An Open Letter to Parents About the Value of Traveling

Juhanna-RogersDear Parents:
I write this on behalf of my 20-year-old self to implore you to send your children abroad. As the world is growing and interconnected in ways we never imagined, we need more Black students and young professionals with skills to negotiate the politics of being Black and American in international spaces.
Since graduating from undergrad, I have visited five countries and twenty states. I have been to the Dominican Republic, England, and Canada multiple times. I lived experienced living with a host family, eating freshly killed meat, making paella in brick stove in southern Spain, holding starfish, sailing into the sunset, and speaking with descendants of freed African American Slaves who took Marcus Garvey’s advice and relocated to Caribbean.
In the last 12 years, I led over 150 students and professionals abroad to study culture, race, and African Diasporic history. Currently, I am writing my doctoral dissertation on the experiences of Black students in the Dominican Republic. Through my travels with students of all races, religions, and ages, I have learned just how important African American identity is.
Living, teaching, studying, and working abroad taught me that there is a global perception of Blackness and Black Americanness. I learned how to negotiate the highs and lows of global racial perception in my mid-twenties. I am not sure the words on this page could describe the stages of sadness, confusion, madness, loneliness, and eventually love for myself and my history that I went through traveling and living abroad.
I learned how to talk about race in America and racial disparities in other nations. I spoke at length with Black British and Caribbean women about love, family, and womanhood – these conversations expanded my views on myself.  The relationships with these women increased my confidence; I learned that there is a power in my Blackness, specifically my Black womanhood, that couldn’t be taken away by the harsh realities of racial America. While America has its issues, it is abroad that I faced the reality of my American privilege and gained a greater understanding of what it means to be a black woman born in the United States of America.
I have an appreciation for the American Civil Rights Movement, our ability to organize politically, and access to opportunities in education due to my experience. I deeply appreciate Black scholarship and artists such as James Baldwin, and a commitment to actively engage in the uplift of my peers and youth. I will never forget sitting in a Haitian community in the Dominican Republic with African American students and Haitian sugarcane workers and their youth. One of my students asked the locals, “What can we do when we return home to help?” A Haitian young man who had been to university and was teaching English to his community replied, “We need you to return home and translate Malcolm X into Creole! We need help teaching our people our way, all we need are the tools.”
A few months back, I reunited with one of my dear friends that I met while living and studying in Spain. We spent the evening eating and sipping on wine while I was attending a conference in Washington, DC. We talked about the international roads we traveled, the advanced degrees earned, and the adventures we have taken since those five months in Spain. As the evening came to a close once again, we declared our commitment to see more Black youth travel internationally. It is very simple, as young Black women: study abroad experience changed our lives! Luckily, because of my travels, I meet friends for dinner like this almost everywhere I go.
Ultimately, to the parents and guardians of young black students in America, the world is growing so interdependent; we no longer can afford to just send our students to college as a means to advance personally, economically, and professionally. Other youth need to travel and use the influence of Black culture along with the cultural knowledge obtained to create more opportunities for us to lead, advocate, and engage in meaningful works for all people of the Diaspora.
Juhanna Rogers is a Ph.D. candidate. Passionate about traveling and empowering others, she often writes about the intersections of race and gender. A prolific writer, she enjoys blogging and writing about issues that affect members of the African Diaspora.