Survival is the primary focus for many families in underserved communities. Between crime, the lack of school funding for proper education, police tensions and the struggle to make a decent living wage, “survival” covers a multitude of concerns.
In a city like Chicago — particularly in black and brown areas — children live in segregated “bubbles.” These bubbles — in addition to operating in survival mode — mentally affect the way children move and think. While many activists and mentors venture into neighborhoods to fix the problems that exist there, it is also imperative to create opportunities that take kids out of those same areas. This would expose the children to outside experiences in efforts to help them see the world and themselves differently.
This is where the gift of travel comes into play. Exposing underprivileged youth to travel sparks positive change in those who rarely — if ever — get a chance to see other parts of their own city, much less the country.
Tammera Holmes, founder of the Aerostar Avion Institute, uses her non-profit to take kids out of poverty–stricken areas to expand their minds through aviation.
“Most minority kids in the city of Chicago have not left within a five-mile radius of their homes,” said Tammera. “We’ve actually taken kids to the beach to fly kites and they had never touched sand before. So, I think that a lot of things that we take for granted as travelers, a lot of kids just don’t know.”
Personally, there wasn’t much talk about world travelers on the Southside of Chicago where I grew up in the Roseland neighborhood. In a home where my parents struggled to make ends meet to feed three girls, the only vacation that I remember ever taking was a road trip to King’s Island in Ohio. It wasn’t much, but to a 12-year–old girl who hadn’t seen any of the world, it meant everything. I boarded a plane for the first time at the age of 30 and didn’t receive my first passport stamp until I was 38. Seeing the world opened my eyes and changed my perspective and so many prejudices I had. More importantly, it gave me an insatiable appetite to want more for myself — more experiences, more knowledge of other cultures and more connections to the world. I often wonder how many other adults feel that their lives would be more enriched if they had the opportunity to travel at a young age.
Tamar Manasseh is the president and founder of Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings in Chicago.
“Travel is essential to who we are — to our spirit. If we’re made up of all these things, we have to see different things. When we don’t, I think our souls are yearning to be bigger than what they are.”
Tamar knows, all too well, the struggles that youth from poor communities face every day. She is currently working on several programs that would afford her Englewood mentees opportunities to travel the country and learn about music and agriculture.
To stretch the minds of youth through travel, we need to have larger discussions. The myth that travel is only for rich whites needs to be dispelled as African Americans have added a whopping $63 billion dollars to the tourism economy as of 2018, according to a study conducted by Mandala Research. In addition, more non-profits and grassroots organizations need to be formed to give kids a chance to see the world.
The opportunity to see more encourages kids to be more. The sense of freedom, awareness and self-esteem gained through travel is more valuable, even, than what a child can gain from a book. Obviously, it won’t solve all the problems of youth in poor communities, but travel is certainly one of the many vehicles to push toward positive change.
“Travel far enough to meet yourself” – David Mitchell
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