OUT THERE: Jabari Smith
One of an occasional series introducing black travelers and their Web sites
SITE: Jabari Inspires (YouTube)
At age 25, this young brother from New Orleans and Howard University alum has already taught English in Japan and seen a good chunk of Asia. His goal: Become the black face of world travel on American television.
Look out, world — this one’s definitely comin’ atcha!
Oftentimes, people are reluctant to venture too long or too far from the familiar. Upon leaving Howard University, Jabari Smith left to teach English in rural Japan for a year.
“As I was preparing to graduate, I decided I really wanted to push myself beyond the great comfort zone I had built at Howard, to prove to myself I could stand on my own as Jabari, without the organizations, without the girlfriend.”
And without any real knowledge of Japanese.
“I never studied Japanese before going. I knew three words: hello, thank you, good bye, That was it.”
Few in Fujisaki, in Aomori prefecture had scarcely ever seen a black man in the flesh. None had ever seen one living in their midst.
“Jabari Sensei, that’s who I was. I taught every kid from elementary too junior high, and also adult school.”
He taught them English, and they taught him some things, in turn.
“I got a first-hand perspective on the image of what a black man was. Everywhere I went, it cause a stir and created attention. At first, I was compared to every popular black entertainer from 50 Cent to Will Smith. And also (martial artist turned fitness guru ) Billy Blanks. I’d go out someplace and it would ne, ‘Ooh, ooh,! Billy! Billy!’
“But I didn’t let it disturb me because I knew what they were experiencing. And everywhere I went, people were incredibly kind to me.”
His one-year teaching commitment turned into two, and he left Fujisaki with an important lesson for himself. He taught them English. They taught him Japanese.
“It’s possible to develop cross-cultural ties, even though there’s this language barrier that seems to stand in the way. I really watched myself evolve as this global citizen, this person who could adapt to another culture and still maintain my sense of self.”
Unlike others his age, it wasn’t academic study, a stint in the military or any other external factor that led him to embrace travel. He came to it entirely on his own.
“I just had this innate desire to carry me to the beauty of everything this world has to offer.”
While in Asia, he managed to work in a little travel around Asia and the Pacific — Thailand, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia.
And everywhere he went, he saw other black folks, travelers and expats, even a black barber in Hong Kong, which taught him something else.
“The black diaspora was present in each of those countries. The black diaspora is truly worldwide.”
After returning to the United States, Jabari entered himself into a contest to become host for a year of the weekly Paradise Hunter TV travel show. The winner travels the world for a year in search of the ideal vacation spot.
“At the end of the year, you have the opportunity to reflect back on all the places you’ve been and pick the one you see as your own paradise.”
In addition to 52 experiences of a lifetime, the winning host also gets a $60,000 salary and a $100,000 home in the location they’ve chosen as their paradise. Or you can just keep the $100,000.
Each contestant has a YouTube video they’ve submitted to make their case why they should be chosen, and viewers get to vote online for their favorite. They also get to vote more than once.
The last person to enter the contest, Jabari has already cleared the first hurdle, making the initial group of 40. Now, he’s trying to make the top three in hopes of eventually winning it all. But his ambitions extend far beyond a one-year stint with Paradise Hunter. Even before entering, he’d auditioned for a slot on Oprah Winfrey’s new network, OWN.
He’s also started up his own motivational speaking business, Jabari Inspires. He wants to motivate people “through positive ideals and not settling for less.”
And that very much includes travel.
“I will most likely to find funding to find a professional cameraman, travel around the world. and record my experiences. My ultimate goal is to not only host my own show but to own my own show.”