A WALK IN HARLEM by: Erin Michelle Washington
As I walk through Harlem, through the streets paved with gold of wrappers from candy paper and glistening shimmers of the sun on the pavement, I notice a man. His hair grey, his eyes a dark brown with the blue ring around them denoting his age. I see him. For some reason I feel I know him, like I really see him. He is one of the most regal men I have seen walking these streets. As we both began to cross 135th street, we lock eyes. At this moment, a smell of violence erupts around me and the man walks across the street a little ahead of me. It is at this moment that I finally look down at the body of this man, come back to earth with this man, and see that he has a sweat suit on and sneakers and shit coming down his clothes. This man was walking and shitting on himself crossing the street in Harlem on 135th street. I was in shock. I began to feel for him, to feel embarrassed for him, to long to help him. But he continued to walk, with a steady pace as if nothing was happening. He did not run across the street. He strutted across the street with an air as regal as a King. This man was a King. As soon as we both hit the corner of 135th street, a huge mound of shit escaped his sweatpants and he, like a magician, caught it in just the right time as he continued to walk with stride directly into the Schomburg Center. He walked straight to the restroom. No one stopped him.
This is Blk space. An opportunity to not be seen for what is directly on your body. A space that offers the chance to see past the marks that this country has placed on the body. For this very reason, Blk spaces are important for me and their existence I do not take lightly. This man walked across the street shitting on himself- this King- this black space with(in) himself, was walking across the street shitting on himself and entered the Schomburg Center. He was able to enter as he was- covered in shit, a King. His smell, the stains on his sweats, the regal look on his face, his blue ringed eyes, the years of his experience -all walked into this space, the Schomburg Center. Arthur Schomburg was told he had no history as a child in Puerto Rico by his white teacher and began a lifetime quest of collecting books, magazines, papers and forming this library center, the Schomburg that houses primary resources and historical artifacts from all parts of the African diaspora. This King was just entering his compound-his safe space. Schomburg created a space up in Harlem on 135th street that scholars and Kings could enter, as they are.
Had I been walking down another street, security would have intercepted. Had I been downtown, the door would have been locked. But the Schomburg Center, with all its contradictions in and of space, was open to a King who needed to get some relief. Blk spaces allow for curves to the systems permitting new rules to be created even when the structure gets to rigid. And yes, at times we were paid late. And yes, they do not tell you until late. And yes, they do not reveal that though they are apart of the New York Public Library System they are rarely given monies as libraries in other parts of the city. But why? They serving community. Had it not been for this space being in a fully functioning existence, this King would have had to keep walking. But luckily he did not. The Schomburg is there-the Blk space is actively present.