Leah Reads: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I looked it up on a map. I lived two miles from where the author Ta-Nehisi Coates grew up.

I was twenty-five and living in a loft apartment on the corner of Eutaw and Centre Streets in Baltimore. That apartment had security cameras and gates and a sentry at the front desk. Camden Yards was a mile south, Lexington Market a couple of blocks away, and West Baltimore, where Coates had lived, lay just past Seton Hill to my left. When I went running every morning before work, I ran right, always right, out of the alley next to my building, then through the beautiful stretch of Mt. Vernon and down around Inner Harbor.

I never went left.

I loved where I lived. I loved my tiny spiral staircase and my view of Johns Hopkins and the drive through Roland Park to get to my classes at Notre Dame of Maryland. I loved the restuarants I couldn’t afford and the buildings and my walks along Charles Street. I felt alive there.

At this time, I was working full-time for my uncle downtown so I could pay for my grad school full-time uptown. Like all white women living in a city, my biggest fears were rats and rapists. My worries were making tuition and new friends. I saw my first drawn gun in Baltimore, and witnessed my first mugging. Every Friday night in the warm months shots would ring out beyond my tall windows. I’d vaguely worry about a stray bullet making its way inside, then would turn back to whatever movie I was watching and just turn up the volume. When David and I moved out of the city it was because we wanted an affordable house, green space, a place without smog laying like a blanket over the horizon. But it was a car chase that did it, with a crash and police sirens and lots of guns drawn and us crouching behind our cars for safety. But I was never in it. I was around it, beyond it. Some could say I was above it.

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME is heartbreaking. It’s raw and beautiful and hard. It’s really hard. Ta-Nehisi Coates narrates the audio version as letters to his fifteen-year-old son. He describes the experience of a young Black man growing up in this country with honest sharpness and beauty. His voice, with the accent of his Baltimore roots, is a message to us. It’s both a mirror and a lens.

He only lived two miles away.

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