Juanita Harrison: Simplifying the Complication of being Black Woman World Traveler

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Although we don’t need a special month to celebrate the beauty and dynamism of Black culture, we’re happy to take this time to share one of our favorite historical figures with you, a lesser-known woman on-the-go and overall iconic in her own right: Juanita Harrison. Very little is known about her life outside of what she wrote about herself in her travel diary My Great Wide Beautiful World (you can read it for free online or buy it on Amazon!!).

Born in Mississippi, Harrison was a trained lady’s maid who “freelanced” her way around the world from 1927-1936. From her youth Harrison was determined to not live a miserable life. Despite the complications of her race, socioeconomic status, gender, and being born in the violent American South, she managed to posture herself for the life she envisioned would suit her best: visiting the places she’d glimpsed in magazines and postcards.

Long before she could afford to leave the country Harrison maintained her nomadic spirit and cosmopolitan mentality by traveling for her work (remember she was a maid!) to Cuba and Canada where she took night classes at local YWCAs and learned conversational French and Spanish. In 1927 at age 36 Harrison was finally able to realize her dream. She left the USA and, over the next 8 years, traveled to 22 countries!! From England to Egypt, France to Japan, Syria to Russia and everything in between, Harrison experienced cultures, foods, languages, and even a train wreck in Czechoslovakia. In her travel diary she wrote about her restless itinerary, which was elongated or truncated at her wish to suit her vagabond plans. Eventually she settled in Waikiki, Hawaii, where she enjoyed the bustle of the island, learned to surf, and spent her days living in a custom-made tent she named Villa Petit Peep.

Don’t let anything stop you from living your purpose and pursuing your dreams!

Here are some things the IVORY B. woman can take from Harrison’s “c’est complique” story:

• Don’t let anyone tell you that your life story is too complicated to chase your dreams! If you want to do something, keep your eyes set on doing it and be relentless!

• Write your dreams down! Harrison’s existence is memorialized because she kept writing. Make some time to write your vision down—it brings you that much closer to realizing it!

• Sometimes what we’re looking for isn’t in our native land. Don’t ever be afraid to pack your bags and buy a 1-way ticket to anywhere! That may be when your life really begins!

• Preparation counts! Before your dream comes true you, like Juanita Harrison, can take classes, read books, go to your library, subscribe to interesting email newsletters, follow interesting social media accounts, download educational apps (like DuoLingo for language learning!) talk to people from other walks of life or professions close to what you want to do, etc. Education is powerful and even more so when you pursue it on your own terms!

• Whether you’re a housekeeper or a bus driver or a stay at home mom YOUR DREAMS ARE VALID! Keep dreaming and let your dreams be BIG! It’s all about #howyoucarryit!

It’s complicated, being Black and being a woman. However, throughout our history we have SO MANY examples of Black women carrying that complicated story with grace, strength, and power. Their legacies remind us that the stuff that makes our lives complicated in 2019 is NOTHING compared to the oppression and violence they dealt with, while also giving us inspiration to focus on the bigger picture through whatever we are doing or going through. If they could make it so can we! It’s #howyoucarryit.

chimene jackson