Our Story

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Straight Out of Harlem, Inc. (SOH) was the sole creative outlet among retail stores and bodegas in Sugar Hill. When it opened in 2005, the SOH storefront was an integral part of the community, addressing its broader needs by producing public programs, exhibitions, and salons that explored contemporary cultural issues, and by promoting and selling the work of more than 250 local and global artists who created functional and wearable art.    

Unfortunately, by 2009 the recession deepen and store after store closed and by the summer of 2009 SOH, like so many other entrepreneurial ventures in the neighborhood, SOH closed its storefront, shut down by escalating, prohibitive rent, and a consumer base decimated by rising unemployment.    

For the past five years Janet Rodriguez, SOH proprietor, has devoted her time and expertise to empowering underemployed, creative individuals and training unskilled workers with limited access to higher education and few opportunities for employment.    

SOH's new on-line shopping site features some of the creative entrepreneurs Janet has worked with in the past five years, as well of artists who sold their wares at SOH and others.   

Executive Team

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Janet Rodriguez, Proprietor

Janet Rodriguez, is the Founding President & CEO SoHarlem, Inc., a community-based social enterprise creating cultural industry jobs and enhancing public spaces in the Manhattanville Factory District. SoHarlem, Inc. incubates creative entrepreneurs in need of space and business resources.  

Prior to establishing SoHarlem, Inc. she served as Vice President of the JPMorgan Chase Global Philanthropy Group responsible for providing leadership and support to the National Community Relations team. As the subject matter expert in arts and culture, she was responsible for directing the national arts & culture initiatives across the country.   

Rodriguez is also the owner Straight Out of Harlem, Inc. (SOH) a creative outlet which she established in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem in 2005 to ensure that the ethnic, cultural, aesthetic traditions and practices of the community were kept vital during a time of social change and neighborhood transition.

Rodriguez is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of the Arts, MFA in Arts Administration; Columbia University’s Teachers College, MA in Art Education; and New York University, BS, Art Education.   

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Sonia G. Espinet, Director of Sales and Marketing

Sonia G. Espinet, Director of Sales and Marketing, joins her aunt, Straight Out of Harlem Proprietor, Janet Rodriguez, after an eight year hiatus. Her mother is Straight Out of Harlem's Resident Maker, Betania Medina. 

Ms. Espinet helped establish, and later managed, Straight Out of Harlem: Creative Outlet (SoHarlem) in Sugar Hill which featured works of art by local, regional, national and global artists and artisans. In addition to hosting SoHarlem arts salons, she was responsible for sales, inventory stock and flow, all customer service, and web communications. Despite leaving in 2009 to pursue her education, she remained close to the business by serving as a volunteer to SoHarlem, Inc.,Straight Out of Harlem’s sister non-for-profit entity, from 2011 to 2015.   

Ms. Espinet attended A. Philip Randolph Campus High School, The Institute of Culinary Education, and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey at New Brunswick, where she received her degree in Africana Studies and History. With hopes to attend The University of Pennsylvania for graduate study and working in a K-12 charter school in Camden, NJ, Ms. Espinet resides in South Jersey with her boyfriend and two rescue cats.