If you’re like me, you’re busting at the seams to travel– even if not to a remote island on a private jet, just to have a change of scenery. Road trips were once very popular among Black families traveling down south to stay connected to their roots, and now seemed like the perfect time to get back on the road, with pockets of the country reopening particularly in the midwest.
My daughter and I packed up a 2020 Nissan Altima and traveled from Detroit, Michigan, to Nashville, Tennessee, exploring everything in between from private saunas to Black-owned bed and breakfasts to give you an idea of what’s open, safe, and soothing for Black travelers’ souls.
July 1: Chicago
Chicago, like most major cities, experienced a mix of rioting and looting coupled with calm, non-violent protesting during Covid-19. On the way to Hyde Park, we drove through the south side to see the damage and met up with community advocate Jondae Scott in front of Mission Dispensary, one of few cannabis dispensaries in the city.
“The cannabis business in Chicago is booming right now but the particular cannabis business that I work for has been closed due to the recent events of the rioting and social unrest,” Scott explained, noting an increase in interest due to people being at home more. “You have three different markets here, the medical market and the recreational market and then there’s what I call the black market which is booming too, just not legally.”
After visiting the South Side, we ventured to Hyde Park to find Barack and Michelle Obama’s Chicago residence. Nestled on an unassuming street that sets off of a bustling main avenue, the Obama’s house would have been missed if we had just strolled by.
We ended our first day with a stop at Red Square Sauna and Spa for a dip in the hot tub and sweat room which gave me the special self-care I needed. Originally named the Division Street Russian and Turkish Baths, the bath house, though not Black-owned, became a hotspot visited by the likes of Al Capone and Rev. Jesse Jackson before shutting down a couple of years ago. It relaunched as Red Square, providing a full menu of spa services. A $35 all-day pass gets you admission to the spa, a robe, sandals, and a microchip-embedded wristband so you won’t lose your locker key.
July 2: Cincinnati
We drove straight to Cincinnati and signed into Six Acres B&B which had two bedrooms ready for us to get some much-needed sleep when we arrived in the middle of the night. Kristin Kitchen owns the only Black-owned Bed and Breakfast in the city and makes guests feel like family when they stay, with the smell of breakfast filling the two-story house in the morning. She’s also great at explaining the relevance of Six Acres and what it means to Cincy and its history. We fell in love with the people and its moving spirits. My daughter, Nya, got to play with the owner’s 8-year-old daughter and her 10-year-old friend who was visiting from Miami which made our road trip even more special.
During the afternoon we made our way to Findlay Market where the Cincinnati Conventions and Visitors Bureau secured a walking tour of their flavorful vendors which represent a melting pot of ethnicities and local historical relevance. We stopped at Churchill Fine Teas, which specializes in loose-leaf teas with more than 260 varieties of organic compliant flavors, to get a cool drink in the 90-degree heat. We were served an iced peacefully peach that was as flavorful as it was refreshing. (My daughter now loves tea without sugar, go figure.)
While still at the market, we were starving by then and made our way to The Arepa Place, owned by Isis Doris Arrieta-Dennis, for some stuffed cheese arepas, a delicious patty specialty of Colombia. Isis shared with us that her mom, who is currently stationed in Colombia due to U.S. travel restrictions, created the recipe that is served at her café.
We stopped by Black Owned, a 9-year-old Streetwear retail store owned by Cam Means. We first came across Black Owned at the 2016 BET Awards and immediately fell in love with the name and mission of the brand, which has since expanded into a cafe and lounge housed next door.
We ended our stay in Cincy in water, at the Newport Aquarium that is. I’ve wanted to bring Nya back here since 2011 when she was still fascinated with everything, but since we’ve overdosed on documentaries about animal rights and their treatment in zoos and aquariums, we see things a bit differently now.
The crowd at the aquarium was minimal and many times we felt like we had the place to ourselves. Because Nya and I are now more informed and engaged, it made exploring that much more interesting. And we made sure to chat with the experts on site about how they care for these animals.
July 3: Louisville
Our third stop was Louisville, Kentucky, home of Muhammad Ali and Bourbon. Louisville is also where the unthinkable murder of Breonnya Taylor took place March 13, and it was obvious passing by storefronts that this is a city still in mourning.
While just missing the closing of the Muhammad Ali Center, disappointingly, a 4:15pm appointment for a tour at Evan Williams Bourbon lifted my spirits. Delightful and knowledgeable, our tour guide George took us on a journey of the original brewings of what the world would later claim as whiskey. We learned that while champagne can only come from an island in France, whiskey can only come from America, and no one can claim otherwise. Good whiskey, it was noted, comes from Kentucky.
July 4: Nashville
We drove to Nashville and met Theresa Shelton and her sons, the owners of Josie’s Tea Shop, on the historic Jefferson Road down the street from Tennesee State University (TSU) which was devastated by a tornado this past March, pre-COV-19. This area of town was once a vibrant hub for Black business but is currently experiencing gentrification.
Josie’s teas pay homage to her grandmother and her family and we felt that reverence throughout her tea shop. One of the best moments of our visit was being serenaded by local vocalist CristinaRae who shared her belief in the healing properties of tea. I’d recommend anyone who comes to the area stay in the B&B Josie and her sons just opened this month.
Before heading to our hotel to watch the fireworks, we stopped by Monchiere Holmes-Jones’ beautiful royal purple offices on the other end of Jefferson Road. Holmes-Jones is the owner of Mojo Marketing and her 8-year-old agency boasts clients such as the United States Postal Service, Metro PCS, and Dollar General. Networking among Black businesses, she said, is particularly key in a city like Nashville where the music history can often overshadow Black history. Nevertheless, TSU, Meharry Medical College, Fisk University and American Baptist still stand as strong pillars of Black excellence and education in the city, despite being hit hard by both a natural disaster and a global pandemic within the same month.
Well into the night, we listened to the cracking of fireworks and the bustling of people in downtown Nashville. It was as if Covid-19 had never happened and the world was ready to move on.