“New York, New York” (personal narrative)

I already moved out once. Orlando –– three and a half hours away from home –– seemed like the best place where I could start fresh, be independent, stretch my limbs, roam free. If I knew anything at all at the age of 17, I knew I needed to be released from parental supervision. The University of Central Florida was beckoning to me. At least that’s what I convinced myself.

Whatever I was looking for, I didn’t find much of it. 

I fostered some halfhearted friendships (and some sincere ones), killed time at the club on weekends, and skipped a lot of classes. Four months of this cycle passed by until reality slowly caved into my chest: An undeclared major with no job, no extracurriculars, and absolutely no desire for Greek life was only left to sulk and drift into mediocrity. Yes, I’d be lying if I said it all went to plan because there simply was no plan. A few breaths before COVID painted the world black, I applied for a transfer close to home and hoped to find some clarity.

FIU wouldn’t allow me to submit a transfer application without declaring a major. In hindsight, I’m thankful for that. I was cornered into making the most important decision of my life. A decision I never quite felt ready to make, even after spending those months at UCF meeting with guidance counselors and taking too many of those stupid career aptitude tests. Deep down, I knew I spent so much time running from journalism because I was scared of ending up broke. But writing has always come naturally to me and I couldn’t bear to commit to something I wasn’t passionate about. Not for the sake of money, and definitely not to appease the people close to me. I had to assure myself that if journalism is what I’m going to do, it’ll be on my own terms.

That meant no “hard news” stories and no broadcast TV packages. When I was 15, I bought an August/September 2016 issue of The Fader, a music magazine featuring a new-look Gucci Mane on the cover after a two-year stint in prison. Flipping through, I marveled at intimate photo spreads of Frank Ocean and Yung Lean for Calvin Klein and profiles on Gucci and a fresh-faced Lil Uzi Vert. It had never occurred to me before then that people could actually make a living by hanging out with cool musicians and documenting it. That’s the work I knew I was gonna do.

Three years after leaving Orlando, I’ve been published a dozen times in SFMN, over 30 times in Miami New Times, and have had a few feature stories sprinkled in some music blogs on the Internet. At 20 years old, I was shooting portraits of Quavo and Murda Beatz in Miami Beach on a day I was supposed to be in class. That same summer I wrote a cover story in New Times on the founders and organizers of Rolling Loud, the biggest hip-hop festival in the world, and the event that gave me my first ever concert experience as a high school senior. I’ve photographed, interviewed, and written about artists of the pedigree I thought I wouldn’t be able to reach until I was at least 25 with a Bachelor’s degree.

And now I’m getting ready to move to New York City.

When I started getting published in 2021, I knew that if I wanted to make a good living off of music journalism, I needed to end up in New York. If you would’ve asked me then how I planned on actually getting there, I would’ve shrugged my shoulders. Even as I applied for graduation at the end of last year, the steps that came after were unclear to me. I figured I would just have to trust my intuition.

Last December, I received a phone call from my professor, Rick Hirsch. He’s a very tame, laidback guy but something told me I was going to be scolded for missing class or that maybe I’d missed some assignment that week. I was nervous. Instead, he had life-changing news. Rick had strong beliefs in my ability as a writer and he wanted to facilitate my next step into the upper echelon of the journalism industry. He presented me with two prestigious grad school opportunities: a news-based fellowship at Arizona State University and a scholarship opportunity at New York University. To call my decision a no-brainer would be a massive, massive understatement. 

I tell people all the time I keep forgetting that I’m actually graduating from FIU this semester because now my head is already careening into open houses in Brooklyn and visualizing subway maps under concrete slabs. I was accepted into NYU on a partial scholarship at the end of February and frankly, the impending move has taken over my life. It’s exhilarating and overwhelming, awe-inducing and unsettling; it’s every single conflicting emotion balled up into a mass of uncertainty.

I welcome that.

Working in music media and attending one of the nation’s leading journalism programs in New York City is a dream coming into fruition. Wrapping my head around that can be difficult, but I couldn’t be more grateful. My dad likes to reassure me that I made the right decision by telling me how spending his 20’s in New York gave him some of the best memories of his life. I think he might be more excited than I am.

By the end of August, I’ll have moved into an apartment in the city, and any remnants of my past life will be confined to photos and mementos on my desk and walls. I’ll have rent to pay at the top of every month and a rousing cityscape to peel into at the end of every day. I’ll be exactly where I said I should be.

And it’ll be a lot harder to return home.

Olivier Lafontant is an aspiring music journalist who is pursuing a Bachelor's degree in digital journalism at Florida International University. He enjoys thrifting, collecting vinyl, taking film photography and watching sports in his free time.