Photo credits Salvatore Vuono
Growing up, girls like me reign supreme in our concrete jungles. Our landscape is complete with storefront churches and rib shacks; vacant lots; its where chain linked-fences serve as a gateway to play lots filled with broken glass, discarded and burnt-out crack pipes amid haphazard swing sets; cars drive by with the booming system pumping our soundtrack. We run and we play, we pretend and fight, we jump double Dutch and sneak to grind with boys behind school lots. Society labels us ghetto queens. And here is where we reign supreme.
In this place, though, is a homegrown love that is connected to something so deep, it surpasses the memory of time. The inherent rhythm and soul of our domicile has been swept across continents, spread on rich and thick all over the Diaspora. We’ve transplanted the spirit to create little African villages and Spanish Harlems amongst ourselves in urban cities. It is so real, we “ghetto queens” are right at home…never imagining feeling so content and supreme anywhere else on the planet.
Thankfully, public libraries are also found nestled on our blocks. And for me, libraries became my world expansion. In fact, it was one of my favorite television programs, Reading Rainbows, which promised me I could go anywhere if I just read books. And so I did. I read and read and read books of fiction and especially autobiographies. Anyone willing to share their story bound up in a book I read. I stowed away with Maya Angelou to go west with her from Stamps, Arkansas to San Francisco, and then moved as an ex-pat in Ghana. I traveled with Malcolm X across northern Africa. Never mind what my birth certificate stated, I was right beside Zora Neale Hurston in the everglades of Florida, shaking my skinny legs in Haiti, and writing in a Harlem flat. It took a lot of courage for my young self, but I braved the horrors of lynch talk and went with Ida B. Wells to speak truth to power.
I hated to put my books down. Reading was not just a reprieve it was my window to a future of hope and possibility. Don’t get me wrong, navigating my way through the ghetto (the PC term now is urban America) I encountered powerful women. My childhood church home of Pilgrim Baptist Church connected me to beautiful and intelligent women who were legacy builders; like Mrs. Bernadine Washington, one of the first Black female radio personalities on legendary WVON. Senator Margaret Smith sat in a pew of my church every Sunday. Jackie Vaughn lead fights for labor equality and loved all the children with a passion. The principal of my middle school, Mrs. Yvonne Minor was not only beautiful to me, but her vision for what we could be and where we could go BECAUSE we were ghetto queens lead her to invest in us and regularly bring in living examples of women who also grew up girls like me. They too shared their stories of the places they’d been and what they’d accomplished.
Because of all these things, I knew where home was and the invaluable comfort of its terrain. Still there was much more out on the horizon and I owed it to myself to see it. And to an extent, I have.
I’ve been a few places, Los Angeles to live as an intern when I was 21; Washington D.C. to visit Howard University and then a few more times as an activist and for business; New Orleans to participate in a bowling tournament as a teen then later to party for Essence Festival 2011; Oakland for A New Way Forward; New York for family leisure and then again on business; Indianapolis to visit my paternal grandfather’s family—on a whim he’d strap my sister and I in the back seat and hit the road in the middle of the night; Salt Lake City, Utah; Detroit and Lousiville, Kentucky for more bowling; Memphis for family vacations and later on business; Daytona, Tampa, and Ft. Lauderdale for fun in Florida Sun- Busch Gardens was awesome; Las Vegas was my most grand trip of all, I stayed a week in luxury at the Encore/Wynn; also Atlanta-which is easily one of my favorite cities outside of my ghetto queendom of ChiTown.
While my travels have introduced me to different sights, they only serve as variations of the same thing. With the exception of my excursions to Jamaica: Montego Bay, Ochos Rios and Negril, I thirst to be exposed to cultural history, a deeper, spiritual connection to birthplaces of our soul. I have dreamed of the days when I would be able to make real journeys to the places I have read about, Ghana, Haiti, Liberia, Morocco, Kenya, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Brazil and so much more. I envision the stories I will be able to share with girls like me sitting in libraries today dreaming up their own futures.
Today I have a blueprint to realizing my dreams. Not only can I still read the books, but there are real life women who are my peers, and some younger, who are globetrotters. I was ecstatic to discover The Women of Color Travel Project, which shares inspiring stories from women who live intrepid lives full of adventure and bold living.
I would be remiss if I didn’t admit one of the cofounders is my personal friend and shero Zahra Alabanza. Zahra has been everywhere! Biking from Chicago to Detroit, building and giving in Haiti, backpacking in South America, documenting children living with HIV/AIDS in Africa. Her journeys are powerful! I love living vicariously through her!
Of course there are more stories like Zahra’s. The Women of Color Travel Project will allow us all to share cultural exchanges. If you travel or know any other women of color who travel, please submit your stories. There are so many lives waiting to be powered forward through your testimony….just with a passport and backpack, girls like me can truly be fly! I cannot wait to see little girls sitting in libraries and reading all about you in the Project’s companion anthology.
So tell me, where have you been and where do you plan to go? What are your travel recommendations for girls like me?