Half poet, half performer, Harlem Heritage Tours founder and lead guide Neal Shoemaker offers an extraordinary, thought-provoking glimpse into US black history via his two-hour guided walks around the New York streets where it really happened.
Born and raised in a housing project sited right across the road from Malcolm X's old stamping ground and mosque on Sixth Avenue, Neal clearly knows more about Harlem than most residents have forgotten. And how he loves his patch - it is his evident affection and enthusiasm for the place that makes his sidewalk storytelling feel so real.
The late Steve Jobs himself could not fail to be impressed by the home-customised Ipad Neal carries strapped to his palm, hooked up to a powerful speaker in his backpack.
'Let's go right on back to 1963,' he says, flashing up a short film clip on his iPad. It is Malcolm X, speaking, on the very spot we are standing and we are for a moment transported back forty years.
So, full marks for innovative use of multimedia but what really makes this tour special are Neal's exceptional speaking skills. I'd call him a raconteur, except this term does not do his stylish blend of rhetoric and rap full justice.
Take your kids and teens on this tour - his delivery will draw in even the most jaded. And let the uncertain be reassured, it was as safe as houses, not so much mean streets as main streets. There may be an irony in this - standing on 116th Street Neal played us some of Bobby Womack's 1973 soul hit Across 110th Street, explaining that in the bad old days 110 was the crime line no-one dared breach.
Bringing the present into focus like this, with a colloquial yet exceptionally clever rendition of the past, delivered on the street, with Ipad at the right hand - is this actually a new form of history? You decide - take the tour.
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