Travel agent Danielle Rivers-Mitchell (Picture by Christoff Griffith.)
When Dianelle Rivers-Mitchell was 13 years old, and a student at high school in the United States of America, she went on a school trip that “saved her life”.
No, she wasn’t in physical danger. But she was at risk of becoming another statistic out of the ‘projects’ in her Texas neighbourhood.
“I’m originally from Alabama. I was raised by a single mother in an overlooked and underserved community, basically the projects. I had no dreams, no ambition, never was empowered by anything until my counsellor in the seventh grade came into my life. She put a trip together to Washington DC and during that experience, I became empowered and motivated through travel,” she explained.
“It was my first time outside of Alabama. I begged my mother several times to go on this trip and she kept saying we couldn’t afford it. I kept pleading and eventually she did. I remember watching my mother take the VCR and our television and pawned them so I could go . . . . This experience not only changed my life, but it saved it,” Dianelle said.
“During the trip to Washington DC, I started to see people who looked just like me walking out of buildings, looking successful. The way they spoke, the way they carried themselves . . . . I started to visualise myself like that. And I said well, if they can do it so can I,” she said.
Following that, she served in the military for four years, but could never quite shake the feeling that there was more for her in life.
“I understood that my time in the military was going to be short. And that’s because I knew that I was created to do more. And in the military although it helped me, you don’t control your life at all. At a young age, I knew I needed to be in control of my life and the military was not the place for me,” she said.
Dianelle didn’t know exactly what area she wanted to get into, so after some self-introspection she remembered a time in her life when she felt alive, aware and motivated.
“I asked myself what was the crossover moment in my life where everything changed. Meaning my mindset and how I saw myself. And it went back to that trip.
“So I said, what if I could do what that counsellor did for me back that, for other women on a bigger and larger scale? Then I started to formulate my company. Deep down, my entire mindset was, I wanted to create what someone created that saved me,” she said during an interview at Sea Breeze Beach House during her recent visit to the island.
Today, she is the founder of the company Black Girls Travel Too.
And through her company, Dianelle has fallen completely in love with the island of Barbados.
“I wanted to find that person that needed that experience of travel. And so I juggled with my thoughts on where I wanted to host the first experience. I said I could do it in the States, but it would be even better if I could take someone out of their comfort zone.
“Crop Over 2014, I brought a group here to experience Barbados and it was absolutely mind-blowing. In that experience, I knew that I was on the right path and this was something I wanted to do . . . That was the fuel that pushed me even further to say that travelling is more than just about travelling, it’s about becoming a better version of who you are really meant to be. And so with that, I dove deeper into creating experiences.”
But why does she love it so much? No, it’s not for the nice sun, sea or sand, but for her, it’s the people.
“My company creates experiences all over the world, but Barbados is my most favourite island. It’s easy to say that it’s because Barbados has the most beautiful beaches or the most amazing cuisine, but Barbados would not be what it is, if it wasn’t for the Barbadian people. I have found that the Barbadian people are so kind, and genuinely kind at that. They don’t look to gain anything from you but to assist you. That is one of the most attractive qualities a destination could have,” she said.
Dianelle relayed an interaction that happened while on a tour with other travel agents in Barbados during her most recent trip and got emotional, while trying to explain her love for the ‘Bajan people’.
“I stayed in a condominium for Crop Over. Across from there, there is a rum shop called Cariboo. And the owner was so kind to me and my group and cooked the most amazing food. So I snuck out one day and went over to Cariboo. When I walked in she was like “Danny, you’re back so soon”. I told her yes but I didn’t have much time. I told her I just wanted to get some good food and she made me up something and put it into a take away. I gave her my card but her credit card machine wasn’t working. I didn’t have cash. I told her I wouldn’t take the food and she said ‘take the food and you pay me the next time you see me.’
“When she said that, that is the true essence of loving this destination. The people are genuinely kind. She doesn’t know the next time she is going to see me or if she will ever see me again. But she trusted the relationship we had, and she trusted me. I don’t know if any other destinations have people like that.”
Dianelle said of the over 40 countries she has visited, Barbados will always be her favourite. And she makes sure to market the island, with no payment from any tourism board in Barbados, to the best of her ability.
“I’ve seen several times how Barbadian people are just kind. I’ve been to other Caribbean islands and other destinations but no other destination has ever come close to Barbados. I believe Barbados is in high demand with my clients because of the way I market Barbados. To write about Barbados, I don’t think you can effectively communicate through literature what the island is. That’s why I constantly vlog about it and go live on Instagram when I’m here,” she added.
And since her numerous visits and deep love for the island, she has started a philanthropic arm of her business, specifically aimed at assisting at-risk youth in Barbados.
“Recently, I created a non-profit organisation. It’s the philanthropic arm of my company and it’s called Serving in Paradise Foundation.
“ . . . . It’s one thing to come and bring people to experience the island, that’s great, but what about the locals and pouring back into the communities and the people that don’t get the gains and resources of tourism? I wanted to work with kids in overlooked and underserved communities in Barbados.”
She has connected with Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw who is assisting her in her efforts of getting into communities and meeting and working with children.
“When I met her, I expressed to her my passion for travel and the love I have for Barbados and the Barbadian people. She said ‘you sure you not Bajan’?,” she said with a hearty chuckle.
“She took me into the Pine community and introduced me to the locals in the community. Overtime I would come back and I would go up there and play road tennis. I love it . . . . I just want to let them know it’s not about exploiting them or giving handouts, but helping to provide a hand up,” she said. (DB)