A Black-owned lodge in the Irish countryside. The African Cinema Festival in Lausanne, Switzerland. A Jamaican restaurant in the heart of Amsterdam.
These are just a handful of the places that Martinique Lewis, president of the Black Travel Alliance and creative lead for the travel community Nomadness, wants to share with the world’s travelers: Black-owned businesses and events that have existed for years but have frequently been hidden from the dominant travel narrative.
But no longer, with the August 23 release of Lewis’s new book, The ABC Travel Green Book.
Inspired by Victor Hugo Green’s legendary Green Book—the 31-year series that guided Black travelers to safe places to eat, stay, and more during the era of segregation and sundown towns—Lewis envisions her guide as a resource for Black travelers, but not exclusively. It’s “really for any traveler who wants to connect with the African Diaspora wherever they go,” she says. “Or anybody who wants to amplify Black voices and share Black stories.”
The roots of it all
Lewis’s journey began long before the pandemic and the monumental Black Lives Matter protests that swept the nation in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others. Two years ago, Lewis, an avid traveler who has been exploring the world for more than two decades, was in Amsterdam. “I was trying to find other Black people in Amsterdam,” she says. “I didn’t know if there were any, but I was like, ‘I see a few!’ ”
Lewis eventually connected with a woman named Lene, creator of the expat group Amsterdam Black Women. Lene, in turn, introduced her to the extensive Black community in Amsterdam, including the Jamaican restaurant Reggae Rita and Jennifer Tosch, founder of Black Heritage Tours (which recently expanded to Brussels and New York City).
Lewis was blown away. “I thought if I don’t know about all these places, and I consider myself this travel guru, there are so many [others] who don’t know—but we all go to Amsterdam at one point,” she says. “I started thinking, ‘How can I tell the world about this other than through social media?’ ”
Shortly after, Lewis learned about Victor Hugo Green—and wondered: “Why don’t we treat Victor Hugo Green like we treat Martin Luther King? He’s the reason Black people could travel.”
She knew she had to do something to continue his legacy. But while Green focused primarily on the United States, Lewis wanted to go bigger—much bigger—and make her Green Book fully international.
Building the modern Green Book
Then came the hard part: Two years of travel, extensive research, and many, many hours hunched over a laptop in her Bay Area home. As with travel, her literary journey wasn’t always smooth. In fact, she almost gave up on the book entirely.
“I got to the point where I was like, ‘I’m not coming out with it,’ ” she says. “And one of my best friends told me, ‘You’re going to know the exact time to release this book.’ And then all the unfortunate events started happening with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and I was like, ‘This is the time.’ ”
And so she hustled to finish The ABC Travel Green Book, in hopes that it will not only “keep Black people safe while traveling” and act as a resource for the community and allies, but also encourage more Black entrepreneurship.
“I thought if I don’t know about all these places, and I consider myself this travel guru, there are so many [others] who don’t know.”
During her research, which included reaching out to tourism boards and English-speaking locals, she discovered that in places like Africa and the Caribbean, many of the local businesses are not owned by members of the Black community.
In the Caribbean, she says, most of the business owners that she encountered are either descendants of the country that colonized the island or they aren’t Black. And in Africa, she found that most of the businesses in the travel and tourism space are owned by foreigners or white Africans. “For Africa to be the continent with the most Black people and it doesn’t show through business ownership was really discouraging,” she says.
But people in the African tourism world encouraged her to share that information: to shed light on the inequalities on the continent, and maybe—maybe—even draw people back.
Her biggest dream? For native Africans, who might have been born in the EU, to read the book—and to witness the outpouring of support Lewis has received for it—and be inspired to return and start their own business, to invest in Africa’s future and “take the continent back.”
How to use the book—and what comes next
Like any good guidebook, The ABC Travel Green Book is smartly organized by continent, then divided into countries and cities within that. But it opens with a comprehensive guide to all the Black-owned businesses that Lewis has discovered around the world. There are tour companies, bakeries, hotels, and restaurants, of course, but also fitness centers, catering companies, banks, and even airports run by a Black CEO or lead aviation manager, Lewis says.
Traveler resources abound, including community and expat groups, and a guide to predominantly Black neighborhoods in cities around the world. Lewis is fully aware that businesses open and close, but “if I can get you to the predominantly Black areas,” she says, “then regardless of if the business is open or not, you can go there and know there’s a Black restaurant somewhere close by, you know there’s a Black bookstore, you know there’s a Black chocolatier.”
Lewis pictures multiple volumes of the book as she discovers more businesses, just like Victor Hugo Green did as his series grew.
But she also has more tech-driven dreams: An app is on the way in 2021 that will aggregate all the information in the book but will also function as an itinerary builder, a travel booking tool, and even a social network and quasi-Yelp. Travelers will be able to include locations and travel dates in their profile and the app will pair them with other travelers. They’ll be able to suggest new places to other travelers and rate and review existing ones.
“The book is for any traveler who wants to connect with the African Diaspora wherever they go. Or anybody who wants to amplify Black voices and share Black stories.”
As for Lewis, on the heels of a three-week Instagram book tour, she’s off to London for the first time since February (prior to COVID-19, she went about once a month). She’ll also travel to Ireland where she’ll visit, for the first time, several places in her book, including the Barack Obama Plaza along the highway that connects Limerick and Dublin.
She doesn’t take the pandemic lightly, but after months of quarantine, she has a “wash your hands, wear a mask, and keep it moving” philosophy. As the travel world reopens, she hopes travelers will use the book to plan their trips—and tell businesses how they found them.
“I’m excited for black entrepreneurs to know there are people who are here to support them and who want to support them. And we will through this book.”
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