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‘New-age griot’ sees history as the intersection of life’s work

By Sherick Boone
On April 20, 2020

Malik Bartholomew, DU librarian, also entrepreneur with Know NOLA Tours

NEW ORLEANS – (April 20, 2020) – History is the intersection for Malik Bartholomew’s life as a librarian here at Dillard and, more recently, an entrepreneur/founder of Know NOLA Tours.

For more than a decade, historian Bartholemew has worked as a librarian at Dillard University. Three years ago, he added what he describes as being a “new-age griot” to his resume by leading historical tours through New Orleans.

“Storytelling and history go hand-in-hand,” said Bartholomew. He found a way to blend his studies and passion together to provide a unique homegrown experience to all interested patrons. Quoting Oprah Winfrey, Bartholomew said, “Find something you love to do, and do it so well that people will pay for it.”

Bartholomew guides visitors on a journey through the rich historical neighborhoods like Faubourg Treme, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city known historically as the main neighborhood of free people of color and, more recently, the focus of a post-Hurricane Katrina television show by the same name. Historically a racially mixed neighborhood, it is considered to be known as the center of the modern brass band tradition and of the city’s African-American and Creole culture.

He also offers tours in the French Quarter, or Vieux Carre, shedding light on particular locations, stories and events that encompass the city’s living legacy and rich history with an emphasis on how they are historically synchronized and laid the foundation of the city.

Bartholemew offers tours through the city daily and business fluctuates by the season, but it’s not just about the money for the librarian/tour guide. For Bartholomew, it’s about  telling “a more truthful and genuine story about New Orleans.”

Bartholomew noted that in West Africa, typically you inherit the important role as a griot from your family, but his interest in history sparked the desire to tell stories at a young age in his school's libraries.

Bartholomew, a native New Orleanian, was 9 years old and attending John A. Shaw Elementary School  when he discovered the “900”-section in the school library. That’s Dewey-Decimal System speak for the history section.

Starting with a book on the Nile, Bartholomew said he read the library’s entire section in one year.

He moved on to Dillard University’s Class of 2004, where he majored in history and then accepted a job as college librarian upon graduation.

He got interested in developing tours because as a DU librarian, friends and family often would ask him about city events and history, and the idea for a tour grew organically as he began sporadic small tours where he sharpened his techniques and gained revenue to re-invest in the company, he said.

Bartholomew felt obligated as a sixth-generation New Orleanian to “make sure those stories that aren't typically lifted up are heard.”

What might be considered his big break was when Delta Sigma Theta had its national convention in New Orleans and he did group tours for the sorority. That revenue, he said, allowed him to officially start his business and website.

Working at a night librarian at the Will Alexander library, Bartholomew has time during the day for a range of activities. He describes himself not only as an historian and tour guide, but a photographer, researcher, radio co-host for the podcast “MisBelief” on WBOK-AM with DC Paul and as a “cultural curator.”

Bartholomew said his tour is unique because his authentic New Orleans experience growing up here, noting that many guided tours peppered throughout the city are provided by non-New Orleans.

 “When you take a Know NOLA tour, you get a real new Orleans experience from a real new Orleanian,” said Bartholomew. “I believe in giving a tour that is entertaining, truthful and grounded in history because my history mentors would kill me if it wasn’t.”

An avid bicyclist, Bartholomew also gives historical bike tours and tours at Studio Be, the brainchild of Brandon “B-mike” Odoms.

As an avid protector of the environment, Bartholomew chooses to ride his bike to all of his appointments, weather permitting.

“The bike is just for simplicity,” says Bartholomew. “My mother said never work in a place you can’t walk to or catch a bus to.”

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