The Power of Travel

This past weekend I made my annual visit to Denver, Colorado, to visit friends who live in and around the capital of the Mile High City.  There is something about Denver that automatically puts me at ease.  Perhaps it is the friendly disposition of the locals or the scenic mountain landscapes that encompass the state.   Coloradans are unique and Denver has become one the cities I love the most.  Coming from New York, it is a much different lifestyle but one that I could easily get used to over time.    If you have never visited Denver, I highly recommend it.

Prior to Denver, this year I visited a couple of American cities and three countries.  I normally visit at least four countries but circumstances dictated otherwise.  Looking back, I am profoundly grateful that I have had the means available to make each of those trips.  However, there is an issue which continues to stay in the back of my mind that I will discuss here.  I was once asked “why don’t more Black Americans travel?”.  The question caught me off guard at first but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is a potent question that needs to be asked more.   As I have traveled the world, I have noticed the lack of faces similar to mine on many flights, especially those bound for international destinations.  I have always felt that Black Americans need to see more of the world and the world more of us.  Travel opens the mind and helps emotional, psychological and even spiritual development.  Additionally, it helps break down stereotypes and sometimes forces the traveler to step outside his/her comfort zone. If I had not traveled as I did, I am not sure I would be the person that I am today.  But the question remains, why does there seem to be a lack of Black American travelers?  The answer to the question is not a simple one. In fact, it has to be answered in several parts.  But the key issues are finances, fear and culture.  I point out that these are strictly my opinions an in no way the final word on the topic.  Some may agree with me or vehemently disagree, but I will do my best to explain what I have seen and learned both here at home and abroad.

Any trip requires adequate finances, period.  Without money, you will be hard pressed to travel anywhere.  I have been extremely fortunate to be financially able to travel.  Due in part to strong budgeting and in part to fortune, I have found myself in cities such as Dublin, Stuttgart, Buenos Aires and Port of Spain, to name a few. But there are many Black Americans who are not in the same situation and quite possibly have never been.  You see, here in America, historically, Black Americans have had a hard struggle. And if you live in the ghetto or “low-income” areas,  travel is a luxury that is the least of your concerns and fare beyond your reach.  Rent and food are the top priorities and for families scraping to get by, a luxury vacation to Europe is out of the question.  And until their situation changes, they make due with what they have.  The cost of living around the world continues to increase, pushing families already on the brink even closer to destitution.  The future is uncertain for them and they will have to do what they must in times of need.  But what about people who do have the funds?  What reasons exist for them?

Before actually planning a trip, there has to be a will to visit the destination.  I personally know people who are afraid to travel outside of the country.  Excuses are that it is too far, possibly too dangerous and frightening.  I do not believe that any of those are valid  reasons not to travel.  In fact, I can tell you that at times I have felt safer in cities outside of the United States than right here in my hometown of New York City.   When I told friends that I was going to visit Mexico for the first time, some replied “don’t get kidnapped”.   Before I visited Argentina, some stated “the Argentines are racist”.  And with Santo Domingo, “oh my God, you two are crazy walking the streets of the Dominican Republic”.  It would take too much time to discuss each trip but I can tell you that the fears were overblown.  Did I exercise caution when away from home? Absolutely, that is must no matter where you are at.  But I also did not walk around afraid for my life.  In Mexico, the local police patrolled the area with a 50-caliber automatic and  needless to say, no one dared to issue a challenge.  At night, all was quiet as I took in the view of the mountains that blanketed Metepec.  Interesting Mexico City had a protest when I visited but if you are familiar with Latin American politics, then you will already know that protest are more common than Americans know.  The Argentines will always be considered by some to arrogant and some certainly are. But they are no more arrogant than other nations and the hospitality I received rivaled  anywhere I have ever been.  As a result of my visits there, I gained an extended family and new friends.   Admittedly, Buenos Aires certainly does have its share of crime, but nothing that caused me to question my own safety.  And in Santo Domingo, it felt no different from being Uptown or in the Bronx.  The key no matter where you visit, is to use common sense and always keep your guard up.  I could become a robbery victim in London or right around the corner from my apartment in Brooklyn.  Crime is present in every part of this world.

Incredibly, even with finances and no fear of personal safety, there’s still another reason why more Black Americans don’t travel.  Culturally, travel changes from nation to nation.  Anyone that is a traveler will tell you  Australians go everywhere. They have no hesitation about boarding a plane and flying around the globe. I have always admire that about them and hope to see more of this planet.  The Argentines carry their own weight well and for them, anything less than a month is not considered a vacation.  New York City unquestionably is one of the most popular on earth and daily I encounter people from all over this world.   They have endured long flights and worked hard to have the finances available to make the journey. For them,  travel truly is priceless.  What is needed for Black Americans is more incentive within our own culture to travel.   Resort destinations have become too cliché and offer almost no opportunities to truly learn about the country that exist outside the walls of the guarded compound.  Personally, I have no desire to go to Cancun, Tijuana or other resort destinations. I would much rather walk the streets of the city among the locals where I can actually learn about the people who live there. Further,  the money would be much better spent on a trip that I will remember for a lifetime, not because of how good the party was or how drunk I was but because I met a native that introduced me to a native dish,  taught me their history or went out of their way to ensure that I enjoyed every minute of my time in their country. So instead of buying endless pairs of Jordans, putting rims on my car, or buying clothing that costs as much as a month’s rent, I would rather save that money for a trip to yet a new destination for another learning experience that will stay with me for the rest of my days.  I am often dismayed at the things that are given priority among Black Americans. At times our focus is completely off and we are distracted by nonsense.  And as one friend told me quite bluntly, “we wear our assets”.   The Hip-Hop culture continues to project false and degrading images that only serve to impede progress.  The music industry creates a mirage at times that maintains a vice grip on the minds and consciousness of young Black youths.  Instead of messages about drinking Hennessy or living like an outlaw, we need more messages of positive reinforcement shifting the focus from the nonsensical to subjects that should be intellectually desirable.  Instead of a gun, let a book take its place.  Instead of an arrest record, let a passport take it place.  And instead of domestic violence, let a home full of love take its place.  These are some of the ways in which we elevate our minds and let ourselves experience all that life has to offer.  I always encourage every young person I meet to get their passport and go see the world. I am sometimes met with looks of puzzlement as if travel is something not meant for a person of color.  In fact, I have heard on more than one occasion regarding various topics that “oh that’s for white people”.   Miles Davis once stated that he never understood why Black people do not take advantage of all of the things are their disposal.  I share his confusion and simply do not understand the mindset some have and will never accept it. My father once said to me that he wished he would have traveled like I have when he was younger.  For his generation, America was a different place where civil rights were more important that where to see next.   It is for that reason I travel as I do.   I have the means and the freedom to do it. In the future, I will continue to push those I meet to travel and if I can get at least one person to change the way the view life, then I have done my part to change the lives of Black people.

In spite of everything I have said, I understand that traveling can be slightly daunting.  You find yourself agonizing over booking the best flight and hotel.  When you arrive at your destination, there is the challenge of finding the hotel which can be a struggle, especially if you do not speak the local language.  Luggage can and does get lost adding another source of misery for the traveler.   There is always the chance you can meet someone who doesn’t like Americans, Asians, Blacks, Whites, etc.  But that is the world we live in where people find all sorts of reasons to dislike each other.  And sadly sometimes travelers are victims of crime.  However,  if done right, a trip away from home can change your life in ways you never thought possible. I have always stated that I do some of my best thinking at 35,000 feet and have always been anxious when arriving in a new city or country.  But in the end, I regret nothing and learned many valuable lessons about the world and myself. I have watched a live Tango as only the Argentines can do it, eaten Schnitzel at a gas station on the side of a highway near Frankfurt and had fried cactus for breakfast in Mexico.  In Trinidad, I had the famous Bake n’ Shark at Maracas beach and the traditional Irish breakfast in Dublin.  And if you like Guinness, you have not had one until you have visited the Guinness factory.  One of my wishes in life is that more Black Americans are able to have the same experiences.  On a positive note, things are slowly changing and I  now see more faces of color as I travel.  We must remember that Rome was not completed in a day but it began somewhere.  To all of the people of color who may read this, do not over think, just go and embrace life.  Be smart and vigilante but keep your mind as open as you can and learn about the place we call earth.  And in time you will come to understand and appreciate the power of travel.

The world is a book, those who do not travel read only a page” –St. Augustine

 

 

Gone Too Soon

At around 10:30 on the night of November 22, 2017, gunshots rang out at 1530 Pennsylvania Avenue in the Starrett City section of Brooklyn.  Kahliq Frances, 38 and Chaleen Mason, 32, were identified as victims by policy.  Frances was shot and mortally wounded in the head and Mason, shot and wounded several times including once in the jaw.  She managed to stumble down to an apartment on a lower floor and call 911. Both were transported to Brookdale Hospital where Frances died of his injuries.  The shooter was later identified as Durante Tirado, 20, also of Starrett City.  He was arraigned Thanksgiving day and faces  charges of murder, attempted murder and weapons possession.  Two lives ended that night and another changed forever.   I knew Kahliq for well over ten years and I am still shocked that he is now gone.

Any parent that has had to bury a child will tell you that it is one of the hardest things they have ever done. And sometimes there is no such thing as moving on.  That wound remains with them permanently as some struggle with understanding why it was their child that had to die at such a young age. I never Kahliq’s mother or older brother but I am sure she is still overcome with grief and struggling to carry on after burying her youngest child. And for his sibling and the many that knew him, he will be missed.

My friendship with him began at the Brooklyn Sports Club on Van Siclen Avenue.  We became training partners lifting weights and improving our physiques.  I moved out of Starrett City in 2009 but return frequently to visit my parents.  And at times I would pass him on the street and the two of us would catch up on current events in our lives.  Outside of the gym, we enjoyed many nights in clubs in Manhattan and even in the Bronx. Life took us in different directions but I also retained the memories of the times together. When I heard that he had passed, I was in shock and still have moments where I cannot believe he is really gone.  But such is life and we never know when it is our time to go.

His death reminded me of so many others that have taken place in Brooklyn in which young Black men have died in very violent ways.  My earliest memory of such a death is in July, 1988 in East New York.   On a hot summer night on Glenmore Avenue, Glen Rodriguez was shot seven times and died on the scene.  His sister Ingrid, was married to my uncle Bradley with whom she had five children.  Glen had become entrenched in a rough lifestyle that eventually caught up with him.  He had yet to reach forty years of age.  In later years, many others would meet violent ends.  In 2005, former High School classmate Maurice Graham, also met a violent end on President Street in Crown Heights.  These names are just a few of many that lost their lives in the borough that used to be called the home of the coffin.   Their deaths have caused me to reflect on an issue that is still problematic in the Black community; the murder of young Black males by other Black males.

Accordingly to Politifact, there is strong evidence to support the claim that for the age range of 15-34, the number one killer of African-American males is homicide at the hands of another African-American male.  The claim is not hard to believe.   The Bloods and Crips in California alone have caused the deaths of thousands of young Black youths. Chicago has gained a reputation as one of the most dangerous cities in America as the murder rate climbed to monumental proportions during the summer of 2017.  The story is played out in cities and ghettos all across America and sadly, there does not seem to be an end in sight.  As a Black male, it saddens me to see other young men die such senseless deaths.  From what I know, Kahliq died over what is believed to be two hundred dollars. Others have died for a color and some for far less such as a look that was taken the wrong way.   The reasons become more absurd as each story is told causing further grief to those who knew the deceased. And nothing that we say can ever bring them back.  Their lives are over and they are gone forever.  Kahliq’s mother will never again be able to hug her youngest son and tell him that she loves him.  A piece of her life has permanently be removed for a reason completely illogical.

The Black youths of today are in need of serious soul-searching. The value that we placed on life is far too low and I fear that many of them will not make it to the age of twenty-one.  For those who do, there is still a number of them who may possibly give in to the ways of the street and become another number in the dreaded system.  The documentary 13 and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, have highlighted the system of mass incarceration that swallows up young men and women of color disproportionately.  The argument over the system can rage on for decades, but as Malcolm X once said, “crime prevention starts in the high chair, not the electric chair”.  The key to changing the problems that exist within the Black community begins at home.  And it is imperative to remember that not every house is a home.  From an early age, my parents gave my brother and I a home in which we were loved but taught how to have respect for all things in life including ourselves.  Their job was not easy for East New York  was the belly of the beast and the lure of the street was right outside the front door.   Having positive role models was critical to our development and even on the blocks that we lived on, there existed a sense of community which sadly I do not always see today.  My parents both worked as did my grandparents and aunts and uncles. In fact, almost no one was on public assistance that I can recall. Holidays and birthdays were family events and words of encouragement never ceased to arrive. Discipline was there but never in a totalitarian manner.  It was explained to us why we were being punished and what we needed to changed about our behavior going forward.  And that is the key to preventing at least some of these senseless acts of violence.  We must take care to create a positive environment from the moment a child is born and guide them through life in the right direction so that they will go on to have long and successful lives.

If there are any young African-American men and women reading this, I say to you that your life matters.   But what you have to understand is that life has many obstacles. However, it is how you deal with them that makes the difference.   Study your history and learn about the struggles of Frederick Douglass, Marcus Garvey, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall and others who wage battles so that you and I can achieve today what was believed to be impossible for people of color years ago.  Put down the guns and pick up books and let the pen and paper becomes tools in your arsenal of self-improvement and accumulation of knowledge.  Travel is a valuable tool that will teach you things about the world that you cannot learn on the internet. Never be afraid to try new things in life even if they force you to step outside your comfort zone.  Being complacent in life serves no purpose, be dynamic and welcome the changed within yourself as you age.  Let yourself dare to dream the impossible and say to yourself that you can become something in life other than an athlete or rap star.  We should be tired of having to say rest in peace and instead look forward to saying congratulations or job well done.  The struggle of African-Americans is well documented and there is no point in retelling the story. What is paramount is that we remember the purpose of the struggle and why it is so important that we make sure the activists that gave their lives for our freedoms did not die in vain.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

A Few Reasons Why

I never saw myself as a blogger.  But after successfully establishing one blog, I was  inspired to create a second.  As I age, I appreciate more the gifts of reading and writing that far too many of us take for granted.  Admittedly, my thirst for reaching did not fully flourish until I reached my late 20s.  However, since then I have become voracious reader and deeply understand and appreciate the benefits that come with it.   My passion of reading has improved my comprehension skills, expanded my vocabulary and intensified my thirst for knowledge.   There is truth in the statement that becoming a better reader makes you a better writer.  And both skills will serve me the rest of my life. Aside from this, there are several other reasons why I decided to created this blog.  I touch on each one in the following sections.

As a Black American, I am often asked a multitude of questions when I travel abroad by those curious about American culture and others, curious about the opinions of a person whose culture has historically suffered from oppression.  I answer each question as truthfully as possible while avoiding the pitfall of disparaging one’s home country.  My home will always be Brooklyn, New York and regardless of what happens in the United States, I will always love the country I have called home. I freely admit that America does have its share of problems, but no more than any other country.  None of the issues have an easy solution but where there is a will there is always a way.  James Baldwin once said that Black history is American history and I fully agree with him.  Knowledge of history always comes with a price and heightened awareness is to put oneself in a constant state of analysis as the environment around you sinks into your consciousness resulting in a permanently changed view of the way the world functions.   I like many others, am a witness to history each day and relay my thoughts here on the current and past events on our planet.

Over the past year, I have noticed that one thing in particular stands out that has resulted in America being at a crossroads for the first time in many years.  We are called the United States but currently, division has separated the country in ways that some of us did not think would exist in 2017.   As a nation, we currently find ourselves in a climate where we have been divided on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, politics and religion.  Time will tell how long it will take us to heal from these wounds and I fear that some of us will remain divided for years to come.  Personally, I have maintained friendships regardless of the world’s events or who is in the oval office.  Friendships must have deeper bonds and mutual understanding to survive the most difficult of times.  I an honored to have friends across the spectrum and from all different places around the globe.  They have all taught me a great deal and I intend to share those lessons here.

As a kid growing up in East New York, Brooklyn, I never imagined I would be a globe-trotter and now blogger.  The internet did not exist back then in its current format and international travel was something that I thought only the rich and famous were able to do. A s a grown man, I know now better and chalk up my prior youthful thoughts to a kid being a kid.  Of all the memories I have of East New York, the day I saw Charles Bronson in person stands out as one of the best.  In was 1985 and Canon Films was filming parts of Death Wish 3.  It was a Saturday afternoon and Bronson was standing on Pitkin Avenue as the crew set up the next scene.  Nearly half the neighborhood came out to see one of Hollywood’s mega-stars.  In a few weeks, Bronson was gone, having flown to England with the rest of the crew to finish filming.  East New York went back to its normal self, a ghetto with very little hope in sight.  In spite of the dangers there and all of the violence that I witnessed, I learned many lessons during my childhood that I carry with me each day.  And they all play a role in my current state of mind which will manifest itself through the posts that follow.

A friend once told me that I am 50/50 split when it comes to my parents’ traits.  She was always astonished at how much I took from each one.  Like my mother, I get very quiet when I observe things letting my brain record what the eyes see.   What I notice today is that people may talk but fewer of us are actually having a discussion.  Until we digest the words the other is speaking, we will continue to fail to understand each other.  Sadly, when people of color are intent on making a point, they are viewed as angry or in some cases extreme.  However, those are adjectives that serve no purpose and hinder an open dialogue.  I have no anger in me and hate no one.  I am firm believer in a civilized discussion that is actually productive.  But in a time where emotions run high, that is a method which is proving itself difficult for many to abide by.  It is my hope that my voice will be a change from what is expected and stimulate introspection.  It is one thing to tell a person what you think and another to get them to understand it.

I am under no illusion that this blog will change the world and make everyone see things differently.  Human nature is one of the toughest obstacles any of us will ever face.   I also know that I cannot and do not speak for every Black person here in America and abroad. My thoughts are my own, free from influence and ideology.  They are a collection of thoughts about the world in which I live. And I truly hope that I can help you understand how the world looks through eyes of a person of color.

“It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak and another to hear” – Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)