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I Attended Afrochella. And I Took 19 People With Me.

The diaspora gap is shrinking, and we are quite literally our ancestors wildest dreams

As Told To

As Told To is a recurring segment on xoNecole where real women are given a platform to tell their stories in first-person narrative as told to a writer. If you have a story you'd like to share, but aren't sure about how to put it into words, contact us at submissions@xonecole.com with the subject "As Told To" for your story to be featured.

This is Emily Williams' story, as told to Charmin Michelle.

There is a huge void in black travel not being exposed enough in mainstream media.

I remember being in a taxi in Spain, and the taxi driver was shocked to see me. He said, "We don't see a lot of black American people travel to Barcelona, we thought you guys just killed each other."

He wasn't malicious in his intent, but he went on to say that he was told "black people are angry, they fight, and will rob you."

Hearing this broke my heart. I knew that this was the image that we, and so many others, are often exposed to. I explained to him that yes, we have our complexities, but ultimately we are educated, innovative, beautiful, and we're just like anyone else—most times, better—because we have to be.

I don't know if our talk changed his views, but it was at that moment that I was convinced that we need to be everywhere in the world, and I was going to do my part to ensure our exposure.

As a travel agent, I've come across a variety of cultures, and I never even intended to start a travel company. I became passionate about traveling when doing so with friends. I always offered to plan our friend trips because I wanted to stay somewhere I considered nice, or sometimes authentic to the culture we'd be experiencing. So, it became the norm that whenever my friends and I traveled, I would plan the trips. Eventually, my friend's friends began to tag along and before I knew it, I was planning everything for everyone.

One day a friend asked, "Why aren't you getting paid for this? This is a lot of work."

And that's how I started my travel company.

Been Around the World Travels is a black-owned travel community that caters to black millennials and generation-xers, providing luxe redux travel experiences across the globe. Our goal is to get more of "us" traveling to see the world so we can break racial stereotypes and misconceptions of black people. We help educate about our culture and where it comes from because, yes, we travel, we're here, and our numbers within the travel community are only growing. We've visited many countries since our launch. And after my business partner returned from her 2018 trip to Afrochella, I knew it was next.

Initially, Ghana seemed like a great idea. We knew having a trip centered around the hottest concert in West Africa would be a whole vibe. But convincing people who had never even heard of Afrochella to sign up was difficult. Trip deposits were slow coming in and the trip was far from full. But on the day we planned to cancel the remaining rooms, there was a media push across the internet and Afrochella was suddenly the buzz in the US.

Our confirmations went from 12 people, to 20 in a matter of days. All Ghanaian hotels were booked to capacity shortly afterward.

If you're unfamiliar with Afrochella, it's an outdoor festival platform for new African artists to showcase their talent. People of the diaspora from all over the world come to celebrate their African lineage openly; with no apologies, and no limitations. The music and food is amazing, the people you meet are friendly, and the art installations are phenomenal.

This is what Afrochella does well.

All 19 of us arrived in Accra on an ironically sweltering December day. We checked into our rooms, got comfortable and began our Ghana adventures.

Courtesy of Emily Williams

Home is not where you rest your head. Home is where you belong.

Being Black in America, you're constantly told you have to be twice as good to succeed. You're told to go back to Africa. You're constantly told that your life doesn't matter.

Being on The Continent, and particularly in Ghana, I finally felt like I was good enough just as I am. I felt like I was home.

My stepmother is related to one of the kings of Accra of the Ga State, so some of the group and I were able to visit my stepmother's family members and learn about a few of the king's rituals. Everyone was friendly and we heard many times over, "welcome home" and "you belong here". I've never truly felt like I belonged in America, but I felt like I belonged in Ghana.

The fashion and the art is eye-opening.

What I loved most about the culture in Ghana is the fashion; Batik prints, the Kente cloths. I purchased several yards of fabric in beautiful bright prints to make pillows, table napkins, and possibly curtains. I purchased a picture of a woman with her hair in the shape of Africa, and some earrings with printed fabric on them. These aspects of the culture are woven into every single item, whether shirts, dresses, backpacks or even something simple as key chains.

Yes, it was disorganized, but they're still working out the kinks.

OK guys, yes there were a few mishaps with the organization of the event. And to be honest with you, I think most of it was due to not being prepared for the increase in popularity, and they just simply couldn't keep up with scale. People waited in various lines for more than an hour. The staff couldn't handle the sheer volume of people, so chaos ensued just from folks trying to get into the door. If you came late to an event, you'd likely lose everything you paid for in advance, such as a table, bottle service, and food (keep your receipts). It was...interesting.

The good news is, I think that this year's event, set a different expectation for the organizers. They now know what to expect.

Also, just know that time frames are off for literally everything. Afrochella started at 2pm, and ended at 4am, although it was slated to end at 9pm. Most people in Africa do not have the same sense of urgency as Americans, even for basic tasks. So, expect to wait.

There are celebrities, don't be that guy.

I had prepaid for a cabana for our group at Afrochella. When we arrived at the location, I was told we had VIP tickets but no cabana. However, luckily, I carry receipts with me everywhere and my receipt listed a cabana. It all worked out in the end because we were seated in the "only for media" section near the stage. This allowed us to be seated among Jidenna, Yandy Smith, Boris Kodjoe, and Mama Knowles. Some of our guests even took IG-worthy photos with these celebs. But guys, limit your fandom. They are more than happy to mingle with everyone, but ultimately they're there to enjoy the festival just like we are, outside of the confines of celebrity.

In the end, all 19 of us left the continent so enriched. Afrochella, and the entire trip to Ghana, taught us to stand in our greatness. We saw first-hand that we come from the most resilient of people and the challenges that we face today, are nothing like those our ancestors had to endure. It was a great reminder of what we've overcome and that we as young black international travelers are the embodiment of Black Excellence.

The diaspora gap is shrinking, and we are quite literally our ancestors' wildest dreams. And if you absolutely can't think of any other reason to visit, that should be reason enough.

To learn more about Been Around The World Travel Agency, you can follow them on Instagram. You can also sign up for their upcoming adventures by visiting their website.

Featured image courtesy of Been Around The World Travel Agency. Everyone on the trip is not pictured.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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