Updated: Aug 3, 2022
Learn about the things that motivated and inspired me to make the leap and take my first female solo trip to Bridgetown, Barbados.
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The first year of medical school was easily one of the most difficult academic years of my life. And I don’t mean “difficult” in the usual sense. The courses weren’t necessarily too hard. The professors weren’t overly demanding. The exams weren’t excessively complex. The first year of medical school, however, did force me to introspection. To consider the important questions of my life. What was my end game? What were my life goals? Ultimately, what did I want? I found myself attempting to juggle—unsuccessfully at times—a full workload, the responsibilities of leadership in several organizations, the sometimes-subtle pains of existing as a minority student at a PWI, the strain and stress of maintaining my interpersonal relationships, and my duties as an aunt, sister, daughter, and friend. Over the course of the year, I realized that in executing The Kia Byrd One Woman Juggling Act, it is impossible to balance everything. My own personal satisfaction and intrapersonal time were becoming less of a priority, and for the benefit of my own sanity, I knew something had to change.
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As a consequence of this epiphany, I deemed the summer after M1 The Summer of the Carefree Black Girl. An article by The Root described the hashtag #CarefreeBlackGirl and subsequent movement—popularized in 2014 amongst Black women around the globe—as a purposeful alternative to the archetypes and stereotypes of Black women as “Jezebel, strong black woman, mammy, welfare queen, and video vixen.” “Constantly battling stereotypes and bad news,” the article described that, “many Black women are hungry for reflections of the lighthearted side of their identity.” Recent events in the news circuit and media serve as reiterations for why the Carefree Black Girl movement continues to gain increasing traction among millennial Black women. Case in point: Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old African American woman found dead in a Texas jail cell three days after being pulled over for a failure to signal during a lane change. She was described as “argumentative and uncooperative,” and during an interview with CNN, former NYPD Detective Harry Houck even described her as “arrogant from the very beginning.” The characterization of Black women as belligerent, sassy, strong, and overbearing has, in many ways, perpetuated the perception that we are somehow less feminine, less desirable, and as an article by Dame Magazine puts it, seemingly “unworthy of any kind of protection, love, respect, or consideration.”
For me, The Summer of the Carefree Black Girl became my proclamation to the rest of the world that this girl danced to the beat of her own drum. Not as a means of escape from the issues surrounding Black feminism, but as a way of expressing that Black female lives are so much more than strings of disappointment and adversity. It also served as my opportunity to reconnect with myself and tune into the reasons for why I initially chose to pursue the medical profession.
I laughed at the beach. I visited friends from college and spent long weekends on their apartment sofas. I grew hoarse from 2 am karaoke sessions and spent warm summer nights under the stars conversing about the meaning of existence. But the highlight of this Carefree Black Girl’s summer? An extended "working vacation” to Barbados, West Indies……alone.
My passport was no virgin, and although I had traveled internationally on several occasions, I had never gone abroad by myself. During medical school, I had spent weeks analyzing data for a public health project based in Barbados with a psychiatrist at one of the local Boston hospitals. Originally, my intentions were to travel to the island accompanied by my principal investigator and perhaps one of our team’s post docs; however, responsibilities at the hospital required her stay in the US, and I was left to tackle Barbados on my own. The perception of solo female international travel at that time came with much stigma, in addition to the vulnerability associated with possible assault while traveling alone. Originally concerned about navigating unfamiliar territory in an unfamiliar context, I searched for social networks and communities that would ultimately transform my sentiments of caution to those of enthusiastic anticipation.
Encompassed within the #CarefreeBlackGirl movement, an international social networking community led predominantly by Black female millennials exists that promotes and champions the importance of international experiences among Black travelers, a demographic that “rarely finds themselves the target market of tourism and hospitality companies,” according to an article from the New York Times. Networks such as the Nomadness Travel Tribe, Travel Noire, and Black Adventuristas, however, are trailblazers in unveiling the spectacular and inspiring imagery of Black people as they share their unique experiences in distant lands. Equally inspired by these images of sun-kissed brown girls “getting their lives” on the beaches of Turks and Caicos, hiking mountains in Austria, and riding camels in Morocco, I decided that my solo trip to Barbados would be one motivated by courage and exploration, not caution and restraint.
Lessons learned while traveling solo dolo:
1. Hanging out with yourself from time to time is absolutely necessary.
Have your own private turn-ups that consist of just you. Read your favorite books. Zone out on the beach and focus on absolutely nothing. At least for introverts like me, reflection and time to yourself are absolute necessities for spiritual and mental well-being.
2. You are not constrained by anyone else’s schedule but your own.
Wake up when you want. Go to sleep when you want. Eat where you want. See what you want. DO WHAT YOU WANT. There is no better feeling than having complete control over how you organize your day-to-day life. Although there may be some limitation, set your own schedules. Make choices. Command the world to be how you want it.
3. New acquaintances are sometimes the gateway to new experiences.
My list of goals for the summer included improving my communication with people unfamiliar to me. What better way to do that than by traveling to a location where you know absolutely no one? There is such beauty in traveling alone in that you become the sole motivating force for garnering your own experiences, while simultaneously becoming completely dependent on the advice, knowledge, and expertise of those residing in the community. Many times, making new friends and learning from their perspective creates opportunities to experience and perceive things in ways we never thought possible.
4. The selfie-stick is your friend.
No explanation needed.
The Carefree Black Girl should never simply be a fleeting theme for the summer. She should be the prototype to which we aspire to for the rest of our lives.
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