Episode 53 │ The Demystifying Process (MOTHERLAND CONNECT)
"A lot of people have been priced out of travel for a long time, and it's just not right. Everyone deserves a chance to see the world." (Christopher, Episode 53)
It just so happened to work out that for our second and last episode of Black History Month, we've got a professor from a historically Black university (an HBCU)! This week's guest is Dr. Christopher Daniels, who earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from Florida A&M University (FAMU), and his PhD from Howard University. He currently teaches various international relations courses at FAMU and is also the co-founder of Motherland Connect, a travel organization that specializes in taking Black people on group trips to Africa and beyond.
Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Dr. Daniels has been traveling ever since he was young. Both of his parents were school teachers, so they always went somewhere as a family during the summer. And while he'd been to the Caribbean as well, Dr. Daniels' first transatlantic trip was when he went to Nigeria for his friend's wedding. That initial experience led to more international travels, and for the past 10 years he's been taking groups of students, faculty, and other interested individuals on trips to Africa.
At first when Dr. Daniels started doing these trips, it was almost like he had to beg people to go because a lot of them didn't see the Motherland as a worthwhile travel or vacation destination. Many perceived Africa as just a poor continent and didn't see the point in going —there wouldn't be anything to see or do there. Eventually, however, successive trips and word of mouth had so many people wanting to go that Dr. Daniels thought it'd be advantageous to make this initiative more organized, and so he created Motherland Connect with a friend who's based in South Africa. Their aim has been to maximize the experience and opportunities that Black Americans get through traveling to the continent, as well as to help form more long-lasting connections between Africans and Black Americans. Trips tend to be a week long, and Motherland Connect tries to fill that time with enriching activities so that participants are never bored but also aren't merely being tourists.
For example, a trip to South Africa could entail everything from visiting Nelson Mandela's house in Soweto and other sites connected to the anti-apartheid movement, to visiting a lion and safari park, to relaxing at a resort, to doing service projects and forming bonds with local community members. And though HBCU students are a significant target demographic for Motherland Connect (especially for their spring break trips), Dr. Daniels emphasizes that these trips are open to anybody. You don't even have to be a student or affiliated with a university at all; so long as you're at least 18 years old, you can go! Motherland Connect has had participants ranging from 18 to 80 years old, and many return to go on more MC trips. Participants are also encouraged to share their experiences with the people around them when they return home. This not only gets more people interested in going with Motherland Connect specifically, but in general it also warms more Black people up to the idea that traveling abroad is feasible for them.
A major factor in this feasibility is making international trips as affordable as possible to as many people as possible, which is one of Motherland Connect's principle tenets. Larger groups and shorter time frames both help keep costs down, and MC also assists participants with strategizing their own individual fundraising efforts. Though these trips do not count toward college credit, they do offer an appealing alternative to college students who may want to travel with an emphasis on cultural immersion, community service, and/or professional development, but can't afford a traditional study abroad program or can't be out of the country for too long.
More trips, more forums, more prospects
Due to demand, Motherland Connect has expanded to other destinations including Thailand, Dubai, Egypt, London, and Colombia. Dr. Daniels' vision for the future includes creating new trips, having one trip going every month by 2021 or 2022, having more forums and meetings on campuses to discuss the importance of international travel for life/career prospects, and getting people internships in Africa. In the meantime, he continues to balance his work as a professor with his work leading Motherland Connect, and he holds info sessions in various locations in an effort to get more students interested. (In fact, when he and I spoke, he was in Atlanta and had just held a session at Clark Atlanta University.) He doesn't go on every MC trip, but he has already gone on a couple this year so far, and for his own personal travels he's considering going to Zimbabwe or Zambia this year.
People are welcome to email Motherland Connect (email@example.com) or send them a DM on Instagram (@motherlandconnect_) if they want to go on a trip, donate to help fund community service projects or sponsor a student, or volunteer to be an ambassador within their campus or organization. Motherland Can also be found on their website (motherlandconnect.org), on Facebook (motherlandconnect_) and Twitter (@MotherlandConn).
Be sure to listen to this episode, "The Demystifying Process (MOTHERLAND CONNECT)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
Mandela House (Soweto, Johannesburg)
Danielle G. is the creator and host of Young, Gifted and Abroad. You can find her other writings at DeelaSees.com.