Through our partnership with the Coalition of Black Excellence founded by Angela J. we have the pleasure of sitting down with the founder and CEO of I Love Being Black and Traveling Black, Kumi Rauf. Kumi sits down with us to talk about both of his companies and their collective vision of documenting black life and positivity. We also promote CBE Week, an event designed to highlight excellence in the black community, connect black professionals across sectors, and provide opportunities for professional development and community engagement.
Find out more about CBE/CBE Week here: https://www.cbeweek.com/
Kumi’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kumirauf/
Connect with us: https://linktr.ee/livingcorporate
Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach, and listen up. Living Corporate is partnering with the Coalition of Black Excellence, a non-profit organization based in California, in bringing a Speaker series to promote CBE Week, an annual week-long event designed to highlight excellence in the black community, connect black professionals across sectors, and provide opportunities for professional development and community engagement that will positively transform the black community. This is a special series where we spotlight movers and shakers who will be also speaking during CBE Week. Today, we are blessed to have Kumi Rauf. Kumi Rauf is an award-winning businessman with several recognitions under his belt, including being an officer and chair of the National Society of Black Engineers, a recipient of the Urban League Top 40 Under 40 Award, awarded Most Successful App Developer by Novacoast, and collegiate track and field athlete, so he dippin’ on y’all. He has shared his knowledge and experience with a diverse mix of audiences via radio appearances, one-on-one seminars, conferences, television, and more. Welcome to the show, Kumi. How are you doing, sir?
Kumi: Ah, man, I’m doing great. Thank you for that intro. I think I couldn’t have done it better myself.
Zach: Well, look, I find that–I find that hard to believe, but I’m also flattered, so thank you very much. For those of us who don’t know you, would you mind sharing a little bit more about yourself?
Kumi: No, I think that was a good summation. My name is Kumi Rauf. I founded the I Love Being Black movement, which I’m sure we’re gonna get into in a second, and, you know, everything I do is sort of centered around black positivity.
Zach: That’s awesome, man. So yeah, let’s definitely get into it. So let’s talk about I Love Being Black. What was the motivation behind founding that company, and what’s your mission with it?
Kumi: Okay, okay. So the motivation–I went to school, to college, at a place called the University of California Santa Barbara. They had about 2.7% black people there, and, you know, things would always happen. Like, there were racist occurrences that would happen on campus. Off-campus they had, like, Dress Up Like A Minority parties, things like that. So, you know what, I need to make a statement, and I need to do it in a way that’s not tearing down someone else’s community but lifting ours up, because what I realized is that I don’t think the answer is trying to fix someone else, trying to fix someone else’s community. I think the answer is in fixing ourselves and in building ourselves up. So the mission for I Love Being Black is positivity, awareness, and action amongst black people worldwide.
Zach: Man, that’s beautiful. And it’s funny–so you said dress like a minority? So just like in that movie–hold on, don’t tell me. It’s the movie–Dear White People. Like that movie.
Kumi: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Zach: That’s crazy, and the funny thing is in that movie, at the end, they show pictures of those real parties, and I don’t know if UC Santa Barbara was in there, but they showed a lot of pictures. I know they showed SMU and some other colleges that do those. Man, that’s crazy. It sounds as if I Love Being Black is all about, like, pouring back into self, self-reliance, and self-affirmation. That’s awesome. So somehow, in spite of all of the work that you’ve been doing with I Love Being Black, you’ve also founded and you lead Traveling Black. So talk to us about that company and the inspiration behind that one.
Kumi: Yeah, yeah. I mean, with I Love Being Black–so it started with just t-shirts, and that, you know, spun into a huge social media enterprise on Facebook. I Love Being Black–we have about 6 million fans on Facebook, I think 140,000 on Instagram, and so we started traveling to a bunch of different places around the world because, you know, most black people don’t live in the U.S. They live outside the U.S. So we started, you know, going through the continent, going to Columbia, going to Brazil. Like, you know, even London and Paris and all kinds of other places like that, doing photoshoots and just kind of documenting black life and positivity in these different places, and, you know, we kept hearing, “Hey, you know, I see all these pictures on Facebook and all that, but, like, how can I go with you guys? Because my friends keep flaking. Each time I try to leave the country, X, Y, and Z.” So we said, “You know what? Let’s do a pilot trip,” and we did a trip to Cartagena, Colombia, and just–you know, just to see if I can actually plan travel for people that are outside of my immediate organization, and it worked, you know? It worked out really well, and we kind of kicked it off from there. We did South Africa next, and then we did Cuba, and we just got back from Ghana.
Zach: So that’s incredible, man, and it’s–to your point about most black people not even living in the U.S., you know, let me tell you a story about me being black and traveling while black. My wife and I celebrated our five-year anniversary. We went to Belize this past May, right?
Kumi: Okay. Congratulations, brother.
Zach: Thank you very much, man. So we go to Belize, and, you know, I’m ignorant. Genuinely, like, there’s plenty of stuff I don’t know, but when I go to Belize I was so taken aback at just how, like, everybody there was black, right?
Zach: And they look like–they look like black Americans. Like, they don’t–you know what I’m saying? But, you know, if you look at, like, the mainstream media, or you look at whatever, you just don’t–you don’t see us being portrayed front and center like that, and it was amazing to see, like, us being in a position of being, like, the majority. Like, that was crazy to me. A beautiful experience. It was just crazy, and it was–the other thing that was funny about my time when we were in Belize, we saw some other black folks, some of them who were also from my city, Houston, and just from D.C. and California, and we all just linked up, and it was like a family reunion. Like, we got out there, we having a good time, we’re traveling, we’re doing our thing, and so I guess–and so I guess my question is, you know, how does traveling black encourage exploration and adventure? And I say that because even just in–’cause I haven’t been out of the country many times, but any time I go and I see more people that look like me, it just changes the entire dynamic. It feels–it feels different, and so I imagine Traveling Black kind of has a similar vibe. I’m curious, like, how do you all achieve that, and how do you all facilitate and drive that?
Kumi: That’s a good question, that’s a good question. So what we do is typically we want to bring our money that we have over here and put it in the hands of someone else that looks like you somewhere else. So it doesn’t make any sense to me to go to, like, a South Africa and do, like, a safari with somebody that’s not black and I’m in Africa. That doesn’t make any sense, but you’re kind of assuming that you’re gonna find all of these black people and all kinds of tourism efforts and stuff like that, but you don’t, especially in places like South Africa, you know, Brazil, things like that. You have other people sort of telling your story. So I think that’s really important to kind of annotate, because a lot of people in this tourism space, even in the black tourism space, they don’t do that. You know? They just–you know, “Whoever shows up from the tourism office, or “These people that we contracted to do this thing is who we’re gonna give money to,” and I’m like, “That doesn’t make any sense if over here we’re preaching, you know, spend money with black people and black dollars, black hands type of thing, and then when we go abroad we don’t, you know, embody that same thing.” So that’s something we really, really try to make sure that we do. So our guides are black, drivers are black, photographers, everybody. So I say all that to say this experience that we try to create and curate for people around the world, we try to make sure it’s authentic, number one. Number two, we want you to learn a bunch of stuff, but number three, we want you to kick it and have fun too. It isn’t just like, you know, open up a history book and, “Okay, on your left you see this, and this date and this time,” and all that. Nah, we want to–we want to drink some rum and dive in the ocean and, you know what I’m saying, learn how to do the dances and all of this other stuff. We want to learn all of that stuff. Yeah, and then be safe obviously as well.
Zach: Of course. There’s a certain level of intentionality that you have to have in terms of driving and centering black identity and black experience, like, regardless of where you are, and so I would never–I didn’t even think about that, about the fact that, you know, other people telling your story, even if you’re in majority-black spaces, and how–but I can say that, man, when we have people that look like us and who share the same–who are part of the same diaspora involved in that, man, like, the experience is way different. There’s just a certain level of community and familiarity and just touch, personal connection that is not there otherwise, and so that’s incredible.
Kumi: Absolutely, yeah. And, you know, there’s this whole idea that, like, Africans don’t like African-Americans, and I’m like–you know, I don’t know where that started from or who started it and all of that, but I know that I’ve been to 12 different African countries, and I’m considered family in half of those, and people love me and love us in all of those. You know? They’re waiting for us to come back and just go there–don’t bring the negative aspects of being from the U.S., you know? Don’t bring all that stuff with you. You know, all the ignorance and stuff that we may not even know that we embody. Don’t bring all of that stuff, and try to have an open mind. You know, try the foods. Learn something about the language. Be genuinely interested about those people, and they’re gonna welcome you with open arms every time.
Zach: I 100% believe that. I do think it’s easy for us to kind of, like, get in our cynical bag, right? And then, like, make assumptions based off of just stereotypes and things that we’ve seen, and I also think, man, you know, just as a side note, I do think sometimes, man, like, Fake Woke Twitter be messing us up. Like, we end up kind of being a little too negative. It’s like, “Let’s just give it a try first.” ‘Cause when I went out to Belize, it was love everywhere I went. I had a phenomenal time. Like, everything [inaudible] was great, right? And I’ve heard amazing stories from people who also–they’ll travel to South Africa, they’ll travel to Zambia, they’ll travel to Nigeria and Cambodia. Like, they’ll travel various places and see us, right? And have a wonderful time. I think that–so that’s a great point. So let me ask you this. Where can people learn more about I Love Being Black and Traveling Black?
Kumi: Okay. Definitely you can, you know, touch base with our Facebook page for I Love Being Black or Instagram page for I Love Being Black. Just look up–the short tag is just LoveBeingBlack, no spaces. Just @LoveBeingBlack, and same thing with Traveling Black, and then the short tag is @TRVLBLK. So that’s TRVLBLK for Traveling Black, and, you know, we try to post up pictures, and we definitely want to inspire people, you know? Just get that sense of wanderlust, but we want to go deeper than that obviously, and we want to take it into those black spaces and these stories that haven’t really been told, and, you know, a lot of times there’s more we need to unlearn then there is we need to learn, you know? Because if you don’t unlearn these certain things, you know, these things that you may not even know–these stereotypes that you have, X, Y, and Z, you’re not gonna be able to learn the correct thing in the future.
Zach: Nah, that’s so true, and it’s interesting because of just the way that American society works. A lot of the things that we need to learn anew we won’t really fully grasp unless we go and experience it for ourselves, you know what I mean?
Zach: So that’s incredible. Well, look, we’re gonna make sure that we have all of your–we’ll make sure we have all of the information on Traveling Black and I Love Being Black in the show notes, so for everyone listening, make sure you click–you click those links in the show notes to learn more about that. Where can people learn more about what’s happening in 2019? Or rather let me ask you this way – what do you have planned in 2019? What’s on the horizon? What are you excited about? What are you excited for folks to see, and what are you excited to share?
Kumi: We have lists of–we have a great list of trips that we’re gonna run down for 2019. Let me–first, in a month we’re going to South Africa. We’re gonna be there during the Afropunk Festival [inaudible]. So we’re doing Johannesberg, Cape Town. Just gonna have a real good time. South Africa is, like, very near and dear to my heart. If I leave–I live in Oakland, California right now. If I leave Oakland, I’m most likely gonna live in Johannesberg. So we’re doing that, and then I think three days after I get home we’re going to Cuba, on the Experience Cuba trip, in January, wrapped around the Havana jazz festival. We always try to wrap our trips around some sort of event or festival that’s, like, a cultural aspect of wherever we are. So let me see. We’re going back to South Africa for the Jazz fest in Cape Town in March, and then I think the trip that I’m most excited about for next year is Ghana, because the president of Ghana dedicated 2019 as the year for the diaspora to come back home, and that’s huge. Literally the president.
Zach: That’s crazy. That’s crazy.
Kumi: Yeah. Yeah, right? I mean, he’s like, “Look, this is the year y’all need to come back home.” You know, it doesn’t have to be come back home to live and blah blah blah, but that is an option, and once you get there and you look at things and you’re like, “Oh, wait a minute,” and you sort of realize in your head, “This is an option.” I’ve been to Ghana a few times, and each time I see a different opportunity. I’m like, “All right, so not just on cultural level, but for business, you know?” For setting up shop here. For doing something. For leaving your mark in other kinds of ways. So yeah, we’re extremely excited about that trip. That’s in August, and then we may introduce a new trip next year to Brazil in November. November is Black Consciousness Month in Brazil. They don’t do Black History Month. They do Black Consciousness during the whole month of November, and then the day of Black Consciousness is November 20th. There was this really important figure in their history named Zumbi dos Palmares. He basically was like their MLK in terms of popularity, not in terms of what he did. You know, he was a freedom fighter. He helped a lot of people escape slavery into what they called quilombos, runaway enslaved encampments for free Africans. And, you know, he was caught, and he was killed, but they celebrate that on that day, November 20th, and there’s a huge parade, and it’s all cultural, and there’s drumming and music and speeches and Portuguese, and, oh, man, it’s amazing.
Zach: Wow, that sounds incredible. So I’m gonna definitely, again, make sure to encourage our listeners to check the show notes so you can stay up to date with Traveling While Black–Traveling Black, excuse me, and I Love Being Black. Like, this is amazing. So before we let you go, any parting thoughts, final words, or shout outs?
Kumi: Yeah. I will say that–I think most of what we need to do is just a mental shift. Once we shift mentally, everything else sort of–it doesn’t automatically fall in line but, you know, it’s a lot easier to be attained, right? So if we stop thinking of Africa as one place, that’s a mental shift, right? That’s a mental shift, because Africa is not one place. It’s 54 different places, you know? It’s the continent with the most amount of countries in the world, you know what I’m saying? And they have, you know, thousands of languages and customs and all kinds of different stuff. It snows in certain places. It’s hot in other places. You’ll have greenery in certain places, and there’s–you know, there’s a desert in other places. It’s got every single climate, and, you know, a vast amount of diversity in the types of people and the things that you’re gonna find there. If we start thinking of the different places in Africa like that, I think it’s gonna open up a lot of different options. If you want to go on some luxury trip or something like that, they have all that, you know? Go to Zanzibar, you know what I mean? The richest square mile in Africa is Sandton, in Johannesberg, right outside of Johannesberg, you know what I mean? So if you want to do that you can. If you want to go on a backpacker thing and save money, you can do that too, you know? So don’t only think of Africa as like, “Oh, we need to go on some sort of missionary trip,” or, you know, bring some toilet paper to donate to people and this, this, and that. They’re doing a bunch of amazing things. They’re on blockchain technology. I’m on a team out of Rwanda that’s leading the charge called Africa Gen, you know? So they’re doing a bunch of stuff, even some stuff that we’re not doing. Sometimes I find technologies over that we don’t even have here, and I’m like, “Yo.” We just need to learn more about each other and just open up that line of communication, you know?
Zach: Man, absolutely. Again, what I’m hearing more and more is just go. Experience. Like, that’s what I’m hearing. Well, look, this was awesome. Well, look, that does it for us, y’all. Thank you for joining us on the Living Corporate podcast, a special series sponsored by the Coalition of Black Excellence. To learn more about CBE, check out their website – www.cbeweek.com. Make sure to follow us on Instagram at LivingCorporate, and make sure to follow CBE on Instagram at ExperienceCBE. If you have a question you’d like for us to answer and read on the show, make sure you email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This has been Zach, and you have been listening to Kumi Rauf, CEO and founder of Traveling Black and I Love Being Black. Peace.
Kumi: Peace, y’all.