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  • Writer's picturemarty_sandiego

Auburn is the blueprint: How destinations can authentically share Black stories.

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

As a diversity in travel consultant , different brands reach out to me to help them

develop their strategy surrounding Black stories and Black history. Destinations struggle with sharing, displaying and amplifying Black narratives because they do not

want to alienate anyone who doesn’t identify as Black. As I always say nothing changes if

nothing changes, and you can’t say your destination is welcoming if you only amplify one

community’s history. The stories destinations share, aren’t only for those who already live there, but

are also for those who are considering visiting, relocating, opening a business, or hosting an event in their


In January I attended International Media Marketplace, a conference for destinations to connect with travel professionals in hopes to collaborate on campaigns. Here is where I had a chance to meet with representatives from Cayuga County and let me say they made a great first impression. They knew who I was, they understood what I had to offer and they had already developed a business idea for how we could partner together.

I attend three to six travel and tourism conferences a year and this is the first time an organization had the pitch ready. I had a conversation with Karen Kuhl the Executive Director of Cayuga County Convention and Visitors Bureau and her passion for Cayuga and the events they had commemorating Harriet Tubman's bicentennial was refreshing. Instantly I knew wanted to work with them because they understood it takes a Black voice to share Black narratives.

Time and time again we see brands sharing Black stories that were not curated by Black voices. However, Cayuga’s marketing and plan of action celebrating Harriet Tubman’s life was incredible and should serve as the blueprint for other destinations when sharing Black stories.

I asked Tour Cayuga to connect me with their Black residents. I wanted to meet with them, hear firsthand what it is like to be Black person living in Auburn and see how they felt about the sites, exhibits and curriculum put into honor Harriet Tubman. I was curious to know if they were included in the process and what type of relationship they had with Tour Cayuga. On my first night there, we were able to meet with Black Auburn residents at this amazing Jamaican restaurant, ‘’Lavish Lounge’’ .

As the only Black restaurant in Auburn, I was happy to see that Tour Cayuga had a relationship with the owners and this wasn’t only for show because I was in town. Destinations have to realize if you want to attract certain communities, you need to seek out those businesses they would while visiting.

The table was filed with Auburn’s Black movers and shakers like Ms. Melody Smith Johnson, an entrepreneur known for her bedazzling capabilities and the Co-working space she just opened for other entrepreneurs ‘’Melody’s’’. Or Rev. Paris Price of Harriett Tubman Memorial AME Zion Church, who also leads ‘’Girls Trek’’ a program whose mission is to help transform Black lives.

The conversation and food were both outstanding. I could tell that Cayuga tourism valued these guests and included them in the events surrounding this occasion.

When visiting Harriet Tubman’s property I had the pleasure of meeting Rev Carter the tour guide at the Tubman House. It was such a great honor meeting with him as his family was the last to live in the Harriet Tubman House .

From the time we arrived, he was engaging and knowledgeable. He shared information with me that didn’t make it into the history books or movies. Being the only Black tourist in a group of about 30 people on that day, I felt relieved at his ability to break down the injustices Black people faced then and now in a way so that those who didn’t look like us could empathize. Non-Black people don’t always fully comprehend the continuous struggle we face. This is what

happens when museums and other historic spaces do not have the right people in place to tell the story. It is important for us to share the story about trial and triumph, if not, Harriet wouldn’t have been celebrated in the way she was by that group of individuals.

Everywhere I went in Auburn there was a sign, statue, mural or something commemorating Harriet’s life which filled me with a great sense of pride.

The existence of public art in any destination can change the way a community feels about a topic and all the motifs dedicated to Harriet in Auburn definitely make a statement.

Auburn shows it's progressive by celebrating the impact Harriet had on their city and our nation. The showed up as a destination in every-way by pushing this narrative.

A defining moment that I'll never forget, was when a older White woman from Ohio approached me outside of the Equal Rights center at Harriet’s Statue and said ‘’isn’t she incredible’’ I looked at her and said ''absolutely!'' Shocked at our dialogue I needed to know more. I asked her where she was from and her interest in Harriet Tubman's story. She responded by telling me she drove from Ohio with her best friend and son to visit all the sites and give Harriet her flowers. That spoke volumes to me, and it should to any destination who might be afraid to share Black stories.

My trip to Auburn proved that on a tourism level this can be done. Gone are the days when destinations give excuses, because there aren't room for them in today's industry. You don't need an all Black staff to share Black stories. You need passionate people who understand how important it is to tell the truth and be excited about it. Tour Cayuga earned my respect before I visited because of the amount of planning, and execution that took place to highlight Araminta Ross a.k.a Harriet Tubman. I look forward to including this destination in my 2023 Diversity in Travel Report Card and using this example of innovation as a blueprint on how other destinations can achieve the same success.

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