Mom encourages Black families to travel while showing son the world
Kay Apkan always knew she wanted to show her son the world. Together, they’re showing other Black families how to get out there too.
Damien Henderson, USA TODAY
When Tashieka Brewer would sleep over at her grandmother’s house in New Jersey in the ’80s, she would overhear her grandma’s phone calls. In the evenings, Corinne Brewer would be on the phone making travel plans, booking dinner shows, tours, flights and accommodations for a group of neighborhood women.
“She was actually a housewife, and she decided she wanted to travel,” Brewer said. “She noticed a lot of women were professionals and housewives who wanted to travel as well.”
For most of the women, Brewer’s grandmother, who lives in New Jersey, was turning dreams into reality.
“There was a lack of diversity in travel at the time,” said Brewer, a freelance publicist from New Jersey. “There were women of color that were hesitant about traveling to certain places because they didn’t see people like them traveling.”
Brewer recognized that the woman probably had some safety concerns about traveling to places where few people looked like them or there was a history of racial tension.
Her grandmother’s travel group became known as Club Femme, and together, they went on beach trips to Hawaii, the Caribbean and on ski trips. Often, Club Femme were the only people of color on a tour, and her grandmother often went the extra mile to enhance the trip for her club. She would reach out to tourism offices and subscribe to diverse magazines and pull out clips for activities her travelers would like.
Following in her grandmother’s footsteps, Brewer fell in love with traveling while studying in Paris. She organized her own travel group, called Pink Girls Run the World, in 2016 after a friend asked for help organizing a trip to Dubai. Not only does Brewer’s group seek to empower more diverse travelers, but it also works to connect people of color to cultures and experiences around the world.
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“I started this movement because I wanted to create a more inclusive narrative around travel by connecting real-life stories to travel that every woman can really relate to,” Brewer said.
Bringing diversity to travel
Pink Girls Run the World has grown to about 50 women who join the trips organized by Brewer to places such as Morocco, South Africa and, soon, Zanzibar. About 25 go on every trip, which occur twice a year and span six to 10 days. While the group is open to anyone, all Pink Girls are currently Black women, ages 30 to 52. Brewer creates a space for them to authentically show up as themselves in a travel industry where diversity is lacking.
“It can be discouraging for some not to see people (who) look like them in those spaces,” Brewer said. The lack of representation in travel may lead some people to avoid a destination because it might be unsafe or feel the need to give a certain impression to feel safe and comfortable there.
Brewer isn’t alone in feeling there was a need for more inclusivity in travel. Spaces such as Fat Girls Travel, Mochileando and Black Kids Do Travel seek to represent different types of travelers and creating a safe space for all types of people to explore and enjoy destinations.
In the U.S., more than two-thirds of tour guides are white, which leaves valuable voices missing from the conversation. Brewer knows what can happen as a result. On a trip to Charleston, where plantations are a place to learn about America’s history of slavery, she felt her hotel and the tours she went on were “tone-deaf.”
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“I think that especially now in 2022, some of the language around those tours need to change … by diving deeper into the experiences of the enslaved people, not just the luxury of the plantation owners,” she said.
Through Pink Girls Run the World, Brewer is tapping into what she says is an “overlooked” market.
In 2019, Black Americans spent more than $109.4 billion on leisure travel, representing over 13% of the U.S. leisure travel market. Half of U.S.-based Black travelers have said they are more likely to visit a destination if there’s Black representation in the advertising.
Not only does Brewer organize trips for the Pink Girls, but she also offers travel coaching; she helps people get over any fears or hurdles of traveling somewhere new and helps them with details like building an itinerary and planning a budget.
Why is it important to be open-minded while traveling?
Brewer likes to keep an open mind while traveling, especially when it comes to encounters with other people. When she was in Italy with the Pink Girls, she said people were pointing at them, commenting on their skin color. She didn’t react but took it in stride. While on a trip to a village in Greece with the women of her family, like her mom and grandmother, people approached them asking how they were related. Rather than get upset, she was happy to answer any questions they had.
She said these instances are more uncommon. “Mostly, I find people welcoming,” she said. “I think it’s a curiosity that we are different.”
She views these encounters as a chance to educate. Meeting others who are curious about her while on her travels is a chance to learn about their customs and cultures and share her own with them. “That’s one of the things I like about traveling.”
Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter based in Hawaii. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org