pain at the loss of their brother - Les was such a wonderful person; but we want them to know that we are equally suffering the loss of this wonderful brother, and want to honor him now.  A memorial service at a later deprives us of the opportunity to show our love and pay our respects and bid our final farewell in real time.  Perhaps if they took a look at the responses on FaceBook and in the Media, they'd have a better understanding of how much love we feel, and how much pain we too are suffering and how much he means to New York in general, Harlem in particular, and us personally.  Leslie would definitely want to go out in a flourish, as was his style, and he would most certainly wish to have the Omega-Omega service performed as he makes his transition to the realm of Ancestor/Angel.

And, while I have never met them, I am personally appealing to his sisters to please allow us to work with them and honor their brother,  this Fine Black Man now, in the true spirit and celebration he would have wanted.  Now, in real time, rather than postpone it until a later date.  We know that funeral services are as much for the living as for those who have made their transition, and we the living need to be able to come together and bid farewell in classic, elegant Leslie Style.  A brother whom we all loved dearly and will treasure for ever.

Farewell to BROTHER/FRIEND LESLIE WYCHE 

Rest in Power

Stay Blessed & 
ECLECTICALLY BLACK
Gloria