During the summer of 2008, I visited New York City and took a few really long walks in Manhattan. I was in the city to pursue research at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for my book on the Black Arts Movement. In retrospect, my most important intellectual experiences during the visit were my extended walks throughout the city.
One day while there, I walked 80 blocks, and the next day, I walked a little more than 100 blocks. I took my time moving along different sections of the city, worrying less about moving at a shift pace and spending more time observing my different surroundings and regularly ruminating on various ideas. I can't pinpoint it exactly, but there was something empowering about the processes of taking that time to walk and think and observe.
Those long wanderings in New York City were a contrast from my daily routines in St. Louis and southern Illinois where car rides are the most common form of transportation across extended distances. Taking to the streets, as it were, that summer in this large metropolis provided me with several intrinsic rewards. For one, I treated my mind and body to an hours long uninterrupted trek filled with all kinds of stimulating sensory elements along the way. The experience gave me the satisfying feeling that I was doing intellectual work that was important for personal growth, and I felt liberated by my many options of mobility along the journeys as well as my freedom from a specific schedule and destination.
My walk in New York City that year inspired me to start taking groups of students to the city for the last few summers starting in 2009. Leading up to the first trip, I told a couple of my future travelers about my lengthy seemingly directionless excursions in the city and how empowering it was for me. Consequently, as soon as we made it to our hotel on the evening we arrived to New York in the summer 2009, those two travelers were off and walking blocks and blocks and blocks across the city.
A Notebook on Black Intellectual Histories