James De La Vega grew up in “Spanish Harlem” where, according to James, many of the local kids most admired the neighborhood drug dealers. James says that this was not because they wanted to sell drugs; they did not believe the world of possibilities and dreams was open to them. With the caring support of his parents, he worked hard to stay on a path that would lead him to his dreams.
In the 9th grade, James De La Vega received a full scholarship to York Prep where he worked hard and excelled. In 1990 his hard work once again paid off and he was named York’s valedictorian. During his graduation speech he said, “In my dreams, I have always seen myself going further and further in life, always taking what’s there to be offered; and when I had the opportunity to attend York Preparatory School as a freshman on a full scholarship, I took advantage of it.” After graduating from York, James went on to Cornell University. Although he was off to bigger and better things, he never forgot us at York or his Spanish Harlem roots.
After graduating from Cornell, James did a short stint as a York Prep art teacher. At the same time, he replaced graffiti-covered walls in his childhood neighborhood with murals of famous Puerto Rican and Mexican heroes. James’ goal was to encourage, inspire, and give to others. James’ art grew in popularity and he soon opened his own art studio, Galeria De La Vega, now located on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village. Recently, James was featured as one of America’s great innovators in the October issue of Smithsonian Magazine. In a special issue titled, 37 Under 36: America’s Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences, James speaks of his experiences in an article titled “The Marked Man.” The article is available at https://www.smithsonianmag.com.
James continues to welcome and give back to us at York, and we are fortunate to have him as a member of our community.