Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Meet Julia Browne!

Julia Brown, CEO of Walking the Spirit Tours 
(Credit: Tourism Office Paris, France/Amelie DuPont)
Anthro21 is grateful for this interview opportunity.  Julia Browne is a highly respected and sought after celebrity tour guide.  She is also a global entrepreneur and ethnic marketing leader.  Julia has created a world-class tourism company that tours Paris and other locations.  She has been interviewed by leading media the world over for her success and today we interview her to honor her work.   

Her tours  give visitors the opportunity to 'walk in the footsteps' of names such as Josephine Baker, Richard Wright, James Baldwin and many more.

Congratulations on your success! Your work has earned you top interviews with CNN and the New York Times. Please tell us, what was the first tour like for you?

"My first tour was really just walking my Paris friends around the major sites in the Latin Quarter/St.Germain des Pres district.  I'd been working from the research done by my mentor, the late Professor Michel Fabre, plus additional material I'd learned myself in the library of the Georges Pompidou Centre Library. Week after week, I'd tell my friends about the amazing discoveries I'd made so finally they asked me to show them. One of my very first professional tours, in 1994, was for a visiting editor of Essence magazine. There I was glancing at my cue cards where I'd written the key points, trying to impress and entertain her. She was very cool and knew a thing or two herself.  The tour turned out more like a conversation."

Credit: Walking in the Spirit Tours
For those who do not know, where were you born?  What lead you to France?  

"I was born in Leeds England, and my family immigrated to Canada in the 60's.  Even young, I was the restless type.  I devoured books and was curious about the rest of the world.  In school, we had to take French and I got totally hooked on it to the point of having a pen-pal from the Brittany region of France.  After studying tourism in college, I got a job as a flight attendant and got sent to Paris several times--poor me!  Believe it or not,  I didn't really like it at first. I found the people cold and unfriendly.  But I loved French cinema and literature.  Through lots of books and movies I got a real glimpse and understanding of the cultural differences." 

Your business is seen as promoting African American history in Paris, France. In your own words please tell us how you see it.  

"Yes, in the large sense I promote African American history in Paris. What my goal has been is to encourage people of all ages to understand what it's been like to be Black outside of their own country and experience.  It's a real eye-and-spirit-opener to see, feel, know that your culture is valued well beyond what they make you believe back home. 

Credit: Walking in the Spirit Tours
Bigger than that, I want people to see themselves in the larger world, re-evaluate what they know of themselves, expand into what they can be – just like the expatriates did in an environment that took away the obstacle of race.  The history I share is something like a role model.   

The African American experience abroad is different from, yet part of, the Diaspora one. We're connected to each other even if sometimes we have to search for the common points.  You have the opportunity to explore that in Paris because it's the meeting place for Blacks from everywhere."

Do you see yourself as creating new and better opportunities for women in the tourism industry?

"I have had more women tour guides than male but not because I've consciously been seeking out women. Women dominate that area of tourism just as they do in travel agencies and tourism management.  That's been the case in the interns who have sought out work with me. Where I feel I create new and better opportunities is providing whomever wants to get a sense of serving the community interests through working for a Black-owned business, and most importantly, sharing the heritage knowledge and pride; like sowing seeds.  I also hope that working with me gives people a sense of global connectivity."

Do American politics affect your business?

"It has, yes. It affects the way people in the streets react to our groups when we are on tour. The French love to debate and if the politics are particularly scintillating, you can expect them to ask questions.  When Obama won the election, people would smile at us (not so common for the French), we could tell they were conscious of having Americans among them."

What is your most popular tourism theme?

"Josephine Baker is the number 1 requested theme. The writers was the most popular themed tour – because their output was the most recognized and taught, alongside the music but now the African district coupled with the 1920's & 30's period is popular. There's a desire to explore beyond the American story and learn more and engage with the Diaspora – whether in cuisine, music or social activities."

What new things can we expect from Walking the Spirit Tours in 2017?

"First, we'll be taking the film 'Paris Noir-African Americans in the City of Light' on the road in the U.S. and Canada. It will be great to meet people interested in the history and contemporary story.  I am introducing scheduled departure for many of our themed packages – we have an exclusive Afro-focused D-Day excursion in Normandy, a very touching WW I and the Harlem Hell-fighters soldiers/jazz band in Eastern France, our Josephine Baker chateau tour to the south. We're also expanding our offerings of "Black heritage + Local Delights" in Canada;Toronto, Montreal and Nova Scotia."

Finally, please share a word of advice to future global entrepreneurs who want to learn more from you.

"Learn a second language – even if it's just the basics.  Take a class in cross cultural communications. Read a couple of books that take place in your destination country or if the place publishes a newspaper in English, read it regularly before departure so you have an idea of the concerns and priorities of the society."

To join Julia Brown on one of her famous tours visit her online: www.walkthespirit.com.  

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