It’s important for me to be at academic conferences and other events that I can speak at, present at, or, at the very least, attend.
Some of these are hip-hop related, while sometimes, I bring hip-hop into non-hip-hop spaces. Sharing my ideas and my work is important, as anyone who does this sort of thing will tell you, not only for the good of the cause, but to build up your own reputation in your field. Now, sometimes, academics gon’ academic, and be a bit stingy when it comes to those who don’t have letters after their name or degrees on their wall, so it is particularly urgent for me — a very non-traditional academic, more of an independent scholar — to find a way to get to the conferences that welcome me and my work.
As other independent scholars will tell you, it can often be difficult to find the funds to cover such trips. Between transportation, lodging, conference registrations, food, and incidentals, the already difficult life of a road-warrior can be extremely costly without the institutional support that some folks have at their disposal.
Now, after doing this for several years out of my own pocket, I’m blessed in that I’m now at a point where I do get paid to appear at some of these kinds of events, to give a talk or a special presentation.
But not all.
Still, I have to be there.
Sometimes, to maximize whatever budget I might have, transportation has to be… creative.
Like this last weekend.
This year, my presentation, “Hip-Hop As Social Justice Journalism” was accepted at the HipHop Literacies Conference, to be held at Ohio State University. I had previously presented at an iteration of that conference when it rolled into my neck of the woods, at John Jay College in NYC, so I was familiar with the vibe, the kinds of folks who I would interact with, and the lovingly inspirational leadership of its organizer, Dr. Elaine Richardson, affectionately a.k.a Dr. E.
The same weekend, I was also asked to deliver an opening keynote at a collaborative event between Carnegie Mellon University, Google, and my good friends at HipHopHacks, to be held at Google’s Bakery Square location in Pittsburgh.
Timing-wise, it could work. Columbus, Ohio isn’t far from Pittsburgh. The HipHop Literacies conference was all day on Friday, the hackathon event, Saturday morning.
After researching a slew of options, here’s the slightly insane way I handled this:
Fly from Newark, NJ to Columbus, Ohio. Earliest flight (6:20am) was the cheapest (I paid with ‘miles,’ but still), but that would mean I would get to my hotel at 10am, so unless I got lucky with a VERY early checkin, I’d have to kill a LOT of time.
Narrator: He got lucky.
Wow, thank you Red Roof Plus, that was awesome, I really appreciate that.
Within short walking distance to food places, and not-so-short walking distance to a liquor store (which was fine, cuz priorities). And super short Uber ride to OSU, I was in good shape. I caught up on sleep a bit, worked on the presentation and talk, and generally, just took it easy — knowing what was coming.
Up early, check out, bring alllll my stuff with me, Uber ride to OSU to attend the conference (which, btw, was truly inspiring, the type of event that gives me the fuel to do all this craziness in the first place).
Now here, it got tricky.
Remember, I’m checked out, so after the conference, I had to trudge my carry-on and backpack around a drizzley downtown Columbus, around 9 p.m., find a nice bar (which I did, shouts to Hadley’s Bar + Kitchen) and slowwwwwwwly driiiiiinkkkkkkk maaaannnnnyyyyyy beeeeeerrrrrrrsssss until my 12:55 a.m. overnight Greyhound bus to Pittsburgh.
It was the only way.
The bus, predictably, arrived late, so I spent a good deal of prime people-watching time sitting in the Greyhound station. Though I was now getting very tired, this was ok. After all, I’d normally be getting into Pittsburgh at 4:30 a.m. I had strategically booked a (not-so-cheap) hotel downtown near the station, so I could walk there when I got in, but there was no way I would get an early check-in at 5 a.m. So, a later bus would reduce the many many hours of time I’d have to kill before I could lay my increasingly exhausted self down.
Yet somehow, the bus made up time and I got in at 4:30 a.m. (shouts to the sloshingly intoxicated auntie type who, of course, sat next to me. Luckily, she fell asleep. Not so luckily, she fell asleep partially on me). Anyway, it was ok. I traipsed a few pre-dawn downtown Pittsburgh blocks to the hotel. My not-so-brilliant plan was to then ask them to hold my luggage while I stumbled around town looking for the first place to open that had coffee — though I was starting to convince myself to dip into the budget stash and pay more for an early check-in.
Narrator: He didn’t have to.
No way! Thank you Courtyard Marriott!!
So, a long nap, a hot shower, an Uber ride and I was unexpectedly bright-eyed and ready to kick it at Google. (Coincidentally, Uber was giving me 30% off up to $6 for the precise 4 days I was away, an unexpected and helpful surprise. So, thanks Uber.)
After the hackathon events (which were fun and as inspiring as the first conference), dinner and drinks with my cohort, I Uber’d back to the hotel, collapsed into a fatigued lump on the bed, and awoke at 6 a.m. to gather my stuff and walk a couple of blocks to catch a 7:30 a.m. Amtrak back to Newark.
Train. For nine hours.
Which was fine because it gave me time to write all this. Plus, it really was the most relaxing part of the trip. Thanks, Amtrak.
Spending money, being away from home, wife, doggo, and #BabyGirlFaces is tough. But man, the work I do is important. People need to hear what the incredible journalists, activists, and I put together with the (award-winning) News Beat podcast. We tackle important social justice issues. We show people how to get involved. And we make it sound DOPE.
Places like Carnegie Mellon and Google can only benefit from hearing me talk about the brilliance that hip-hop minded folk can apply to areas such as education, science, technology, coding, and hacking. All of these audiences were very receptive and I was honored and inspired to be there to share these thoughts and the stories of those really doing this work.
I do it because it is important. And when I can afford it, or I’m paid, I’ll sometimes take the easy road (or flight, as it were). But sometimes, the road(s) are not that easy. Sometimes, the air is bumpy. The tracks have debris. There’s a traffic jam.
It doesn’t matter. You do what you have to do to be where you have to be. I am blessed and privileged and I know that for others, this roundabout weekend would still have been impossible. But nothing is truly impossible. I’ve been rejected by many conferences. I had to do many talks and presentations for free before I started to get paid. I didn’t know how to do any of this, but I just went and did it until I got it right. If you have a message and a place you need to be to deliver it, you can find a way. Fly if you can. Take the train. Take the bus. Take a car. Walk. Crawl. Jump on someone’s back.
And to keep it a hundred, I know that for many, these roads are much more challenging. For far too many, there are forces at work that are designed to roadblock you, and I understand that. But I also know that many of your peers faced many of those same challenges, and made it through. I see them at these events all the time. I tell their stories and am inspired by their drive, devotion and, ability to persevere through any obstacle.
They’ve paved that road for you to follow.
Even if you don’t see it now, you will.
I’ll see you at the next stop. All aboard.