Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: September/October 2020
By: Solomon J. Herbert

While the recent murders of unarmed Black people by rogue police officers and over zealous vigilantes may be currently focusing attention on these heartbreaking issues, the systematic racism that spawned these atrocities is not new. As far back as I can remember I have witnessed this manifestation of hate and unwarranted fear by White people directed against Black people, especially Black men, myself included.

I can remember clearly back in the 6th grade, one of my male teachers who made it a habit to be racially insensitive towards me and the few other Black children in his mostly White class. One incident that sticks in my mind was the time three of us brothers were talking while the class was in session. The teacher lost his cool, walked over in a huff and wrote on my head with the chalk in front of the whole class while angrily exclaiming, “You colored boys need to shut up.”

In the 8th grade I told another teacher at the same school (who was also my guidance councilor) that I wanted to attend the elite Brooklyn Technical High School after graduation. She did everything she could to discourage me and point me towards a local trade school. Thank God for my Dad, who studied with me every waking moment to help prepare me for the entrance exam, which I aced.

On another occasion I was walking out of my back yard one night when I was about 16, when two cops screech up in a black and white, jump out, and one of them points his gun at my head. He barks “What are you doing?” I told him I was coming out of my back yard to walk to the store. He paused for what seemed like an eternity, glanced at his partner, and then they both turned abruptly, got back into their car, and drove off without a word, much less an apology.

At 17 I traveled South and had several unsettling experiences. While in North Carolina I attempted to attend a Catholic church service, but the priest said that was not allowed. Also, while at the train station I was forced to follow the “Colored Drinking Fountain” law.

A few years later, when I was hunting for an apartment in New York, I was turned away by several landlords who told me to my face that they “didn’t rent to coloreds.” Around that same time I was involved in a peaceful sit in, when a cop placed me in a choke hold to remove me from the demonstration. It was these experiences, and those I’ve mentioned above, as well as far too many others to include here, that propelled me to become active in the Civil Rights movement in the early ‘60s, and eventually serve as a national officer of C.O.R.E. with the legendary activist James Farmer. I was recently able to obtain a copy of a secret file the NYPD had complied about me back then. It was frightening to learn that the police had been monitoring me and invading my privacy for all those years. Thankfully, they never found that I was doing anything illegal, or my life would probably have been much different.

Last year I was walking down the street in a neighborhood I have lived in for over 30 years and two plainclothes detectives stopped and questioned me about a grocery store robbery that had just happened in the area. If I had twitched or sneezed or made any quick moves, who know what might have happened?

All of this sets the stage for my involvement in the hospitality/travel/meetings industry for the last 35 years. I have often said in this space that the hospitality industry hasn’t been very hospitable to African-Americans and other people of color. At the beginning of 2020 there were only 12 African-Americans heading up CVBs in the nation. Since then one stepped down, one has retired, and another – Larry Alexander at Visit Detroit – has announced his retirement at the end of the year. This will leave us with only nine CVB presidents, or less than 2% of all the CVB CEOs. The picture isn’t much better at the next executive level at DMOs, or at airlines, cruise lines and hotel brands, where African-Americans are rare or almost non-existent.

I am so tired of all this injustice, discrimination and pain! Enough is enough! I have spent most of my life trying to make a change in the larger society. But the change will only come in this industry when more of you stand up and be counted. When meeting planners and association executives are no longer willing to accept the status quo and demand that CVBs, hotel brands, airlines and cruise lines hire more African-Americans and promote those who are qualified into executive positions, only then will things begin to change for the better. You have economic power and you must learn to vote with your dollars. And CVBs, hotel brands, airlines and cruise lines, you must make a serious commitment to diversity and inclusion, and put your money where your mouth is by: hiring and promoting African-Americans; sponsoring activities at the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals, Travel Professionals of Color, Black Meetings & Event Professionals, Nomadness and other groups that represent our market segment; investing in Black-owned media (including BM&T); and sending a clear message to the $73 billion+ African-American travel market segment that you value and appreciate their business.