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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
If you haven’t scrolled upon Olivia McDowell's TikTok famous dinner parties, you may need to reconfigure your "For You Page."
What began as a passion for hosting aesthetically themed meals for her closest friends has quickly become a viral sensation. With an astonishing 12 million viewers, women describe Olivia’s picturesque dinner parties as the “dream girls' night,” complete with classy cocktails, beautiful table settings, elegant outfits, and, most importantly, food plated to perfection.
Seemingly reigniting the feminine urge to host fancy dinner parties, Olivia has perfected the finer details. Overlooking the skyline in her beautiful NYC apartment, she never fails to make her signature handmade pasta dishes while simultaneously looking effortlessly chic in the wardrobe of dreams while doing so.
Replying to @nara0630 what should the theme of my next dinner party be? #minivlog #nycliving #dinnerpartyideas #caviarinnewyork
What I love most about hosting intimate dinners for close friends are the connections and relationships that form over food. They don't require a caviar budget with a high-rise apartment, it just takes determination and a little creativity. Watching Olivia’s journey inspires viewers to be a part of a community of positive and uplifting women who share common interests and tastes in food, fashion, and decor. Simply stated, she’s raising the bar of friendship goals.
If you’re aspiring to host a holiday-themed dinner party this season, check out the four tips that will guide you along the way.
Choose Your Theme
Replying to @emz.life.tsv what was your fav part? 🤍 hope this gives you some inspiration to host a fancy friendsgiving too! #hostingtip #dinnerparty #pastamaking
Set the ambiance with a thoughtful theme, which will indeed be your guiding light for less stress during the planning process. Establishing a theme sets the tone for everything else to fall in place, such as menus, table design, and presentation. For example, a holiday-inspired dinner party is a perfect occasion for elegant all-white decor paired with draped table cloths, pillar candles lit atop luxe holders, floating floral arrangements, and, for a personal touch, handwritten place settings.
Utilizing free resources such as Canva for menu templates and creating a “Dinner Party” moodboard via Pinterest is perfect for gathering dinner inspiration for themes, decor, and recipes for the special occasion.
Simplify the Menu
How to host your own pasta making dinner party — part 1: pasta making from scratch 🤍 Hosting dinner parties has become my favorite thing to do this year. More goes into it than you expect, the prep, planning, guestlist, tablescape, etc. but it’s always worth it in the end. What do you guys want to see next? #hostingtips #dinnerparty #pastamaking
Don’t overcomplicate the menu. A simple dinner party formula to use as your guide to making sure your guests leave full of food and joy is appetizers, salads, entrees, sides, desserts, and beverages. As a starter, assemble an aesthetic spread that your guest can nibble on while awaiting the main course with starters such as bread, cheese, jam, nuts, and fruit. A simple salad will do, complete with a light dressing right before your entree. For a main dish, pasta recipes always go a long way and also allows your guests to interact with one another, which leads to McDowell's third dinner party hosting tip.
Include an Interactive Element
Replying to @itstai.tv 🖤 #girlhood
To break the ice and encourage guests to get to know one another, introduce interactive elements to the evening. Moments of interaction allow everyone to connect, like capturing content for social media or memorializing the essence of the night through fun Polaroids. Olivia also encourages her guests to participate in the pasta-making dinner process as a group, or if hosting a brunch, her friends indulge in building their own coffee bar as an opportunity for forming connections and conversation starters. Group board or card games are also great for laughs and healthy competition to help get the vibes flowing.
Don’t Forget the Dress code
Replying to @samantha_mendiz when all of your friends are the main character 🖤🥂 #dinnerparty #nycfashion
Tis’ the season for glamour and sparkles, so why not go all out with a super chic dress code? You can’t have a picture-perfect holiday dinner party without the coordinating attire to match. When planning, make sure to make the required attire specific yet broad enough for a range of personalities and preferences to comfortably partake while looking stunning doing so.
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Featured image by Justin Lambert/Getty Images