This Expat is taking her passion for travel to the next level

Melanin Travels Magic is an online travel tour operator providing Group Tours & Travel planning services to the African and Carribean diaspora worldwide. Founded by marketing consultant Christina Belloge, the company specialises in Black heritage tours in countries with a major afro descent population. Melanin Travels Magic aims to primarily encourage the diaspora to reconnect with its heritage as well as get enducated and empowered by it.

Ok, what makes this tour operator any different from what you’ve seen before?

Melanin Travels Magic specialises in black heritage and leisure group trips. This means they have a strong focus on connecting travellers with the local culture. This can be through visiting villages, favelas (Brazilian shack or Shanty town or slam), landmarks and cultural immersion through fantastic experiences and historic tours.

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Photo by Christina Belloge

Christina’s love for travelling goes back to when she was a teenager. Her dream was to travel while studying languages. “I always wanted to have an international career, learning languages and travelling to get to know people”. Christina was introduced to travelling while in High school in France. “We used to take discovery trips to Europe with your class”. Prior to that, her trips mostly consisted of travelling to her native country Guadeloupe to visti family. These rituals got her hooked on the experience.

It’s therefore no surprise that Christina has spent the last 14 years moving around Europe. Her expat journey began when she moved to London at age 22 to be with her British boyfriend.

“When I first moved to the UK, I had to start from scratch and learn the basics, as it was my first time not living with my parents. I had to find a job and a place to live. I had to learn how to cook and take care of myself. My boyfriend soon left to study in Birmingham and I stayed in London having to navigate the big city alone.”

“I eventually found my way, and in just a year, I became fluent in English, which helped me tremendously. For the next few years, I bounced between the U.K. and France as I worked on a Double Franco-British Master in international trade, and then landed a job at a start-up after graduating“.

One of her fond memories as an expart is when she moved to Gemarny. “In Germany I got the best expat experience as my company at the time, a major German fashion retailer, provided an agent who took care of all my admin needs.

I felt a big sense of national pride and found the people to be straight talkers, which was a shock at first. Overall, I really loved my time and took advantage of a romantic trip to Hamburg, the Cologne Christmas market and Berlin cultural museums!“. These types of expereinces have encouraged Christina to take her passion for travel to the next level.

Photo by Christina Belloge

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So why start a travel business during a Pandemic?

It’s very challenging because of all the travel bans in UK & Europe and Canada“, she says. “The only market still travelling is the United States.”

Despite of these challenges, Christina was motivated by the Black Live Matters movement following the death of George Floyd last year and the Black Business renaissance movement that is happening in UK. The awareness around developing and strengthening the Black community via business ownership has been popping recently literally. Therefore I decided to launch melanintravelsmagic.com with both the vision to leverage my passions for travel and black history as an empowering and healing tool for the black diaspora.

I was also influenced by the Afro American #blacktravellersmovement and the need for African and Caribbean diaspora to uncover their history and culture.

Christina believes in passing on her passion of travelling. For her, its a way for people to connect with the rest of the diaspora, contribute to black economics and grow their sense of self value by understanding how connected we are as afro descent people. With Melanin Travels Magic they get to learn about common cultural traditions, history and value the privilege they have in the Western World to make a difference by leveraging education and business opportunities.

Looking for your first destination post lock down? Or maybe you need some help planning it…You can connect with Melanin Travels Magic via the following links

MTM IG:  https://www.instagram.com/melanintravelsmagic/

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/melanintravelsmagic

You Tubehttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBhfQOHR78xo5gF8IjqfQRw

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/melanin-travels-magic/?

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Interview with Mark Simpson

Black History Studies

Black History Studies is a family run social enterprise that was set up to teach black history from an African perspective. Due to a lack of outlets that offered a range of learning opportunities, husband and wife team Mark and Charmaine Simpson (pictured above) decided to set the business up to educate people and fill the gaps on topics that are not taught at school.

Today Black History Studies offers a range of courses (beginner, advanced and short courses), they organise and deliver events such as, museum tours, their flagship event ‘The Black Market and Film Festival’ and other independent film screenings, which included the UK premiers of Tariq Nasheed’s Hidden colours series. Under sister company Black History Study Tours, Mark and Charmaine organise trips across Europe and Africa, where they highlight the black experience. The trips also give students the opportunity to see and immerse themselves in the environments where some of that history originates. For example, some of the trips have included Andalusia in Spain, Moorish Portugal, Black Netherlands, Black Paris and Egypt.

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Mark Simpson is multi-tasking when my zoom call gets through to him. He asks me to excuse him for a few minutes while he sets up another computer for his daughter to do her school work. This juggling act has become the norm for most parents, something that would have never been thought of until the global pandemic forced us all to spend more time at home. I say to him that his daughter can join us in the interview, to which he replies “No, because she’ll take over”.

Mark wears a red short-sleeved T-shirt with the ‘Black History Studies’ logo printed on the left pocket. He looks like a normal dad. Relaxed with a lock-sock on his head to cover his dreadlocks. There is a lot of African art and sculptures hanging on the wall behind him. It’s clear to me that this is a family that is really involved in the study and understanding of Black History and arts.

“I am ready to start when you are sista” says Mark, once all audio issues are fixed and daughter is happily getting on with her work in the background.

Thanks so much for taking the time to have this interview, especially during home schooling hours.

Mark Simpson: That’s fine sista. My daughter will be fine now that she is busy getting on with her own work.

When did you start Black History Studies and what was your motivation to start it?

We started BHS in 2006 because we felt there was a lack of readily available information on the subject matter. Therefore, we felt that rather than complain, we’d set something up ourselves and be the change that we wanted to see.

“We’d set something up ourselves and be the change that we wanted to see”

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I love that mentality and totally agree with it. Which is why I am doing this interview with you today. So, what were you doing before starting Black History Studies?

I was a civil servant for 20 years and worked in various government departments before being made redundant. When that happened, me and my wife deliberated whether to invest the redundancy pay in bricks and mortar or to pursue our passion of educating people. We chose the latter 😊

Interesting, so had you or your wife worked in education or done some work outside of your day job that prepared you for this business?

We actually used to organise small events, but had also attended a number of educational events. To be honest my wife and I just felt that people deserved better. The people needed a service that was professionally set up. For example, there were times when we’d attend an event but when we got to the venue, there was no one or the venue had not been set up yet or they’d be last minute venue changes.

We got frustrated by the disorganised manner in which these events were being delivered. We felt that a professional set up would encourage more people to attend these courses, which would help to instil confidence in the service they were getting.

Where can people find your courses, tours and books?

Everything can be found on our website. All of our courses are now online although I do miss running our face to face classes. We sell our products through our online shop.  

If people like what we do and what to support us, they can donate via the website as well.

I know people are not interested in travelling at this time, but we do organise tours and details for those can also be found on the website. All tours have been pushed back until 2021 given the situation surrounding Covid-19.

What are your thoughts about black history especially the type that you cover on your courses being included on the school curriculum?

Everything that we teach can be taught on the current school curriculum. It comes down to what the schools want to teach. For example, if schools taught about Egyptian history, they would likely only cover ‘New Kingdom (mid – 17th Century BC)’ and not ‘Old Kingdom (5717 – 4430 BC)’ and ‘Middle Kingdom (3440 – 1674)’.

It is our opinion that the reason for this is that the New Kingdom part of this history is a lot more cosmopolitan and teachers can point to themselves in history and take some of that legacy for themselves.

“The scope is there to teach all these things in the current school curriculum, its what the schools choose to teach”

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The way we look at it at BHS is that rather than petition or lobby and make noise about teaching these things in our schools, there is nothing stopping us from teaching it ourselves. It’s a better use of our time and efforts.

So how long did it take you to build the customer base to make it a viable business for both you and your wife?

To be honest we are still building as there is always room for improvement. It took us 2 years to get established. Luckily for us, we had support from Lorna Campbell and Sonia Scully from PCS – Public & Commercial Services Union. The Public & Commercial Services Union allowed us to use their office space as part of their contribution to Black History Studies. This helped us to establish ourselves because we had a place where people could find us.

Do you have a certain age group that you target for your courses or are they age agnostic?

We focus on adult education therefore our core customers, on average are adults aged 22 – 45. We do deliver programs for children as well but this is not as frequent. Interestingly, we have also found that our classes are usually made up of 80% women. This seems to be the trend in everything we do. 

“Our classes are usually made up of 80% women”

Tell us about some of the challenges you faced while running your business

Surprisingly, one of the challenges we found was generating interest for the classes from the Black community. I think this is potentially due to false stigmatization of Black businesses in the past.

Everyone is welcome to our events and we do not target a specific demographic because we believe that everyone should know this information. However, it was difficult at first to get support and trust from the Black community. For example, people would ask if our courses were approved and accredited by authorities before signing up.

What advice would you give to future entrepreneurs?

The only advice I would give anyone wanting to set up their own business is to:

  1. Make sure that you research the market
  2. Do it for the right reason
  3. Put 100% into what you are doing, otherwise it will fail

Thanks so much for your time Mark. If you have enjoyed this story, share it with everyone and subscribe to our weekly newsletter!