Reclaiming My Time: Leaving Corporate America
It got to a point where I couldn’t get out of bed.
I needed to be at work by 9 a.m. at the latest, yet I ended up rolling in around 10:30 on a good day. Starbucks in hand, in a meeting with some of the bigger bosses about a major campaign, as my co-workers chatted all around me, I was busy scrolling away on the ‘gram. Finally, someone asked, “Jakiya, why aren’t you paying attention? Is this not important to you?” In that moment, I realized the answer was: No. It wasn’t. Not only was I not there mentally—I physically did not want to be there. Instead, I was using my energy to fantasize about my next trip, even though I had just used up all of my 10 vacation days for the year.
This was in September 2016. A month later, I quit. I’d been planning to do it for a year by then—originally planning to stick it out until December—but that meeting pushed me over the edge. I asked myself, ‘Why do I have to wait?’ I was looking for clarity in my life, needing to find the most extreme solution that would get me out of the corporate world and make me happy. The simple answer, for me, was traveling. In a way, I felt new to the world, and this was how I could see as much of it as I could. I had never gotten on a plane until I was 20, and I was 23 the first time I ever went out of the country.
I was brought up by a single mother who worked hard as a teacher, taking care of my younger sister and me as she taught us that if you push yourself, you can be successful. So I went to college at UNC Greensboro, got straight A’s, and graduated top of my class magna cum laude. I took the straight and narrow path, thinking that was what you had to do. Get the degree, get the grades, get a good job, right?
I started out as an intern at L’Oréal the summer before my senior year at university. Three months before I graduated, they hired me full time as an assistant marketing manager. Working in the corporate beauty industry on New York City’s 5th Avenue as a 21-year-old was basically my dream job. My life was nonstop, but I was ready for it. I had to put my feet to the floor and grind, and there was no room to fail. Honestly, I don’t remember thinking for the first two years at that job. From magazine parties, to free mani pedis weekly, to the weekends blending into the week. I was on the New York grind high, making more money that I had ever seen in my life and spending it just as fast.
But after six years, it got taxing. As a woman of color, the odds were stacked against me. The chances that I’d be CEO—or whatever I desired in White corporate America—was far from reality. I dissected my life: ‘Is this really what I want to do? Am I really passionate about this?’ Is it something that I could see myself doing for the rest of my life?’ I realized I needed to be having these introspective talks with myself, looking up from my day-to-day—the exhaustion and the 10 hour days—and being honest. That’s where it all started. It was no longer my dream. And that was okay.
I realized that I wanted more freedom of my time, and to use that time doing what I loved; exploring the globe and being location independent. I told myself if I was going to do this I was going to be all in. So I walked into my boss’s office and quit. After a year of preparing and saving everything I earned, I started my journey traveling the world. I knew that people would try to talk me out of it. I didn’t tell anyone I’d quit until I booked my one-way ticket to Europe.
Transitioning from a consistent (and good, might I add) paycheck with stability and reassurance (not to mention all those perks); to a life of risk, unpredictability and not knowing whether or not I was going to be able to pay the bills each month was no easy transition. But freedom and seeing the world, was priceless and something I knew I could achieve if I worked hard and kept at it. I was able to build a career out of my skills and network from my previous career in New York. I was still finding ways to make it work as I go.
If you want something bad enough you will make tough sacrifices, prioritize the important needs and get creative in ways to sustain your vision. The work ethic and discipline I learned from working in corporate was monumental in my transition and gave me the training, knowledge, and hustle I now have to go out there and earn an income for myself while living abroad, in any which way I could.
Reclaiming Travel: Why Traveling While Black Isn’t A Thing To Me.
I don’t think much more than growing up as a little Black girl in the Bible belt of the U.S., raised by a single mother trying to get by, can prepare you for the world. So when people ask me about experiences I have as a Black woman traveling, it’s hard to quantify. Because to me, nothing is more draining than being Black in America. Then add having an education and trying to prove yourself ten times over in Corporate America and having the same old issue of not being White enough for your job, nor Black enough for your friends. So for me travel is a bit of a breather from that.
As a Black female solo traveler a.k.a. the triple threat, people always ask about my travels in Europe and White counties. Do I feel like I stand out? Is safety an issue? Are people racist?
Here’s my answer: At this point, there is nothing else that I know other than standing out. The first place that made me feel that way was my own country. From being the only Black kid in my class, to the only Black woman in the conference room, to getting stares while doing something as simple as grocery shopping, America has painfully forced me from the womb to be aware that I am Black with a unique–or as White people describe–difficult name. With curly hair in a sea full of the exact opposite. So traveling in this skin, in White spaces, is really no different. In a way it actually feels less aggressive in other countries. Because at least I know that I am truly a foreigner in someone else’s country, rather than being treated as one in my own. Overall I really don’t think about it. I will always stand out, I always have, for other reasons not only being Black. It took me a long time to be comfortable with that but once I embraced it and got over the ignorance of others, it’s one less thing I have to worry about.
In the worlds of Maya Angelou “I can’t believe my good fortune. I am so grateful to be a Black woman. I would be jealous if I were anything else.”
Reclaiming My Roots: Reconnecting To Africa And Why
My journeys have taken me to places like Spain, Mexico, and Colombia, to Israel, Jordan and Morocco and I have enjoyed them all. Yet, nothing compares to being in the Motherland, and I am not talking Egypt or Morocco, I am talking about Black Africa. As an African American with no direct ties to the continent, there is just something about being on African soil with thriving Black bodies that reminds you that you are home. The unique connection I find with the people, the culture, the way of life, and the fact that I blend and belong with no question. It is something that I can’t get anywhere else in the world. That’s why I have made it my home base. There’s a strong appreciation of community, empowerment, inspiration and overwhelming sense of understanding, as if the faded puzzle pieces that had been ripped away hundreds of years ago somehow became clearer.
Being in the Motherland, as a Black woman, has helped me to understand and reinforce that certain things are just part of my DNA, my African DNA. That our ancestors stretch beyond those who were forced to America by boat; and have a thriving culture with customs, logical reasons and ways of doing things that don’t have to be explained to anyone; especially White people. Whether it’s the way my house mama washes the floors obsessively, paying attention to each detail, or the way people season the mess out of our dinner, talk loudly in public spaces, down to head wraps and braids being a norm—it all feels normal, justified. Something I had never felt growing up in America, and even worse, was told was wrong.
Reclaiming My Purpose: My Black To Africa Mission
I realize there is complexity when it comes to African vs. African Americans and the privilege associated with being an American. A privilege that I only feel is recognized outside of our very own country, to the point where we don’t even realize the privilege itself. Yes, our passport grants us access but do you know how many Black people actually have the education or socioeconomic status to even own one or go outside of the country? Not many. So before we talk about travel privileges let’s talk about oppressed mindsets.
As Black people, we have a divide within our own people caused by outsiders separating us with oceans, language and economic advances and that has trickled into our mindset. It pains me when Black Americans proclaim their disinterest in visiting Africa. So often, we subconsciously feed into the stereotypes, negative media and misrepresentation of the continent from which we originate; while missing out on the richest (and second largest) stretch of land on the planet.
Our parents may not have been born in an African country, but that shouldn’t make us any less connected to our roots. If anything, it should make us want to visit and discover even more. After traveling to the continent several times, I decided to make Senegal my home. As a Black woman — especially one with no direct family members from Africa — I feel that it is vital to be connected to the Motherland right now in my life. Africa allowed me to reclaim myself. Africa gave me freedom. Africa gave me clarity.
And why shouldn’t other Black Americans experience that, too? And what time is better than now with the current state of the US? So I wanted to bridge the gap. I thought to myself, why not help others feel the same liberation? I set off on a mission to restructure the narrative on what it means to travel to Africa, especially for Black Americans. To show both Africans and African Americans, that we are one in the same, cut from the same cloth and painted with the same skin, no matter how hard someone else tried to re-write that story for us.
I decided to craft a trip that not only brought African-Americans to Africa, but to connect us to what we’ve been disconnected from for so long. I worked closely with Senegalese to gather local vendors, guest speakers and resources to really curate an experience tailored to the African-American experience. This trip was made by us for us in collaboration with each other. The 8-day retreat is specifically designed to reconnect Black Americans with Africa and experience the best that Senegal has to offer. Not only that, to model support of each other by only interacting with locals and giving back to the communities we travel to. It is an exchange of privilege, if you will.
My hope is that I can help just one person change their mindset, and create their own narrative around Africa.
About The Author
Jakiya Brown| Travelingfro is a branding strategist and traveling entrepreneur on a mission to change the narrative of traveling Africa. She coordinates experiences for Black Americans to experience the continent through stories, content, retreats and cultural exchanges. Click here to join her in June 2019 and follow her on the social media buttons below: