In March, I found myself in IAD airport with plans to travel to the Motherland. Instead, I handed in my boarding pass, cancelled my flight, and went back home to see what would happen next. Since then, I’ve been grounded - physically and emotionally. Travel isn’t just my career, it's my lifestyle, and my happy place. And with a pandemic standing between me and the very things I loved amplified by the racial climate, I was at a loss about how to feel and what to do. As a result, I experienced bouts of depression and anxiety.
While in isolation, many of my thoughts pushed me to travel, but many fears of Covid19 held me captive. One social media post would inspire me to pack my bags and the next would have me in tears, paralyzed so much that for a while, I would not even go outside. The posts that truly had me shook were about the plight of Black people, Black culture, and Black lives in danger. Because so much of my travel inspiration is so deeply intertwined with those same Black realities, it felt like there was nowhere to run.
But life has taught me that running towards your joy is very different than running away from your pain.
So last week, I grabbed my disinfectant wipes, packed my bags, filled up my tank, and decided to hit the road for a multi-state tour.
I yearned to surround myself in nature and visit a place I’d never been before - the northernmost state on the east coast, Maine. I thought it was a good sign that the capital is named Augusta, also the name of my hometown in Georgia. I arrived at Acadia National Park and was pleasantly surprised by its beautiful natural landscapes, which reminds me of one of my favorite scenic places in Queenstown, New Zealand. Conquering the challenge of reaching the mountain’s peak was just the motivation and reminder I needed of what I am capable of and how much I’ve been able to overcome in my life. There were times when I wanted to quit this mentally and physically draining hike, but just like life, there comes a point when it is scarier to turn back. It felt great to trust myself and to be rewarded with the beauty on the other side. I’m a better version of myself because of it.
For all of its pros, the one thing that Maine doesn’t have a lot of is Black people. And this is, after all, a time to identify and elevate Black lives. After feeding my soul with travel and being inspired by Maggie Anderson’s Ted Talk, I felt that it was only right to find other Black entrepreneurs, like me, who were also in need of support. Not finding a physical business in the location I was in Maine, I got hooked on @gymhooky, an online fitness coach, who helped me stay focused on my health and fitness while taking in the scene. I traveled south along the beautiful Atlantic ocean and stopped in A Cup of Joe coffee shop in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire to support a Black business in that state and it was definitely worth the time. Onward to Boston, I visited Kobie Evans and Kevin Hart’s My Pure Oasis, the first recreational cannabis dispensary in Boston. This was my first time ever going to a dispensary and I was proud to see Black people take ownership in this industry that so many of us have been criminalized by for so many years. They even make it a point to hire people who have served time in jail for marijuana based charges.
The next day, I took the ferry to the Blackest part of Martha’s Vineyard - Oak Bluffs. I made my way to Inkwell beach, the one I saw in the movies as a child. I tried to stay at a Black-owned hotel on the island, but the lovely owner told me she had to completely shut down because of Covid. She was older and didn’t want to risk it. I couldn’t blame her. This was the choice that so many businesses, especially Black-owned businesses, were having to make: our physical health or our financial health. I said a little prayer for her.
Luckily, I hotel hopped through some of the Black owned accommodations provided by Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast with locations in NY, NJ, PA, and DC. These properties are absolutely stunning. By chance I ran into the CEO Monique Greenwood and got to share more about Jelani Women Travel. She’s ready to join us in South Africa next year and finally cross it off her bucket list. In each location, I made it a point to have a delicious meal from a Black-owned business in each city. And in each city, I was impressed. I can’t describe how good it felt to be in New York with more than 1000 black people completely taking over the streets from Brooklyn to Manhattan to Harlem riding for the love of Black lives. In Jersey, I stopped at a Black-owned drive-in movie park, Newark Moonlight Cinema, to watch Queen and Slim, which I had been dying to see for over a year. My final stop was in Baltimore, where I checked out a bead shop called A Touch of Gracye. I capped off National Black Business month back home in DC at the March on Washington 2020 reflecting on what it means to be an owner, and a customer, navigating the current health and racial crisis attacking Black economies and Black communities.
Traveling and Black cultural immersion are just as important to me as grounding myself in nature and ensuring the survival of an ecosystem that supports Black businesses. All of these experiences and challenges bring me joy. The fear of the current state of events had me doubting my own gut. Being near the water was healing. And once I got out into nature and found my tribe - adapting and surviving entrepreneurs - I kicked myself for not having taken this roadtrip months ago. I got clarity on what is most important during these uncertain times. And I’m looking forward to continuing to show gratitude for the simple things in life. It is time to tune out all fear, and tune in to whatever brings you joy.
Ashley N. Company
“Fly” Girl spreading #BlackGirlMagic across 100 countries and counting. Headwrap lover. Fierce Protector of Black Lives.