After the re-election of George W. Bush, I was done with America. Less than a year into Bush’s second term, I left the United States for the first time. At the tender age of 34, I moved to Paris to be like James Baldwin. With money from a writing fellowship, I was confident that I was going to compose ‘the book’; but I was not convinced that I would return to the States. Upon the City of Lights streets, I would walk, wander and wonder. Having been seduced not long before my move by French existentialism, I wrestled with what it meant to be a Black preacher with an artist’s heart and a love for Sophia. I tramped about Paris, in a black scarf, black sweater and black pants because that was Baldwin’s attire when he first arrived in Paris.
I chose to live in Saint-Germain-des-Prés –the haunt of Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. My small apartment was on rue Sabot and set above a café that was rumored to be where Baldwin and Camus had their infamous falling out. I was invited to give a humanity and nonviolence at Hotel de Ville de Lyon.
In the well-appointed lecture hall, gold Baroque sculptures lit by fifteen wall-mounted chandeliers and an additional twenty or so hanging from the ceiling, I began my discourse with two quotes as existential books ends: “The artist must never side with those who are the makers of history but rather those who are the victim of it,” admonished Albert Camus. In like manner, James Baldwin, my other soul mate, demanded that, “the artist must embrace that state of being that most men must necessarily avoid, that is the state of being alone.”
I have since returned to United States to live and to Paris every year. Through it all, I have maintained by artist’s sensibilities. In fact, my highest aspiration is to be an artist. As the election season enters into final lap, the course will be lined with unimaginative half truths. Family values and patriotism will be passed along like a beat up track baton–the possession of a losing team. The artist , however, will not be in that rat race or passive observer in the stands but rather, carving out a new path and space–seldom traveled but all the difference.
-Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou