"...Now I'm down in Tribeca, right next to DeNiro, but I'll be hood forever. I'm the new Sinatra and since I made it here, I can make it anywhere. Yeah they love me everywhere. I used to cop in Harlem. All of my Dominicanos right there up on Broadway... " (Jay Z: "Empire State of Mind")
We leave for New York on Sunday and I am listening to Jay Z's song, "Empire State of Mind". Whenever I hear the song, I think of San Francisco. It may seem odd that a song about New York reminds me of the Bay. But, I first listened to the song at VONA in Northern California.
VONA is a writing workshop for writers of color that used to be held at USF and is now held at UC Berkeley. As soon as I arrived, it felt like I was home amongst all the brown and black writers. I had never had that kind of community before. It felt like a real revolution. Like I was part of something. I made friends with many people, some for life, and the class was transformative. I found my voice and I got the positive feedback I needed to feel like I could do the creative thing. In short, I became a writer there at VONA.
But the thing I remember the most, I can still relive it if I close my eyes, is our last night in San Francisco. The reading had ended and we went out dancing at a converted Victorian that housed a bar slash club. The song "Empire State of Mind" came on and the place went crazy. Many of the writers in VONA were from New York and it seemed as if they knew every word to the song. We danced for what seemed like hours to the song, jumping up and down and swaying to the music with our hands in the air, all united in our joy.
Now, as I listen to the song again, it all keeps flooding back. The memory of that evening will stay with me forever. It was the first time I felt like I belonged. And where I learned that I could really make it anywhere.