Updated: Feb 12
My love for all things Black history started early. I was born and raised in Oakland, California which has deep roots in the Black community, I was raised in the AME church which is very big on Black history and education, and many of my relatives, including me and my Dad, attended historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs). My Dad attended Wilberforce, which is in Ohio, and was the first Black-owned and operated HBCU. Being that he currently resides in the midwest I decided to invite him with me on my trip to Wisconsin. As we landed in Chicago and made the short 90-minute ride to Beloit, Wisconsin, we weren’t sure what to expect.
We pulled up to the beautiful Hotel Goodwin and I can’t lie, I felt a little nervous, two Black people from out of town arriving late at night, would we be seen as a threat? As we walked into the hotel two other couples were there and greeted us with warm smiles. They were on their way up to the cutting edge Rooftop Restaurant and they held open the doors for us. As we walked past, one person said, “Have a good night.” My Dad and I let out a sigh of relief. We felt instantly welcomed and were ready to explore.
We were introduced to so many things in Beloit. I loved learning about the black population's migration there through the Fairbanks franchise and hearing more about the area demographics. Growing up as a family we watched the same movies over and over and I have to admit my favorite piece of trivia learned was that Indiana Jones was inspired by Roy Chapman Andrews, who is from Beloit. My sister and I probably watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom over a thousand times, my Dad probably still has the VHS somewhere.
I also learned about an award winning young, gifted and African- American artist named
Isaic Pulliam whose work was displayed and praised at the Beloit Art Center. Hearing the story about the evolution of his passion and how the community still supports his journey to this day made me honored to get to experience his work. His art show features images of black people and I was surprised this type of exhibit was given to feature his beautiful paintings. To me, this is proof that Beloit is committed to diversity in their city.
We also had a chance to visit the Wright Museum at Beloit College. There is a painting called ‘’Station’’ by Billy Morrow Jackson that drew me in instantly. So much so that I still think about it, WHEW , If that painting could talk. It would definitely say ‘’come see me for yourself’’, no spoilers here.
When traveling anywhere, it’s imperative for me as a diversity in travel consultant is to visit Black owned businesses and meet with Black business owners so I can hear their perspective on diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is important for me to understand what influenced them to open their business and how they’ve been received by the community. Historically, Black businesses are not included in the narratives created to attract tourists and my job is to make sure everyone's story is included . One way I will accomplish this is by bridging the gap between business owners and local tourism creating a safe space where these conversations can happen.
When visiting Beloit I had the opportunity to do this on three separate occasions. The first was with Ms. Shatoria Teague also known as ‘’Mrs. \Beloit’’ a local creative that turned her love of pageantry into Always & Forever formal wear!. Her story of being a photographer, mom and a business woman all while carrying the title of Mrs.Beloit was inspiring.! The way she still incorporated the original building owner as a seamstress on her staff painted the picture of support people in this destination have.
The next Black business owner I spoke to was Mr. Byron Matthews of B.C.Fitz. He seriously needs his own docu-series, I am saying it first, so please give me producer credit.! His story is definitely one of trial and triumph as a business owner in Beloit. As an entrepreneur I understand going into neighborhoods , identifying its needs and figuring out a way to bring that to the community to boost the economy. Mr. Matthews is doing just that all while also training the next generation by giving them jobs and building generational wealth. He is the perfect example of how destinations can attract visitors and turn them into residents to grow their population.
Lastly, I had the privilege of meeting with amazing women of color who sit on the board for Visit Beloit. Our conversation was rooted in love and also the challenges they have as a destination. It’s not easy to have those conversations but it’s necessary for progression. I appreciate Celestino and Tracy for hosting us and making us feel welcome.