Traveling is a luxury that not many traditional have gotten to indulge in. However, it is a more accessible activity in today's world for families to partake in. Introducing young minds to opportunities like trying new food or visiting a new place leaves lasting impressions that they will carry through adulthood. Sibling duo Fred Whitaker and Courtney Whitaker have experienced first hand how new experiences positively impact the lives on young children. It was these opportunities that they strived to share with Fred's daughter Journee and their niece Briley and simultaneously sparked the creation of two books—Come on a Journee With Me to DC and Come on a Journee With Me to NYC.
The dynamic brother-sister duo caught up with EBONY to discuss the importance of sharing the gift of travel with children and how having a strong family unit influenced their lives:
We're currently in a space where Black folks have more access to traveling and having unique experiences, especially with their children. Can you speak to the importance of having these opportunities and the influence that traveling has had on your personal lives?
Courtney Whitaker: Our dad used to take us on road trips back and forth between New York and North Carolina to visit our grandmother every other weekend. Those trips really inspired me because being an inner-city kid from New York going to North Carolina and seeing these huge fields and houses was the exact opposite of our brownstones and skyscrapers in New York City. It opened up my imagination. I was so inspired that when I was graduating from high school, I did not apply to a single school in New York. I chose to attend a school out of state because I knew that I wanted to travel and see the world from those road trips.
Fred Whitaker: I agree! Even when I travel with Journee and Briley now, I feel like it helps expand their young minds and their imagination. We always have the conversation of sharing similarities with somebody can be from a different geographic location but also have a different mindset because of the respective environment that you grew up in. Similar to how our dad always had us traveling, often on the back of motorcycles, I'm putting the girls on airplanes. There's nothing more exciting than getting on an airplane and landing in a new city. What we are also teaching the kids is that if they want to go to a new city, they need to do research on it city and find activities that they'd like to do. Allowing them to do this exposes them to each city's different culture while event connecting them to the vast nature of Black culture across the country and globally. It really does expand their minds.
EBONY: How do you ensure that you are raising well-rounded young Black children while seeking holistic representation in today's world?
FW: We started this endeavor after visiting bookstore upon bookstore and still not finding characters that looked like my daughter or my niece. We wanted them to feel encouraged by the material around them which is why Courtney and I created Come on a Journee With Me. Additionally, the kids have kept us honest about making sure we keep these stories going so we know we have an obligation to do this.
CW: As a child, I personally loved stories about seeing a kid go on an adventure. It allows you to escape. In doing research for this project, I also channeled myself as a child and remembered how cool it would have been to see a young Black girl exploring the world, learning about history and learning about new cities. There wasn't anything in that landscape for me and there is still that problem today. Creating this for my nieces and other young Black and Brown kids exposes them to the concept of traveling whether to DC or New York and that it's possible to go to different places and learn about culture.
Lastly, why do you believe it is important for children to see strong examples of family as they grow up?
FW: For us, family is everything. That saying "It takes a village to raise a child" was so true for us growing up in New York. Our family did a great job ensuring that we were always connected to our cousins and got to experience things with them. We try to instill this same mentality with the younger generation we are raising. With the Come on a Journee With Me series, the girls not only get to travel but are able to understand the element of sharing experiences with family. There are times when family members don't see eye to eye but it's important to have that support. Similarly, I don't think Courtney and I would have been able to make it as far as we have without the support of our family.
CW: I also think it's important to talk about the fact that families look different. There's a lot of non- traditional families that we haven't necessarily seen in media. With Come on a Journee With Me, we definitely encourage people to create their own sense of family if they don't feel like they have the traditional support system that they need. Family doesn't just have to be the people that you are blood related to. It can be anyone that is there for you, believes in you, and pushes you onward.