I could’ve chosen anywhere in the world to go to graduate school. I could’ve gone to Atlanta or Birmingham or D.C. or Houston or L.A. Hell I could’ve stayed in Oxford, MS at UM. So what was it about New York City, you may ask?
It’s story time, kids.
In the summer, when my brother and I were out of school – around elementary school age, my father would offer us money to complete papers on African American historical figures. That was kind of our allowance. He never forced us to write them. Rather the arrangement was more like Hey, I’ll give you $20 if you write me two pages on so-and-so… it was up to us if we wanted the money or not. I must’ve wrote 20 pages worth of papers for my dad one summer. Yeah, I collected big time over the years but I retained the information just the same.
Malcolm X, the Little Rock Nine, Jackie Robinson, Shirley Chisholm, Stokley Carmichael, The Black Panther Party, Assata Shakur – he didn’t want us to write about the usual suspects that they taught in school… I distinctly remember writing a paper about The Harlem Renaissance and that set something off inside of me. Zora Neal Hurston, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Duke Ellington, Gwendlyn Bennett – all that blackness and brilliance in one place!!! My mind was blown. But Harlem/NYC remained sort of mythical in my mind, lacking any real concreteness. It was like the Mt. Olympus of black literati.
Since I was a child, NYC had an allure that I could never really shake. I think the first time I could even conceive living in a place like that was watching Run’s House on MTV. I remember them living in that big ass house in Jersey, where most of the show took place, but operating business-wise out of the city. Uncle Russ’ office was there and he featured prominently in the show. Vanessa and Angela started Pastry there. Run himself was from Queens. That show was really the first time I saw a successful, black family that was enterprising and ambitious. All their children felt empowered to take to the concrete jungle and carve out their own piece of it. The backdrop? New York City. It’s funny how images make things attainable in the mind of a child.
As I got older, shows like Rap City and 106&Park, both set in NYC, were so interesting to me. The way they dressed, the way they talked, all the celebrities that came through – it was like peeking into a different world. As a kid in south Mississippi, it seemed like a world far, far away but oh so entrancing. And who can forget Alicia Keys and Jay Z’s iconic, Empire State of Mind. It was on repeat in my head for literal years after it came out. I still play it as a moral booster sometimes.
I found myself looking up to people that called New York City home at one point or another. Not just rappers, ball players, and celebrities, but intellectuals and creatives as well.
I was (and still am) a YouTube addict. A lot of my favorite YouTubers were either from the city or had relocated there. AkilahObviously was closest to my background, hailing from Memphis, TN – a fellow Southerner – and I related to her on that level and became a fan immediately. Seeing so many people so close to my age who had probably moved heaven and hell to call NYC home made it seem that much more attainable.
I downloaded Audible just to listen to Jenifer Lewis’ book when it came out. I had seen her in countless movies and she had a presence that I always found inspiring. Listening to her story, she too, had found her way to NYC from her small hometown to pursue her dreams. I kept my Audible subscription throughout college and listened to Issa Rae and Charlemagne the God’s books. They had made their way to NYC in search of making their dreams a reality. While it didn’t work out so hot for Issa, it was still a valuable learning experience and I took the success that Charlemagne and Ms. Lewis had found as a sign that my dreams could have a chance too if I could just make it there. I also became a fan of the Loudspeakers Network roster of podcasts – in particular The Read and The Friend Zone. Crissle and Fury (The Read) were both NYC transplants from the South and Assante and Dustin (The Friend Zone) had also come to NYC from Atlanta and Flint, MI, respectively.
Both shows have episodes detailing the trials and tribulations of adapting to New York City and what all of these examples made clear was that this would be no small feat.
Somewhere around my junior year of college, I vowed to myself that NYC was mine for the taking. Getting there was another question, though.
As graduation came closer, the realization of just how difficult making the leap to NYC would be hit. I started looking at apartments in the Harlem area, thinking I would just be able to pick up and move after undergrad with the savings I’d accrued from working at Chipotle for a year and a half. The rent prices I was seeing said otherwise yet it beckoned still.
Funny enough, the Hamilton Soundtrack was the final nail in the coffin. Where does Hamilton set out for in the opening number? New York City. The refrain In New York you can be a new man/ In New York you can be a new man from the opening number rang in my ears.
Put a pencil to his temple, connected it to his brain/
and he wrote his first refrain, a testament to his pain
If that isn’t a testament to the power of the pen, I don’t know what is. Despite all odds, this man wrote himself into history. And that was just the opening number.
The realization that grad school would be my trojan horse hit on the first line of the first verse of the third number: My Shot.
Ima get a scholarship to King’s College/
I probably shouldn’t brag but dag I amaze and astonish
AHA!! I had entertained the idea of graduate school before but never graduate school IN NYC. I doubt Lin Manuel Miranda will ever read this but his play basically made up my mind. And I actually did manage to secure some scholarship money, not at King’s College though.
Since I’ll be in such close proximity to Broadway, I started looking for tickets to see the show, but those prices tell me that it’s highly unlikely but the soundtrack still gets rotation at least twice a month.
History is happenin’ in Manhattan and [I] just happen to be/
In the greatest city in the world, in the greatest city in the world