Going Global with Massive Open Online Courses at EdX

Going Global with Massive Open Online Courses at EdX

Being an international traveler is such an exciting thing these days what with all of the new resources coming out courtesy of our mobile phones and the Internet.  It’s important, if you’re going to be moving about in the world, to know what is going on outside of your own home country.  As I prepare for my big two-month travel odyssey in 2014, I want to make sure that I know what’s brewing where.  That’s why I started taking an online class to help me get a grip on the world of globalization.

Going to an Ivy League school is not attainable for most folks, but with the set up of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs as they are commonly called, that dream is not only within reach, it’s affordable too.  In fact, it’s free.

Age of GlobalizationFor the last couple of weeks, I’ve been attending a course on globalization at the University of Texas at Austin.  It is fascinating.  If you are a traveler and love being in the world, the new field of globalization study is something you will really want to look into no matter what your background or age range.  The class is ten weeks long and, after the first couple of weeks, you work at your own pace.  The structure of the class creates a global classroom with attendees from, literally, all over the world.  The MOOC folks have done a great job of making the experience more personal by allowing students to send in tweets with the links to articles that somehow depict the effects of globalization and to spend time in discussion forums checking out the opinions of some of the other 30,000 folks in the class.

MOOCs have been the topic of much talk lately, especially since Google is now interested in getting involved and supporting the growth of this amazing resource. True, you don’t earn a degree of any kind, yet…  But you do have the opportunity to earn a certificate and that’s not anything to sneeze at considering all of the major universities involved like Harvard, Stanford, University of California at Berkeley, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, more commonly known as the mighty MIT.

This kind of education is something that People of Color absolutely have to support.  With college costs going even beyond sky high now, finding a means to educate folks is of the utmost importance to maximize participation in the affairs of the world as borders begin to blur.  It will be interesting as these classes continue to flow out of the incredible institutes of learning to see how the focus of the classes might change.  For example, in the class that I am taking now, aptly titled The Age of Globalization, it freely takes a very Eurocentric view of the world right from the get-go asking the class to decide whether the voyages of the Vikings could be called globalization.  Now, I love Vikings and all of that Nordic history, but there is so much more history to the world that we here in the west just really don’t give any credence to and that’s simply because we are not trained to.  As noted in the discussion forum of the class, there were many Sino (Chinese) – African explorations and trading missions that took place long before the age of the Viking’s movements.  Not surprising when one considers the placement of the continents and the countries that reside upon them.

Take the time to discover these classes for yourself.  There is another globalization class starting on October 1 at Georgetown.  This class, called Globalization’s Winners and Losers, sounds just as interesting as the one I am taking right now.  There are no prerequisites except to be fluent in English reading and writing, but even those requirements are not so strictly held that one doesn’t come across a comment or two in Spanish or some other language.  It makes it truly, well, global.  Try it out at https://www.edx.org/.

Why It Is An Imperative That People of Color Travel The World

Civil unrest.  Political protests.  Terrorist threats. Embassy closures.  Anti-American Sentiment

With all of these things going on in the world, one must ask themselves “Why travel?”

Well, to start us off, I thought it time to explain what I mean when I say “People of Color”.  The term “People of color” is a direct translation of the French term used in the Louisiana Territory during French rule, “Gents du Couleur“, which was used to refer to free Blacks, often mixed with French blood.  But I am also writing this blog for “People of Color”, people of any heritage who realize that they live in a world with people of many shades, cultures, and traditions… and like it that way. The blog is for people who are citizens of the world first and are keen to travel for understanding, tolerance, pleasure, relaxation, and excitement.

Here are the Top Five Reasons for People of Color to Travel the World:

1.  Connecting the Dots of the Diaspora – Making International Connections

Trayvon Martin Protest at the American Embassy in London

Trayvon Martin Protest at the American Embassy in London

Not to get all preachy up in here, but there is one clear, resounding answer to the question “Why Travel?” for people of color: because we must see the world and let the world see us in order to move forward.  We must build our own international relationships and have our own foreign policy that will allow us to create international businesses or to take advantage of an international system of support.  For example, when Trayvon Martin was shot, Black Britons marched on the United States Embassy in London in protest. They also marched after the verdict was announced.  It was a sign of solidarity that was very moving and very powerful.

Trayvon Martin Protest in London

Trayvon Martin Protest in London

The Trayvon Martin case was not just national news.  It was covered all over the world.  But, I don’t think many of us even heard of Trayvon’s mom’s trip to London where she met with the mother of a Black British teenager named

UK's Stephen Lawrence

UK’s Stephen Lawrence

Stephen Lawrence, who was slain by haters back in 1993.  Check out the memorial edition of the coverage of this historic case by the Black British newspaper The Voice.

Few people noticed that the uprising in the Paris banlieue (Suburbs) coincided with the unspeakable tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina.  There are so many questions that stem from that realization.  Could France’s actions, which resulted in the deaths of two young people of color, have been influenced by the obvious laissez faire attitude of American leadership around the Hurricane Katrina disaster?

We are a world community. Connecting the dots is a profound adventure. It is quite amazing to meet other people who look like us, but don’t act like us.  It brings home the point that there are many ways to live in this world, not just our way of life at home.  When I was studying in Italy, I had the pleasure, and, let me just say it, the shock of meeting lots of African students from various countries on the continent.  It was the first time where I had the opportunity to live “among” a predominantly African Continental Black population and it was eye opening.  Behaviors common to western folks were comfortable for me, but some of the behaviors of the African folks were so foreign that I found myself quite nonplussed sometimes as to why they did what they did, but, to be fair, I felt that way about the Italians too.  One day, as I was sitting at a café in the main piazza, contemplating this very phenomenon, an African gentleman named Beau-Beau, who was a student at the university and wicked smart, appeared almost magically by my side.  He looked at me with a sage smile and said “Your heritage is from Africa, but you are not African. Your way of life is very different than ours.”  I just kind of smiled back and nodded my head, appreciating his timely observation confirming what I, myself, had just realized.  I love my African roots, but I am not going to pretend that I can relate to all things African.  However, I would like to try. That’s why I love travel.

2.  Represent

Embassy AlertIt is an understatement to say that traveling the world as a POC is very different than traveling the world as a Caucasian American.  When I first started traveling in Europe, everywhere I went, the nationals thought that Americans were all blond and had blue eyes and that I was just some poor wretch from some ghetto, one step up from slavery, who was probably in their country looking for a better life.  Having been raised by two university-educated parents with an upper middle-class lifestyle, it was always a lot of fun to watch people struggle with this new perception as they got to know me and realized that I was just another western person, just like them, who had a nice life, but just wanted to see a bit of the world.  But it is only a small part of the world where we stand out upon sight as foreign.  In many other nations of the world, even in Asia and the Middle East, we blend into the population making it a different experience for us to travel than for Caucasians.  POCs speak Portuguese, Arabic, Spanish, French, A slew of Bantu languages, Some East Indian varietals, and lest we forget, with a distinct Aussie twang.  For this reason, places where American travel is discouraged for one reason or another, can be less dangerous for POCs.

When we travel, we are the ambassadors for POCs everywhere.  It is very powerful.  POCs are responsible for the world perception of who they are.  It is up to us to create and maintain our own narrative, not to let others do it for us.  We are more than just our nationality.  We must travel so that people in other countries get to what we are about, up close and personal, not through the media that is imported to their countries.  Keep in mind that they play television series like America’s Most Wanted and Cops in a whole lot of countries overseas and this is the closest a lot of these folks will ever get to a Black person.  These programs prey on the uninitiated and uphold the prejudices of those who would have it that Black people are ignorant, inferior beings.  What if POCs in the US protested the export of these programs and their skewed points of view?  Fortunately, Black folks are far too fascinating for people to ignore or to write off. Jazz, blues, rap, R&B, hip hop are the soundtracks of the world.  Sports excellence in basketball, football, tennis, golf, track and field have not only won over fans, but have made a place for POCs from emerging countries to make their mark.   Engineering, the sciences, and politics have all benefited from POCs’ over the course of many years, contributions showing a multifaceted community with a lot of talent.  The lack of POCs in Silicon Valley though, does give one to wonder what that’s all about.   We must travel to make sure that we represent ourselves (Represent!) and that we are the authors of our own narrative.

3. Inspiration, Motivation, and Courage to Push Forward

A few years ago, I was having dinner with some friends at a trattoria in London.  During the course of conversation, one of my friends, a White South African man, said to me “I know that everything in my country has been done to ensure my success.”  I was struck by the statement and I spent the next several days contemplating the various layers of what he had said.  I guess that the most impactful thing I took away from his earnest statement, meant to be self-deprecating, acknowledging that he had no excuse for being unemployed, was that I could not say the same.   The way South Africa was founded and developed, it was true what he said.  White folks live(d) very well with huge, gorgeous houses, lots of land, and usually a second place by the beach.  The restaurants are fantastic, the weather is great, and the education is very good.  Everything in the setup of the country, had been done to create avenues to success for the Europeans, but other people, the  Black, Indian, or Coloured folks, live(d) in various levels of abject poverty.  Of course, things have changed over the years, but equalizing things has not been an easy business and there is still a lot of work to do there.

What I realized from his comment was that, In America, the same is the case.  Life was set up by our forefathers through the seminal documents of the country, but did not include Black people as they were considered property at the time, not much different than horses.  The country was set up to ensure the success of White folks and laws concocted after emancipation have often worked to keep a de facto form of slavery and/or segregation going: racial profiling, uneven sentencing in the justice system, unequal education…all strategies that created a conveyor belt to incarceration and keeps the idea that Blacks are inferior alive and well even today with a POC president.  An example: I recently applied for a job at an exclusive (emphasis on exclusive) travel agency hoping to learn the ins-and- outs of super high end travel.  I wrote a great cover letter detailing my love of all things Italian and soon received a call from the owner. She and I chatted for a while in both English and Italian and found that we got on very well so she invited me for an in-person interview.  As I entered the travel agency, I knew that all was lost.  Everyone was very blond and they were staring quizzically at me with my caramel skin and long braids not quite knowing what it was that I wanted with a job in a travel agency focused on Italy.  When La Signora finally finished on the phone and came out of her office to meet me, she almost hit the floor in surprise.  I soldiered on.  This was not the first time I was something unexpected.  During the course of the interview she asked me three times if I had written my cover letter myself.  In her immigrant Italian mind, I must have had someone else create the clever letter for me.  All of a sudden my qualifications didn’t fit the job.  That’s okay.  I didn’t want to work for someone so remedial anyway.  When I travel the world, every conversation I have is something profound and poignant.  I love that.  And I love the ability to change someone’s perception not try to live within their current ones.

4.  Really Cool New Friends

The world is full of really incredible people of every nationality, every religion, and every race. Through travel, you get to know other global citizens, people with a different perspective of the world than the every day and who give you, as a fellow traveler, the opportunity to pick their brain for cool new points of view.  One thing that I noticed as a POC traveler is that I usually get to know people on one side or another of the extreme.  I often meet people who are rude, closed minded, and just nasty.  They want to get in my face to show me their contempt or their superiority.  But more frequently, I get to meet the really exceptional people.  The ones who have minds so open that any thought, and point of view is valid and important.  They are free-thinkers who want nothing to do with the lukewarm middle or the frigid existence of the unaccepting.  Getting to know these folks is worth the fare, the trials, and the creepy folks that try to make traveling for POCs uncomfortable.

5.  It’s a Lot of Fun!

Corcovado with Sugarloaf ViewTraveling is best legal high there is.  It’s more mind-expanding than an acid trip and more mellowing than smoking a “J”…or so I am told.  The new sounds, smells, tastes, languages, views, and activities all coalesce to make any international travel a true “Trip” that expands our minds and our world and we grow exponentially thereby.  When I was growing up in a small suburban city, my parents had a blue cypress tree in front of our entryway planted in a container.  For the sixteen years that I lived in that city, the tree grew to be all of four feet high.  When we left that city and moved to the coast, my parents planted the tree in the open ground in our front yard.  That tree now stands over sixty feet tall with branches extending out thirty feet on each side.  This is what its like to travel.  You grow and expand and become a person who is more rooted in humanity.  It’s as if your brain is a supercomputer running one operating system and then travel wipes that system out and starts programming another, stronger one.  It’s important to see the world.  Full stop.  End of sermon.

Coming Up…

There is so much going on right now that you are going to notice these blog posts coming a lot more frequently.  First, there is a two-month long European journey to prepare for, but please don’t think that we are going to be spending our time just rooting around the west in this blog.  That was just to get us started.  We are going to be hitting every continent and kicking up some dust doing everything from luxury spas to adventure canoeing down the Zambezi.  Stay tuned and, by all means, chime in.

à bientôt

International Reactions to the Trayvon Martin Case

International Reactions to the Trayvon Martin Case

“If you’re black, America’s like the uncle who paid your way through college…but molested you.”

Chris Rock

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Trayvon Martin: le suspect acquitté

leFigaro.fr (France)

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George Zimmerman acquitted in Trayvon Martin case

Neighbourhood watch leader walks free from Florida court after jury finds him not guilty over death of 17-year-old

Guardian.co.uk (United Kingdom)

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Urteil im Fall Trayvon Martin: Freispruch für Nachbarschaftswächter Zimmerman

Er kann den Gerichtssaal als freier Mann verlassen: George Zimmerman, angeklagt wegen des Todes des unbewaffneten schwarzen Jugendlichen Trayvor Martin, ist von den Geschworenen in Florida für unschuldig erklärt worden. Der Fall spaltet Amerika zutiefst.

DerSpiegel.de (Germany)

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Caso Trayvon, Zimmerman prosciolto
Si temono proteste contro la sentenza

Il vigilante ha ucciso il 17 enne Martin Trayvon che era disarmato. Per la giuria non è colpevole di omicidio

corriere.it (Italy)

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‘Even Though I Am Brokenhearted, My Faith Is Unshattered’

Father of Trayvon Martin speaks after George Zimmerman is found not guilty of son’s death

voice-online.co.uk (United Kingdom)

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Zimmerman acquitted of murder in Trayvon Martin shooting

TheGlobeandMail.com (Canada)

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UK Shows Support For Trayvon Martin

Three hundred people demonstrated outside US embassy over the 17-year-old’s death

voice-online.co.uk (United Kingdom)

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La muerte del joven negro a manos de un blanco abrió el debate racial en ese país.

elespectador.com (Colombia)

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Jury acquits George Zimmerman in killing of Trayvon Martin

A Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman on Saturday in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.

mg.co.za (South Africa)

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Trayvon Martin-rättegång inledd

allehanda.se (Sweden)

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Júri feminino decidirá destino de George Zimmerman em caso Trayvon Martin

Zimmerman é o ex-vigilante de origem hispânica que disparou e matou o adolescente negro desarmado Trayvon Martin

correiobraziliense.com.br (Brazil)

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Jurado halla inocente a Zimmerman en muerte de Trayvon Martin

El exvigilante voluntario George Zimmerman fue declarado inocente este sábado del asesinato en segundo grado del joven negro desarmado Trayvon Martin ocurrido hace más de un año en Florida y que dividió a la opinión pública estadounidense.

eluniversal.com.co (Colombia)

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Juryns beslut: ”Inte skyldig”

Zimmerman frias för Trayvon Martins död

Efter en långdragen rättsprocess har juryn i Floridas domstol lämnat ett besked.

George Zimmerman frias för 17-årige Trayvon Martins död.

– Du kommer inte ha något mer att göra med domstolen, säger domare Deborah Nelson.

aftonbladet.se (Sweden)

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Florida: Freispruch im Fall Trayvon Martin

Freiwilliger Nachbarschaftswächter hatte 2012 einen unbewaffneten, schwarzen Teenager erschossen – Neue Diskussion um Rassismus

derstandard.at (Austria)

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Zimmerman acquitted of Trayvon Martin murder

Protests held after neighbourhood watch leader is cleared of all charges for killing 17-year-old black teenager.

aljazeera.com (Arabic-Speaking World)

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Краткая история убийства, всколыхнувшего общественность по материалам в рунете

Это произошло 26 февраля 2012 года в городе Сэнфорд, штат Флорида. Трэйвон Мартин спешил домой из ночного магазина с бутылкой чая и пачкой конфет, когда его нагнал незнакомец.

so-l.ru (Russia)

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Trayvon Martin murder trial: jury finds George Zimmerman not guilty

George Zimmerman, the Florida neighbourhood watch captain who shot and killed 17-year African American high school student Trayvon Martin in a killing that raised major questions about race and gun control in America, was last night found not guilty of his murder.

telegraph.co.uk (United Kingdom)

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George Zimmerman not guilty in death of Trayvon Martin

George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges on Saturday for the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in this central Florida town in February of last year.
Read more:

english.ruvr.ru (Russia)

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Trayvon Martin’s family reacts to not guilty verdict

Protestors rally in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin trial, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York.

theage.com.au (Australia)

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Zimmerman Is Acquitted in Killing of Trayvon Martin

International Herald Tribune

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US watch volunteer cleared in black teen shooting

m.thejakartapost.com (Indonesia)

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George Zimmerman cleared of Trayvon Martin murder

George Zimmerman, the Florida neighbourhood watchman who shot dead an unarmed black 17-year-old male last year, has been found not guilty on all charges.

bbc.co.uk (United Kingdom)

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Trayvon Martins morder tilbage bag tremmer

stiften.dk (Denmark)

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Trayvon-Martin-Prozess: Freispruch für Todesschützen

George Zimmerman hat den schwarzen Teenager bei einem Patrouillengang erschossen. Sein Freispruch lässt in den USA die Wogen hochgehen.

diepresse.com (Austria)

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Zimmerman’s business with the court may not be over

“Not guilty” does not necessarily mean George Zimmerman’s legal trials are over. The Justice Department is investigating, and Trayvon Martin’s family could sue in civil court.

guampdn.com (Guam)

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Justice for Trayvon Martin

Black Boaters’ Summit 2013: Sailing and Emancipation in the British Virgin Islands

Black Boaters’ Summit 2013: Sailing and Emancipation in the British Virgin Islands

The 16th Annual Black Boaters’ Summit – August 1 to August 11, 2013

bvi palmEvery summer for the last fifteen years an event has taken place that celebrates the adventurous spirit and island history of people of color.  The 16th Annual Black Boaters’ Summit, which sets sail this year from August 1 through August 11, is an amazing opportunity to enjoy one of the premier sailings spots in the world while getting a good dose of the history of this Caribbean island peopled with a large population of POCs, 89% at last count.  The event, which is the brainchild of Captain Paul Mixon, a sailing enthusiast who took his love of the water to the next level with this event, features the most relaxing sails to several of the approximately 50 islands that make up this West Indian island-nation located 60 miles east of Puerto Rico.  Each Island has its own unique character and offerings, which makes this luxurious mode of island-hopping a true adventure.  The boats are all captained by POCs and it is thrilling to come together with other water folks from all over the country.

Ladies enjoying the sail

Ladies enjoying the sail

“Sailing in the BVI is one of the most refreshing and rehabilitating activities that you can do,” says Captain Paul. “And I know that a lot of folks are afraid of the water or being seasick, but we have been doing this for fifteen years and we have never had an accident or other issue.”  I can attest to the regenerating effects of sailing.  When I attended the Summit a couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of sailing on a boat captained by Captain Bill Pinkney, the first African American to circumnavigate the globe.  It was balmy and gorgeous out on the water aboard a catamaran-style yacht.  The going was smooth, the water warm as your bathtub, and there were no outrageous rogue waves or anything of that type to make the sailing rocky. At the front of the yacht there are these wonderful net areas where you can literally lie out over the water as if you were on a hammock, dragging your hand lazily through the current.   There is no word in the English language for the bliss to be had soaking in the breeze with a cold drink in your hands as the sun sets among the islands. Captain Pinkney once told me a quote that I will never forget, “Every day spent sailing is a day added onto your life.”  Hallelujah.

Captain Cool

Captain Cool

It’s exciting to learn about the history of POCs in the Caribbean, but one gains much more than that when touring the islands.  One learns about the seafaring history of POCs during the Age of Sail when tall ships, not airliners, were the mode of transport for both personal travel and commerce.  These days in the United States there is a sense that POCs and water do not mix.  Not true.  As noted in the fantastic book, Blackjacks: African American Seaman in the Age of Sail by W. Jeffrey Bolster, POCs made up a full third of the sailors during this period (1740 – 1865) and several were important ships’ captains.  Yes, many were also pirates.  It wouldn’t be any fun if they weren’t.

bvi turtleThe idea that POCs aren’t good swimmers is also blown completely sky high in the islands.  First off, how can you live on an island and be scared of the water?  Anyway, these folks are fish.  They jump in and out of the water without a thought and it is so inspiring to see how they glide through the clear, warm waters of their Caribbean home.  These folks pull most of their meals out of the sea itself and the meals are extremely fresh with wonderful spices. The food here is some of the best that I have ever tasted in my life.   The fish are sweet, succulent and of such a variety you will never get bored with just one kind.  Caribbean favorites such as conch fritters and jerk-spiced meats are always to be found on the menu.  I can attest to having the best, the sweetest lobster I have ever had in my life along with the smoothest rum and rum drinks outside of Cuba.  Watch out for drinks like the local favorite, the Bushwhacker, a compelling concoction which includes rum, vodka, Bailey’s, Frangelico, Amaretto, Chococo Liqueur, Creme de Coconut, crushed ice, whip cream, and a Maraschino cherry.  They are creamy-cool and underscore the mood of the islands so perfectly that you will down three of them without a thought and start making some really bad decisions.  Thus the name Bushwhacker.

The Baths

The Baths

The BVI is the perfect place to take up water activities if you never have done so.  While I was there, I learned how to snorkel. It was absolutely thrilling to see the manta rays and other aqua life swimming casually by completely undisturbed by my presence.  They also have world class diving where the currents are easy and the water is clear.  This is definitely an outside the box something to take up.

Archipelago of BVIslands

Archipelago of BVIslands

Life in the BVI is easy. Everybody moves according to island time so leave your punctuality at home.  The people are super friendly and very happy to share a few words in the shade.  The atmosphere is sexy-romantic, which is why so many people select is as a wedding destination.  Even though the top two industries in the BVI are finance (Off-shore financial services) and tourism, the islands remain happily uncongested, which is why the BVI tourist bureau adds the subtitle of “Nature’s little secret” to its logo.  This blissful state of balance between anonymity and tourist overrun allows for a very personal experience with the island folk who are not tourist weary or trying to sell you a piece of kitsch.

Summit Boat

Summit Yacht

Boating Life

During the Summit folks live aboard the yachts, which can accommodate eight to ten people.  Rooms are booked for double occupancy, but for just a little bit more single rooms are to be had as well.  The sailors take turns cooking most of their meals aboard the yacht.  Here, on board this floating home away from home, is where the friendships and memories that last a lifetime are formed.  On board with your yacht buddies sailing through the islands in the azure blue, beautiful Caribbean.  Many people return year after year because the experience is so special.  The Black Boaters’ summit has an incredible 75% return rate.

Cap'n Paul Mixon and his wife Marvelle

Cap’n Paul Mixon and his wife Marvelle

Don’t worry if you don’t know how to sail.  You won’t have to swab the decks or raise the mizzen mast.  This is not the America’s Cup, after all.  Cap’n Paul Mixon is very careful to tell anyone who asks that the Summit is not a sailing event.  He considers it an island-hopping joyride through the BVI, all on private yachts.  “We only sail for two to three hours a day.  We sail for however long it takes us to get to our next port.  Then it’s all ashore and we go touring and dining and there are lots of parties.”

If you are interested in attending there is still space available and you can book right up to the date of departure.  But make sure you do it this year because, unfortunately, this will be the last Summit.  A real shame because this event was really something special.  Let’s hope that the demand to continue is so overwhelming that the good Cap’n has no choice but to raise his sail once more and keep on going.  Right now, there are a few spots left and, as I understand, there are some great deals to be had.  Check in with Cap’n Paul for more information.

A Classic BVI Sunset

A Classic BVI Sunset

The price of the event include:

  • Seven days and nights on the yacht
  • Breakfast, lunch and dinners on the yacht
  • Nightly parties
  • Two meals ashore
  • BBS welcome party
  • Transfers
  • Snorkeling equipment use on the yacht
  • Event T shirt and hat
  • Three nights at The Westin St. John
  • Cap’n Paul’s legendary white party

BBS Coral ReefSo, if you are looking for a relaxing summer getaway, this is it.  Fortunately the Summit also coincides with the wonderful British Virgin Islands Emancipation Festival.  Contact Cap’n Paul Mixon for more information about this truly fabulous experience.

Abolitionist Pamphlet

Abolitionist Pamphlet

A brief history of the BVI

The BVI is part of a group of islands called the West Indies that were first inhabited by indigenous peoples until the arrival of European explorers.  They have all been there, the Spanish, the Dutch, and the British.  As the islands were settled by their perpetual European colonists, African slave were introduced to provide the labor for the local industries of sugar and cotton in a plantation culture much like the ones throughout other slaving countries.  After a series of uprisings, emancipation came on August 1, 1834, which is celebrated every year in a countrywide event called the Emancipation Festival.  The Festival is a two-week-long event full of music, food, and community.  While visiting the festival, it was interesting to note that Lift Every Voice is called the Caribbean Black National Anthem and spirituals from the period of slavery in America went international and are sung here as well.

Emancipated Lady

Emancipated Lady

The Emancipation Festival July 25, 2013 – August 10, 2013

The Emancipation Festival celebrating the end of slavery in the BVI is absolutely community driven.  Everyone takes part.  There are beauty contests and a major international reggae festival featuring top acts from throughout the Caribbean as well as performer’s of the BVI’s own Fungi music.  The year I attended the festival Maxi Priest was in the house and it was a blast.  But beware, these folks party all night long and make up for it by sleeping in really late the next day.  This is the islands, man, and it’s all about island time.  During the festival you will find that mornings are quiet and nothing starts moving after a heavy party night until around 1pm.

Moko Jumbies (People on Stilts)

Moko Jumbies (People on Stilts)

The highlight of the Emancipation Festival is definitely the festival parade.  The parade features beautiful children, men, and women dancing and whining through the streets.  Moko Jumbies, people strutting their stuff on stilts are an impressive site making their way down the road high above your head, their stilted legs moving like those of a pelican.  It’s all colorful, imaginative, and everything we love about the Caribbean.

Ladies with attitude

Ladies with attitude

During the parade, food and drink may be had from the establishments and stands that line the streets.  It’s a lot of fun and not as hectic as say, Carnaval in Brazil.  Check out the schedule for this year’s festival on the BVI Tourism website.

Making History. Building a Legacy. All African American Expedition Denali

Making History. Building a Legacy. All African American Expedition Denali

Expedition Denali  For the last nineteen days, eleven determined people of color from six different cities, have been undertaking the first ever all-African American team climb to the top of North America: a climb to the top of Denali in Alaska.  Also known as Mt. McKinley, Denali is the highest peak on the North American continent at 20,320 feet.  That’s only about 9000 feet less than Mt. Everest.  Now this is what I’m talking about when I talk about intrepid! The expedition has been completely crowd funded, raising $111,125, well over its target of $107,500, which shows how very excited people are about this wonderful adventure.  A documentary team will be along to film everything.

Mt. McKinley

Denali (Mt. McKinley) the highest peak in North America.

About the Mountain: Denali National Park is about 240 miles north of Anchorage and welcomes over 400,000 visitors a year.  It is a breathtaking, pristine six million acres of wilderness.  There is only one road through the whole expanse of park so it is left to the visitor to get out and move through the vast expanse where the flora and fauna are astounding.  As viewed from the lower meadows, Denali is a grande dame that rises supreme from the midst of an impressive mountain range.  There are various routes to be taken to the summit, some easier than others, but none of them “easy”.

As you can see from the map, Alaska, one of the 50 United States, but not part of the “lower 48″, lies between the Canadian border and Bering Strait.  On the other side of the narrow Strait lies, yes, Russia. Alaska Map I wonder if you can see it from the top of Denali.  Well, regardless, this is a big undertaking.  I don’t want to be a buzz kill, but Denali kills folks, even the most experienced of climbers.  550 to date have lost their lives while attempting to conquer this mountain.  Every year approximately 1000 people attempt the climb and only about a half make it to the summit.  Extreme storms can kick up and cause some nasty problems.  Folks who decide to bivouac on the mountain to ride out an unexpected dust up can also die of pulmonary edema or other such altitude related issues.  Make no mistake.  This is not a hike, it’s not a meandering nature walk, it’s a climb and this climb is a true challenge.

Billy Long taking a practice climb.

Denali Climber Billy Long

The Purpose of the Expedition: The climb is being undertaken to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first ever ascent of Denali back in June 1913.  The exact date of this year’s climb will depend on the conditions once they reach the mountain as is required in all such expeditions of this magnitude.  Nature is…well, nature and doesn’t always do what you want it to when you want it to.  This means that your climb schedule has to be flexible enough to adjust to whatever Mother Nature decides to hand out while you are there.  That’s all part of the fun if you have done your homework and planned properly.

Denali Mountaineer James Kagambi

Denali Mountaineer James Kagambi

The historic expedition has been put together in association with the National Outdoors Leadership School or NOLS as it is commonly called.  NOLS provides such      excursions for leadership development  purposes, working to instill ethical leadership qualities into the teams that undertake any one of their many trips, teaching them to work together, lead, and communicate.  These capabilities then transfer over into other parts of one’s life.  Their trips are intensive and exacting.  They take you out of your comfort zone and bring out qualities in you that you didn’t know you had.  Cool.

Tyrhee Moore

Tyrhee Moore

The Message of the Climbers: The eleven intrepid African American climbers, including three women, are all from various backgrounds.  All of the folks involved are role models in their own communities throughout the United States and are considered change agents.  Each of the climbers has been training at home and they have also taken part in a practice climb up Mt. Baker in Washington state.   I think that the undertaking is so fantastic that they need a press name. Something like the Denali 11 or the Denaliens…or… okay, we will leave that for later.  I am sure that the public will coin some heroic title for these folks.  Back to topic…, the “mountaineers” of the Denali Expedition are climbing to promote diversity in the great outdoors and to encourage young people to get out and move. They also want to teach young folks to appreciate nature and to raise interest in protecting America’s wild spaces.  The message is communicated not only by the climb, but also by the diversity demonstrated among the climbers themselves. They are:

  • Scott Briscoe – Avid outdoorsman and Howard University grad. Staunch advocate for getting youth into nature.
  • Stephen DeBerry – Climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, UCLA undergrad and track star, MBA and masters in Anthropology from Oxford, manages a socially responsible investment firm in San Francisco.
  • James “KG” Kagambi – International mountaineering instructor. Lives in Kenya with his family.
  • Billy Long – Adventure seeking mountaineer raised in Northern California. Studying engineering in New York City.
  • Ryan Mitchell – Cyclist and mountaineering Philly native. Science Teacher, graduate of Penn State and UC Davis.
  • Tyrhee Moore – Visual Journalism student at the University of West Virginia. Experienced outdoors man. Youngest of the crew at 18 years old.
  • Robby ReChord – Back country skier and whitewater rafter. That’s hardcore. Chicago native now living in Wyoming. Dedicated to the great outdoors.
  • Erica Saal- Community college student (love it!) Seattle born, currently living in New Jersey. Been an outdoors woman since before Junior high. Just 20 years old.
  • Adina Scott – Childhood love of the outdoors. Engineering and music degrees from Case Western Reserve University. Electrical engineering PhD from Purdue.
  • Stephen Shobe – Managing Director of Pioneer Climbing Expedition. Subterranean cave explorer. Scuba diver. Wild fire fighter. Technical climbing instructor for the French government.
  • Erica Wynn – Born and raised in Queens, NYC. Junior at American University in Psychology. Promoter of health and fitness for young girls of African American descent.
Adina Scott

Denali Mountaineer Adina Scott

These mountaineers exemplify the best of the best: education, achievement, pushing one’s limits, and excellence.  Many of these folks have a goal of climbing mountains on every continent and a few of them are only a couple peaks away.  Some might ask why do a “White people” thing like climbing a mountain? Why use hard earned money to fund this sort of activity?  The answer is that nature is there for everyone and POCs are woefully under represented exploring natural places.  Remember that Oprah series where she and her best buddy Gail went to Yosemite?  Getting out in nature is the most amazing way to replenish what life sucks out of you. And let’s all remember, even Martin Luther King, Jr. had been to the mountaintop.

Robby ReChord

Denali Mountaineer Robby ReChord

People may also ask why not just hit a hiking trail or something?  True. The answer is to do what works for you. Hiking trails is great too.  That’s the point.  Get on out in nature, however you choose to do it and just soak it all in.  It’s all good stuff.  But if you have ever watched a climbing movie like “Into Thin Air” or the series “Everest: Beyond the Limit” and have felt that, I don’t know, sheer longing to just express yourself through strapping on a backpack and some crampons and taking off, on and on, pushing your body to its outer limits…well, you’re a climber and you need to go on and do it.  I know I get that feeling when I check out those shows.  I also get that feeling when I watch Warren Miller extreme ski films where they go completely off the grid jumping out of helicopters and stuff onto trails that no one else has touched.  I just feel so empowered afterwards.  I, myself, am a great walker.  I love to walk through cities exploring their every nook and cranny.  I also love nature.  I love to hike.  I’ve been training myself to take on the Appalachian Trail and to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in a couple of years so it was great to see some other POCs showing me the way to go and what comes next.

Healthy Effect: The mountaineers don’t harp on it, but the health benefits of this activity are amazing.  Medically, I had the POC evil three: hypertension, pre-diabetes, and high cholesterol.  After walking through the mountains every day for over a year, my high cholesterol disappeared and my sugar went down to acceptable levels.  Still working on the hypertension, but I will knock that out this year, I am certain.

Scott Briscoe

Denali Mountaineer Scott Briscoe

Very Personal Message: I find that this expedition reaches each person in a different place bringing with it its own message to them personally.  My message was this: In the world, especially in the United States, there seems to be an unwritten list of things that people of color do not do.  Some of them are prescribed by our society, but others, we thrust upon ourselves: POCs do not swim, POCs do not play tennis, POCS don’t do gymnastics, POCs do not play hockey, POCs do not quarterback NFL teams, POCs do not become president of the United States… on and on it goes.  Happily, we have disproved all of these, but there is still a lot of work to do around the overall global image of people of color and the removal of profiling and other oppressive tactics.  If these folks can come together to work as a team to climb to the mountaintop, we as a collective community should be able to do the same at sea level.   We all need to find our own personal mountaintops in our lives and start to climbing. What this expedition says to me is that POCs can organize and move, well, mountains.

Erica Wynn

Denali Mountaineer Erica Wynn

So, why don’t we organize towards putting together a national agenda that promotes a more equitable existence for us all?  Why don’t we crowd-fund a movement to demand a reduction in the incarceration rates of POCs by 35% by the year 2015?  Or why don’t we crowd-fund a movement to demand an increase in the POC high school graduation rates?   We’ve had a POC president for the last five years and have not put forward anything resembling an organized request for improvements to our own community.  His time in office is almost up and we only have about three more years to get something on his desk that would move us up that crazy ladder, regaining ground we have lost.  But we have to be able to be vocal and supportive.  To push back against the crazy hype that politics brings with it.   We need to keep climbing towards that mountaintop.  Reach

higher ground. That’s what a trip like this means to me.

Denali Mountaineer Stephen Shobe

Denali Mountaineer Stephen Shobe

Mountaineer Rosemary Saal

Denali Mountaineer Rosemary Saal

Stephen DeBerry

Denali Mountaineer Stephen DeBerry

Denali Mountaineer Ryan Mitchell

Denali Mountaineer Ryan Mitchell

Brazilian Winter: June 2013

Brazilian Winter: June 2013

What is happening in Brazil? Over a million people are protesting.  They are in the streets in over 100 Brazilian cities and they are not going away despite a strong police presence.  It’s a true Brazilian uprising.  The first ever of its kind.  It’s Brazilian Winter.

True, Brazilians have been known for civil protests, but they are not known for large scale protests of this kind.  Not even the movement to end slavery in the country back in the 19th century brought forth such a concerted effort of public decision making and they have never had a true civil right movement just little dust ups here and there.  The title “Brazilian Winter” may not have the same uplifting tone that other titles such as “Arab Spring” may have bringing to mind either a refreshing source of water or the beginning of a new season of growth, but it’s a factual statement hearkening to both the season in Brazil and the sentiments of many of those who are protesting.  Brazil, which has been enjoying unprecedented economic growth and prosperity has been held up as a model of a growing democracy offering new entrance into the middle class for many who had lived their lives in poverty before.  But the protests are saying that Brazil’s government needs to freeze for a minute and stop what it’s doing to listen to what the people are saying.

Stadium ConstructionThe protests started when the government passed a law raising the rates for public transportation in an “Oh no, they didn’t” sort of backlash.  But as the protests go on even after the government repealed the rate hike, it is clear that the change in transportation fares was merely the straw that broke the camels back.  There are other issues making themselves known through this uprising such as corrupt politicians, run down schools, high taxation, police brutality, weak national infrastructure, and poor public safety.  Many of the Brazilians feel that the country is spending so much money dressing itself up to show off to the world in high profile events such as the World Cup and the Olympics, that is has become out of touch with the citizens themselves, those whose taxes are paying for the large scale projects.  According to some, these protests will lead to new revelations about a lack of “trickle down” of the new riches of the country to those who live in the most abject of poverty in the nations enormous ghettos or favelas.  Admittedly, it would be hard to watch large, elaborate stadiums being built that you yourself will never be able to enjoy because of the cost of the tickets.  The protests will also bring to light the need for sweeping reforms to many of the country’s systems and the need to implement more aggressive social services.

As someone once said “Democracy is messy,” and that would certainly be borne out by the events in Brazil.  After the governance of popular President Lula, Brazil has been seen to be moving into a sort of elitist government with a crony component and a “pay to play” structure.  Truly, it is the role of the people in a democracy to let the government know when it does not agree with the direction it is taking or decisions that it has made.  It is apparent from the organic development of the Brazilian Winter that the people have been dissatisfied for a long time now and have reached the point where they are not going to take it anymore.  They are saying “You can’t sedate us with soccer!” and demanding real change in the way that their country is run.  The population of Brazil, which is reported to have the world’s most beautiful women, is 86% of African descent.  It is known to have the largest such population outside of Nigeria.  It also has a large Asian population and some folks with surnames that sound suspiciously German.  Brazil also has a large indigenous population, mostly in its interior.  It is hoped that one of the outcomes of this incredible demonstration of political muscle from a consolidated public is that some racial parity will be brought to the table.  Although Brazil touts itself as a country free of racism, it is a myth that is in the process of being dispelled and it’s about time.

I ask myself as a person of color with a similar historical background to most Brazilians, what would I hope would come out of this protesting for the benefit of the diaspora?  The answer pops quickly into my head.  I would wish for more inclusion for the people with a darker shade of brown in Brazil.  More representation as well.  Brazil has a rather complex color system, not like the “three drops” law in the United States, which dictates race.  I have been to Brazil three times.  Each time I was struck by the many disparities present in this large country.  It would be great to see this protest evolve into a well-guided movement for reform with the people of the country putting a strategy in front of their leaders that will truly allow them to have a voice for change in their nation.  That is something that even we here in the “developed” nations can no longer boast.

Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, who has been criticized for her silence, has finally spoken to the nation.  In an address Friday night, Rousseff basically said that she heard the protesters, but that they were making Brazil look bad, so stop.  Somehow this response shows just how incredibly off target the Brazilian government is in terms of what it deems most important for the country.  If the President is more concerned with Brazil’s world image over the needs of her citizens she truly needs to spend some time in consultation with Yemanja or one of the other 200-plus orixas (deities) of the Candomble religion.

The Art of Itinerary: 25 Countries in 60 Days by Train

Time for the Euro

Time for the Euro

I’m really excited about taking off on this trip next May 2014.  To create my itinerary for my grand tour this time around, I have the assistance of my trusty laptop.  Imagine, the last time I took this trip, the Internet was not even invented yet.  My, my.  It’s interesting all that has changed in that small amount of time.  Don’t even get me started on flat screen TVs.  Anyway…this time around, I can sit down with my laptop and a glass of something well-aged and have at it.  My first stop is to check out the Rail Europe website.  This is the site where you can purchase your Eurail Pass and it has lots of nifty tools to help you plan your trip.  Using their itinerary building tool under the “Europe Map & Guide” tab, I’m first going to bang out a general itinerary and then hone it as I get more of an idea when some of the can’t miss happenings are happening.

Johann Strauss, the Waltz King

Johann Strauss, The Father of the Waltz in Vienna’s City Park

First, I have to chose where I wish to start.  I have chosen to start in my old home town of Vienna, Austria.  Vienna, the seat of power during the rule of the Habsburgs and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is a great place to take off from.  With the old Eurail Pass way back when, Vienna used to be the end of the line, the furthest point east you could travel.  A lot of folks traveling to Austria would hit Salzburg and Innsbruck and then head off somewhere else because Vienna was just too far east and took too much time to check out.  But now, with all of the new countries added on the pass, Vienna is the perfect hub between east and west both by location and by culture.  So much that is Viennese comes from Hungary.  Try some goulash or stuffed bell pepper, or some reisfleisch (rice with meat mixed in it.)  It also got a lot of its culinary staples from Italy.  Wienerschnitzel is a breaded veal cutlet fried ever so carefully and served with a wedge of lemon and a side of potatoes.  This the Viennese have from the Milanese and their famous Cotoletta alla Milanese.  But I digress again and, besides I’m getting Hungary (get it?)  Sorry.  No more sappy jokes.  Anyway, with Vienna’s new central location I’ve marked it as my starting point and I can check in with old friends there as a bonus.

Using this process, I have cobbled together the following itinerary:

Travel Beyond Borders Magazine 2014 Escapade

Map of the BalkansThe Itinerary!  

Day 1 to Day 2 – Austria
Vienna

Day 3 – Slovakia
Bratislava

Day 4 – Hungary
Budapest

Day 5 – Romania
Bucharest*

Day 6 – Bulgaria

Bucharest, Romania at night

Bucharest, Romania at night


Sofia*

Day 7 to Day 9 -Turkey
Istanbul*
Ankara*

Day 10 to Day 13 – Greece
Thessaloniki*
Athens*
Santorini*

Alessandro de Medici, Duke of Florence

Alessandro de Medici, the first Duke of Florence and the first ruler of the modern world

Day 14 to day 19 – Italy
Naples* – 1 day
Rome – 2 days
Perugia – 1 day
Florence – 1 days
Venice – 1 day

Day 20 – Slovenia
Ljubjana*

Day 21 – Croatia
Zagreb*

Day 22 – Austria
Innsbruck

Day 23 to Day 24 – Switzerland
Zurich – 1 day
Bern – 1 day

Galleria Vittorio in Milan, Italy

Galleria Vittorio in Milan, Italy

Day 25 to Day 26 – Italy
Lake Como* – 1 day
Milan – 1 day

Day 27 – Monaco
Monte Carlo

Day 28  to Day 31 – France
Nice -2 days
Marseille* – 1 days
Montpellier* – 1 day

The Alhambra

The Alhambra in Moorish Spain

Day 32 to Day 36 Spain
Barcelona – 1 day
Granada – 1 day
Seville -1 day
Madrid – 2 days

Day 37 – Portugal
Lisbon*

Day 38 – Spain
Bilbao*

Day 39 to Day 41 – France
Bordeaux* – 1 day
Paris 2 days

Bucharest BrotherDay 42 to Day 43 – Ireland
Dublin*

Day 44 to Day 45 – Northern Ireland
Belfast*

Day 46 – Belgium
Brussels*

Day 47 – Netherlands
Amsterdam*

Day 48 – Luxembourg
Luxembourg City

Day 49 to Day 50 Germany
Cologne
Hamburg

Day 51 – Denmark
Copenhagen

View of Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy with its picturesque Duomo (Cathedral)

Day 52 – Sweden
Stockholm

Day 53 – Norway
Narvik

Day 54 – Finland
Helsinki*

Day 55 to Day 56 – Norway
Oslo
Bergen

Day 57 – Germany
Berlin

AC Milan

Don’t call it soccer. It’s football, darling. AC Milan doing its thing.

Day 58 – Czech Republic
Prague

Day 59 – Germany
Munich

Day 60 – Austria
Salzburg
Vienna

Done. Finis. Completo.

*The asterisks indicate places that I have not been to before.

Fashionable Rolley BagsWhew! Now that’s what I call a grand tour.  That’s just about fifty places to hit in sixty days so it will definitely be somewhat fast and furious.  I’m open to other suggestions for the itinerary from readers though so suggest away.  I was pleased to add on several places that I had not been to before.  These mixed with the places that I have been to previously will make it adventurous, but not torturous.  There will definitely be some overnight train excursions.  When I was living in Europe, I would often see people off on these types of grand tours and wondered why they didn’t just take on one country or region instead of “doing” Europe.  Then I remembered the thrill of landing somewhere new every day or so and envied them their adventure.  It’s so different there in Europe.  Often times, if you drive for an hour in any direction you will be in another country.  Here in the United States, if you drive for an hour in any direction you will most likely just be getting home from work.  In Europe the countries are smaller so you can move about and get their various flavors very easily.  It’s very intensive what with the differences in language and food.  You get a lot of mileage in a lot fewer miles and its fun.  I should mention that we will be dipping a toe in Asia as well when we head into Turkey.  Lots of excitement coming up.

elipsos-grand-clase-cabinSome might argue that it would be better to head west instead of east at the very beginning of the journey.  Tourist hoards in the month of June in the more popular parts of Europe are definitely formidable, but I do not relish being caught in the intense heat of summer in the eastern countries where the infrastructure is still a bit if-fy.  Now the challenge is to find  special activities in each of the places I hit, even if it’s just sitting on a beach in Greece soaking up the intense sun while drinking ouzo.  Since it’s been a while, there will have to be some heavy duty research hours spent on the ‘net and talking with tourist bureaus, but all in all I know it’s going to be fantastic.  Let me know if you have any suggestions on cool events happening in Europe while I am there and I will try to hit them.

Tapas in SpainNext comes a break down of each destination day by day.  I must admit, that I am allowing myself to change it up as required to make it an amazing voyage so don’t be surprised if you see some of the days/destinations change.  As always, each destination will be explored from the wonderful multicultural perspective of people of color.  It’s the only way I go.

Until then…as always…travel well.