Ken Miles is affectionately called the Mayor of Harlem amongst some of his best friends. He was born in Harlem along with his twin brother Joe. Miles began his career as an NBC page and transitioned to digital media and advertising. His current role at Hire Harlem reconnects him with the community he loves. Meanwhile, positions on west Harlem’s community board and youth work keep him in tune with the neighborhood’s pulse.
Tell me about Hire Harlem and your role as Director of Partnerships?
Hire Harlem is a platform built to help identify Black, LatinX, and women owned businesses in Harlem. In short, we remove the guesswork out of ownership. Our goal is to help make that process simpler. My responsibility as Director of Partnerships is to facilitate getting the message out to a range of existing and potential stakeholders about the role the platform hopes to serve, and ways to collaborate for the purposes of advancing the mission of Hire Harlem.
How would describe the impact of your work in the Harlem community?
Community is at the center of my work. I’d say the most important impact of my work is greater visibility, both for the community I continue to serve, and my own journey in coming to understand why this work drives me. Whether it’s this Hire Harlem startup journey, serving on the Community Board in West Harlem, being appointed to County Committee, or even helping to build out a summer youth employment program in West Harlem. There’s an opportunity to share insights every step of the way to an audience for whom you being visible makes a difference to how they think about the world they’re in, and their role in it.
What do you think has kept you committed to the Harlem community?
A few things have kept me committed to Harlem; especially a stronger understanding of my shared connection to my family’s history, which has reinforced the belief that I’m meant to work and serve here. A few years ago, I discovered through a book of sermons my great aunt gave me belonging to my great-great grandmother, that her church participated in the Blumstein’s boycott in the early 1940s on 125th Street alongside a young preacher named Adam Clayton Powell. In the book, I stumbled across a sermon titled “Don’t Work Where You Can’t Shop,” which laid out the 12-day boycott agenda and how it came about. I was floored. That made me think more about a community’s ties to its collective history, and how we go about the work of trying to remember that history in the face of active erasure (gentrification). We can hope for it, but we can also design for it. On a more somber note, my twin brother Joe passed from cancer –his work often kept him in Harlem.
Why do you think friends refer to you as the ‘Mayor of Harlem’?
My translation of that reference is they see me as someone who is a connector, who plugs others into opportunities, strives to put his community at the forefront of his work, and seeks to be a vessel for others. My story of struggle isn’t much different than other people’s, but I strive to make that story more transparent. My work centers on the intersection of tech, higher education and access, policy, community development, and design. The future requires all of us, so let’s build.