Four months from now, 11 year-old Alexis Woolfolk will have arrived in Paris, France for the first time. Prolonged vowel sounds, scores of “ya’ll,” and other phonetic quirks specific to her hometown of Atlanta will then be thousands of miles behind her along with her family. Woolfolk’s mother Amber has already instructed her to keep a video diary and take photographs. “I want my children to have a global view of society and know that possibilities for learning are limitless,” she told EBONY.com.
Yet, Woolfolk and her seven fellow teenage travelers would not be headed to France if not for one woman’s childhood tradition. “I never saw that many Black people when I was going to camp,” said Tracey Friley, creator of The Passport Party Project and OBG Adventures. “I’ve always wanted to give people the same kind of experience I had growing up.”
The internet has become a popular destination for Black travel enthusiasts who encourage and facilitate globetrotting among various communities. Through her parent company One Brown Girl, Friley launched The Passport Party Project and OBG Adventure Camps to provide exciting travel adventures and events to women, teenagers, and underserved girls from diverse backgrounds. Adding to the pool of such start-ups, Evita Robinson created the Nomadness TV travel web series and the subsequent Nomadness Travel Tribe, an online, invitation-only community of urban travelers and expatriates generally underrepresented in the travel world.
"When you turn on the Travel Channel, it's geared towards middle-aged White men,” said Robinson. “You have that and you don't see anything out there for us, or by us." To dispel the notion that Black people do not travel, these women have chosen to lead by example—or better yet #travelbyexample, as Friley likes to tweet. Recently, Robinson completed her third successful Kickstarter campaign for Nomadness, this time raising over $23,000 to fund a cross-country RV road trip for spring 2013. And with Robinson’s landing a lucrative sponsorship deal for Hotel.com and Friley’s partnering with Expedia.com, larger corporations seem to have also discovered an opportunity to tap into a new audience. As Robinson stated, "It's about shattering the mindset of what a traveler is supposed to look like."
While digital innovations have empowered contemporary travel entrepreneurs in their respective endeavors, the zeal they exhibit echoes the rich, intricate travel history that Blacks in America have accumulated for centuries. To illustrate the breadth of Black travelers throughout history, Ashley Finigan, a history Doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago, pointed to the Black American migrant Exodusters of the nineteenth century, African-American settlers colonizing land in Liberia, and the Black WWII soldiers and Black intelligensia who settled in France.
Finigan also listed W.E.B DuBois, Josephine Baker, and Jessie Fauset as “proponents of Black travel.” “I've always thought to black Americans as a people forged and founded in movement, and our history of travel proves that,” Finigan said. “When given the basic human right of movement or claiming it for ourselves, we have gone.”
This age-old tradition of building new communities with kindred spirits has remained key to digital advocates like Robinson and Friley, whose ventures were both born online. "Social media and getting involved in the blogging community was a way for me to get the word out to so many more people than I could have ever reached using traditional advertising or marketing methods," said Friley. Each of her program participants has come through social media, but she considers the hundreds of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter followers engaging with her and one another daily to be a “little family.”
As indicated in its name, The Nomadness Travel Tribe—a Facebook native—has also cultivated a familial aspect in a very organic, grassroots way. Robinson has orchestrated affordable Nomadness X group trips to run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain and the isolated jungles of Bocas Del Toro, Panama. Even so, that same gumption that propelled Robinson to launch her own travel business has now motivated her to migrate off of Facebook. Before the end of next year, she promised, Nomadness will have its own travel-centric social media platform.
The value of kinship, both biological and spiritual, throughout the African Diaspora mirrors the interconnectivity found in social media and traveling. Come this July, Woolfolk might develop a love for all-things French, as Friley had through her own extensive immersion in the French Diaspora. Right now, the young American would simply like to learn a different language, meet new people, try new foods, and travel the world with OBG Adventures. “I just wanna have fun,” she said like a true 11 year-old. Yet as a young Black American wandering through Paris, her presence will mean much more.
"More people of color will be traveling," said Friley, "because we will have traveled by example."
Patrice Peck explores the complex intersection of culture, new media, race and gender as a multimedia journalist. Follow her musings at Twitter and Facebook, and visit her at https://www.speakpatrice.tumblr.com for more writing and video.