Jamaican Essayist Tells Baylor Crowd that Walking Helps Him Coexist with Others
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WACO, Texas (Feb. 2, 2018) – “What does it mean to coexist?”
This is a question that professor and essayist Garnette Cadogan, regularly asks his students at Massachusetts Institute of Technlogy (MIT).
Cadogan, who penned the essays, “Walking While Black” and “Due North,” attempts to answer this question every night as he walks the city streets and interacts with those he encounters.
“Walking is, in many ways, my home,” he told a group of students, faculty and staff at the Baylor University Honors College lecture on Feb.1. “Walking home became my home. It became a place to feel and feel comfortably.”
Alan Jacobs, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Humanities in the Honors College, moderated the conversation, “Walking and Writing in the City,” which covered the topics of Cadogan’s upbringing, passion for walking and Christian faith.
“Serendipity, a mentor once told me, is a secular way of speaking of grace; it’s unearned favor,” Cadogan wrote in his essay “Walking While Black.” “Seen theologically, then, walking is an act of faith.”
Cadogan began walking at a young age in order to escape his rough family life and get around the island of Jamaica.
“I became an obsessive walker as a matter of necessity,” Cadogan wrote in his essay “Due North.” “Too poor to take taxis when I was growing up in Jamaica, and living in a neighborhood where taxis (and, alas, friends) refused to go at night, I learned to walk wherever and whenever to get home.”
As he got older, however, Cadogan began to shift his thinking about walking as an escape to an opportunity.
“Walking became a way to gather and encounter stories,” he said to the Baylor crowd. “My walking is about encounters, not solitude. It’s partially about the arrival, but the arrival of encounters and encounters with others.”
Cadogan revealed that he walks at nighttime, hardly ever sleeping for more than four hours. He jokingly explained that his roommates in Cambridge, Massachusetts, believe he is a spy, simply because he is never home. Cadogan smiled and said when he wasn’t working, he was walking and his favorite walks happen around midnight.
“There is a solidarity to the night,” Cadogan said. “There is camaraderie during these hours between the police officers and the homeless, the bartenders and the patrons, waiters and the public transportation staff. People are more willing to tell you about their lives at night because of this bond. We are walking among neighbors, not strangers.”
Cadogan is a 2017-2018 Martin Luther King Jr. visiting scholar in the department of urban studies and planning at MIT, a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia and a visiting scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University.
He is also editor-at-large for “Non-Stop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas” and co-editor of the “Oxford Handbook of the Harlem Renaissance.” His research focuses on history, culture, the arts, urban life, the vitality and inequality of cities and the challenges of pluralism.
Cadogan and Jacobs discussed walking from the unique perspective of a California college. Upon building the school, the designers decided to build the whole campus without sidewalks. According to the designers, after a couple of months, they would see where students walk and build sidewalks accordingly. Instead of telling people where to go, these designers wanted to let students lead the way.
“Colleges so often fail to recognize stories, not designs,” Cadogan said. “Each step is the first word of a story, each footstep is a signature.”
As he recalled his own life story and the stories of individuals whom he has encountered on his walks, Cadogan explains the concept of “arrival.”
“Walking isn’t about mastering, it’s about mystery,” Cadogan said. “No matter how much I walk, there will still be mystery. The streets are bursting with mystery. Arrival never actually happens. There are too many things to keep my arrival at bay – my race, ignorance about other parts of the world, who I am – I can never fully arrive. But that is the hope in walking, hoping for arrival.”
by Brooke Battersby, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805
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