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  • Helanius J. Wilkins

A 7-Mile Walk With You, Houston

A month later I am still reflecting on my visit to Houston, TX that took place during the latter part of April. A long time has passed since I last spent any significant time in this sprawling and impressive metropolis, the 4th largest U.S. city. Looking back on the planning for this trip I remember how I quickly became excited about returning to the Rothko Chapel, one of my favorite places in the world. I also remember pondering options to learn about “H-Town” (one of the many nicknames that it is affectionately called) and its history while also leaning into cultivating relationships for future returns to engage disparate community-members through The Conversation Series: Stitching the Geopolitical Quilt to Re-Body Belonging. In my usual fashion, I started identifying, and receiving recommendations from others for, places/neighborhoods/people to orient to H-Town. I wanted to focus on art/artisans, legacy spaces, remembered places, and off-the-beaten-path opportunities to learn the lesser-known histories/stories about people and the ever-evolving city. I knew that I wanted to experience Houston in ways not typically packaged in the slick touristy brochures and often pricey adventures.

When all was said and done, I opted to do what propelled me into my current journey – walk. Abandoning all plans and forgoing a dense schedule of running around from sight to sight and person to person, I decided to put on my sneakers and just walk – walk with Houston. Let the sights and sounds that I encountered land on me as a welcoming unfiltered guide. I ended up walking 7 miles – from the edge of University Place to The Museum District through Midtown to Downtown. It was the best decision I ever made.

The opportunity to visit Houston was sparked by an invitation from DiverseWorks Curator Ashley DeHoyos. We met by chance when she attended Leaning Into Entering/Exiting Community: Social Justice-based Art With An Eye Toward Long-Term Impact, a breakout session that I curated and facilitated as part of the National Performance Network (NPN) virtual conference that took place earlier this year, January 26 – February 1. A connection was instantly realized as many of the themes central to my breakout session were in direct dialogue with those for a symposium that she was curating. My breakout session was organized as a case study to discuss the launch and development of The Conversation Series: Stitching the Geopolitical Quilt to Re-Body Belonging, and what took place during a 2-week creation and community-engagements residency in rural northern Michigan and results of the work. Overlapping Territories Symposium, organized by Ashley, centered on people and their connection to land through topics including Indigeneity, settler-colonialism, migration, and belonging. I was among the panelists for the Territory of Care: Body and Land As Living Legacy panel.

My lingering thoughts and reflections have much to do with the inspiration, wonderment, and sense of belonging that I experienced at the Overlapping Territories Symposium and the gratitude I feel for Ashley’s invitation. Attending the symposium both as an audience-participant and a panelist was the food for my soul that I never knew I needed. I am sparked by so many new curiosities and my world has been made exponentially richer because of the humans/artists/thinkers/dreamers/artist-activists that I engaged with and learned from and with - some have become new friends. Among the impressive participants were Nikesha Breeze, JD Pluecker, Matt Manalo, and, of course, Ashley DeHoyos.

Walking, for me, has become a metaphor for action-ing forward. The physical practice of walking is only one of multiple ways to walk. I currently lean more into walking as a practice of deep listening and contributing in whatever ways I can toward making a positive difference. I believe that we can get to greater love and create more just and equitable landscapes of potentiality by facing uncertainty and discomfort and working through it. It feels strange to say this against a societal backdrop of ongoing political and social divisiveness, structural racism reckoning, and mass shootings. But I remain anchored in hope…and I know that hope alone will not shift the tide. Walking turns my hope into action-ing forward.

My 7-mile walk with H-Town was multiplied many times over the physical walk through multiple neighborhoods. My walk was also each panel I attended as part of the Overlapping Territories Symposium, each new introduction to someone who I did not know before, each new experience and reorientation through the perspectives of others, each new opportunity to learn, to grow, to shareback. Choosing to walk, and to do so unapologetically, is the best decision I can make. It is the best decision that I continue to make.


Top Image: From EntangleMEN: from the dugout, a screendance project that is part of The Conversation Series: Stitching the Geopolitical Quilt to Re-Body Belonging

Photography by Carlos D. Flores / Watcheye Studio ©August 2020.

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