In 1967, the photographer Gordon Parks first visited the Fontenelle family. Tasked by the editors of LIFE magazine,  Parks was asked to identify why African Americans "were rioting in the streets.” His answer was curt and pragmatic. “Poverty and racism,” he replied.

 

The Fontenelles were to be Gordon's every family, living in squalor and desperate conditions within a tenement building in West Harlem. The series of photographs, alongside his work with Harlem gang leader, Red Jackson,  would form some of his most significant images, against the backdrop of the civil rights movement.

 

50 years on, "the prison of crumbling squares", that once housed the Fontenelles, was lost to history. My first task was forensics: Tracking the original location through photographs, landmarks, old contact sheets and diaries. 

 

The tenement building no longer stands. Now, replaced by the monolithic presence of the 28th Police Precinct on the intersection of West 123rd Street and Frederick Douglass Blvd. Over 33 percent of this community still live well below the poverty line, significantly higher than New York City's average. 56 percent of the community is black. 

 

This story tracks the life of Trevor Brown: Disenfranchised, with limited social mobility, and meagre opportunities to move beyond an education secured in a post affirmative action era.  

 

It is a series about identity and stereotypes, profiles and profiling, and a generation of young men lost in the wake of marching change – 50 years after Gordon Parks.

This project is made possible by support from The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Harriet Dedman, 2017 Gordon Parks Fellowship recipient.