This year, Nomadness Fest, the premier Black travel festival in the United States, is taking place in Newark, New Jersey, from September 9 to 11. Though the city might not exactly be a tourism hot spot, Newark was selected by the festival because it’s so overlooked—and for its oft-forgotten importance in Black history.
“Downtown Newark is Black, and it’s unapologetically so,” says Evita Robinson, founder of Nomadness Travel Tribe, which hosts Nomadness Fest. Robinson has also lived in Newark for the past six years.
At 50 percent of the population, Black people comprise Newark’s largest racial demographic by a significant margin. During the Great Migration, when more than 6 million Black people fled the Jim Crow South for the urban North and West during the 20th century, many settled in Newark drawn by the area’s strong industrial economy. Newark also played a significant role in the Underground Railroad: Presbyterian Plane Street Colored Church, which was founded in 1835, was a major stop in the network and was formally recognized by the National Park Service in June 2022. However, in recent history, both the Great Recession and the pandemic disproportionately hurt Black communities in the city—so Nomadness Fest is hoping to shower Newark with some love.
Historically, Black travelers have been marginalized by travel companies, by being underrepresented in their marketing materials, as well as in the upper ranks of their employee structures. Black Americans, however, are hungry for travel: In 2019 (the last “normal” year of travel before the pandemic), Black American leisure travelers spent $109.4 billion, or 13 percent of the U.S. leisure travel market, according to a study by MMGY Travel Intelligence. With its 11-year-old community of 31,000 travelers of color, Nomadness is hoping to increase representation for themselves and to foster a sense of community for Black travelers who may feel alienated by the travel industry.
The festival—rebranded in 2022 as Nomadness Fest—was previously known as Audacity Fest. The event was first held in-person in Oakland in 2018 and then again in-person in Memphis in 2019. Even though the festival went online due to COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021, it’s now back in the flesh in Newark in 2022. This year, attendees can look forward to sessions on panels on how to work remotely, moving abroad, and how to pitch brands, plus a day devoted to networking and Nomadness’s annual barbecue.
When planning festivals over the years, Robinson made conscious decisions to choose Oakland over Los Angeles, Memphis over Nashville, and Newark over New York. Robinson likes to consider whether a deserving event destination simply doesn’t get the opportunity to enjoy the spotlight, perhaps because it has a smaller convention center and visitors bureau or a limited marketing budget.
“We’ve made a knack of curating the festival experience in cities that kind of get overshadowed by their larger counterparts,” she says.
One of the biggest draws of Newark for Robinson is how much the city has invested in its Black-centric arts scene to represent its storied history. In 2020, the city launched a Social Justice Public Art Initiative, which commissioned murals around Newark, including one that reads “Abolish White Supremacy” and a likeness of Sojourner Truth. That same year, a mosaic of Newark-born Whitney Houston was also unveiled, and a statue of Christopher Columbus was removed from Washington Park (now known as Tubman Square)—Newark has plans to replace it with a monument dedicated to Harriet Tubman. And in 2021, the city also placed a statue of George Floyd outside City Hall.
“They’re not in some obscure area where you can’t find them. They’re extremely, extremely visible,” Robinson says.
But if Nomadness Fest attendees don’t get to tour Newark’s art scene on their own time, there’s a museum stop built directly into the festival’s agenda. The Newark Museum of Art will host Nomadness Fest’s Industry Day on September 9. The museum has been recently revamped, including its reinstated Arts of Global Africa Permanent Collection. The 113-year-old museum is currently being helmed by its first Black director, Linda Harrison.
Nomadness Fest is also making it a point to showcase the city’s contemporary Black culture. Robinson created a “founder’s favorites” map for downtown Newark so that festival attendees can find local attractions, including an Afro-futurism art exhibit at the historic Hahne & Co. building, luxury clothing brand BrownMill, and soul food–influenced restaurant Marcus B&P by James Beard Award–winner Marcus Samuelsson.
Newark may still be an underrated destination, but Robinson is already wary of the city hypothetically receiving too much attention. Seeing Newark end up on annual, high-profile Places to Go lists could lead to overtourism, which could damage the community by fueling gentrification and pushing out longtime residents. But Robinson wants people to know what Newark has to offer.
“The people that make the culture of Newark what it is, they deserve that recognition,” says Robinson. “There are really cool things happening here in extremely close proximity to a place that is oversaturated with tourism like New York is.”
→ Book now: Nomadness Fest, starting at $35 for day passes