Nilu Peoplez: Carolyn Johnson - Tour Guide.Creator.Musician

Carolyn, pictured on the left, was raised in Harlem and now has a tour guide business she’s run for 18 years.   She and her neighbor Craig also started the Harlem Jazz Boxx to bring good music to the community for anyone to enjoy.  Shows are now on Fridays.

What’s the strangest tour request you’ve been asked?

Don’t get me started.  Many people expected Harlem to be like the SuperFly movies in the 70's with burnt out buildings and pimps on the corners.

I think the question of what happened to Malcom 1 through 9 is that a client from France mistook X for the number 10 roman numerals.  Then you get the - oh, I saw this in the movies or TV, and when they realize that a lot of this was made up, they are surprised by how beautiful Harlem is today.  


You also have a Jazz show don’t you?

Yes, my neighbor Craig Harris, a world renowned jazz musician and I started Harlem Jazz Boxx as a way to bring quality affordable jazz to the community.  

Since the pandemic, we have the Friday evening shows going on.  Our hope is to bring back the Tuesday afternoons in the Summer if things pick up. 


How is your tour different from downtown? 

 I think one of the things that sets our tours apart from the downtown tours is our connection to the community, the meal that is included, and trying our best to have them shop local while here.  


How do you feel about the question, Is Harlem safe?

I let them know that they are more likely to be a victim of crime downtime than in Harlem and the news is very good at portraying the neighborhood as not being safe.   


What is it that people don't get about Harlem?

That it is and also was a multicultural neighborhood with three distinct personalities representing the three neighborhoods.  


Name one good thing about gentrification in Harlem?

Supermarkets and banks. 


Sylvia’s or Amy Ruths? And why?

Wow, this is tough - Amy Ruth's because I get faster service there -:).  


What's your go-to for fun uptown?

One of the parks, there is so much for us to do in the various parks we have access to.   


What do you despise most about tourism?

Being downtown and getting caught up in the crowds.  


Did you have a b-girl name or nickname growing up?

Yes, but I won't tell you.  Everyone called me CJ.


What is your most treasured possession?

A beautiful aloe plant that I got from my grandparents’ farm in the South, and still have today.   


What would your superpower be?

I never forget anything.


What do you most dislike about the tourism business?

When you get a call and people think you are sitting around waiting for them to do a tour at 2 pm.    


If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?

People, we as a society have lost numerous ethnic groups  


What is your favorite meal?

Rack of lamb, mash potatoes, string beans, and cheesecake.   


Which book changed your life?

The Autobiography of Malcom X.  I think I have read that book more than three times and each time I see things in a different way, because of the time that has passed.  To me people still don't get how he was evolving as a man and his contributions to our history as a people.  


What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Still thinking about that.  I feel like Peter Pan right now.  


What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Sleeping late and going seven days a week between my fulltime job and Welcome to Harlem.  


What is the worst job you’ve ever done?

 A part-telemarketer.  


How do you relax?

Music, Netflix and good food. 


Doug E or Slick Rick? And why?

Doug E -  that's not fair.  He’s from Harlem!


How would you like Harlem to be remembered?

A special place with a never ending story unfolding each day.  


What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Keep your circle of trust very small.  Not everyone you think is a friend is looking out for your best interests.  


Why did you decide to start a tour business?

I started my business all by accident.  One of my dearest friends - Valerie Jo Bradley received grant funds to teach individuals how to be tour guides. I took the course and enjoyed it.  That gave me the idea to start, Welcome to Harlem. 

Carolyn and Craig are currently moving to a new church for the Harlem Jazz Box.  You can go to their website for all of the scheduled show dates, times, and locations.