Martinique (Marty) Lewis has had Burning Man on her list for several years, but always found an excuse to push it back. She’s created an exciting career fighting for diversity in the travel and media spaces. A girl after my own heart.
In Fall 2019, I walked into the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, the hotel where Martin Luther King was assassinated, now a museum, and was greeted by a woman with the biggest smile and energy. I just knew at that moment it had to be Marty, with whom I’d only communicated on the phone and email.
Marty was working with Nomadness Travel Tribe, one of the first communities created to represent Black and Brown people in the travel demographic. I was in Memphis as one of the speakers at their conference, there to discuss Burning Man and Black Burner Project. Marty was the moderator.
When that day came, it was just her and I in front of a much bigger crowd than I had expected — a room full of Black and Brown people like myself with curious and excited energy. I had no clue so many people would be interested in what I had to say about Burning Man. During that conversation, Marty expressed her excitement and desire to make it to Black Rock City 2019.
Since that epic day of my first public speaking engagement, Marty has made a significant impact in the Black travel community as a travel advocate and “diversity in travel” activist. She launched the Black Travel Alliance, a non-profit organization, created to encourage, educate, and equip traveling Black professionals in education, media, and corporate positions.
Marty’s most recent endeavor is her self-published book The ABC Travel Green Book, a contemporary adaptation of the Black Travel Green Book. In its pages, she has curated a guide and directory of Black-owned businesses around the world, including events and tours that highlight Black culture.
A LITTLE HISTORY
Did you know there was once a book called The Green Book, which was seen as the bible of Black travelers (mostly roadtrippers) during the Jim Crow era? African American travelers faced discrimination — they could be refused accommodation or food, service to their cars, and often faced threats of physical violence. The Green Book allowed Black travelers to find safe lodging, businesses, gas stations, and food along the road. It also shared resources and information that helped Black travelers avoid difficulties and embarrassments. The book was not largely known outside of the African-American community.
“There’s a void in representation when it comes to travel, marketing and telling Black travel narratives, and I want to do something about it.” —Marty
Marty currently lives in London, UK, but Oakland, California, is where she’s from. Surprisingly, she first heard about Burning Man at Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, leading her to investigate an event and culture she knew nothing about. I was certain 2019 would be the year she set her sights for Burning Man. After deciding last minute not to go, and with the past three years we have had, Marty is committed and determined not to miss another opportunity. This will be her year to find out what the dust has in store for her.
How did you learn about Burning Man and why have you been inspired to go?
So I’ve been going to Trinidad Carnival for 10 years now. When I was around 29 we were there and I heard someone say, “Okay who wants to do Burning Man?” I said, “What the hell is Burning Man?” And when I learned about it, I said, “Wait a minute? Wait wait wait!”
So it’s been on my radar since. But the pictures that I saw… people didn’t look like me. When I became a member of Nomadness Travel Tribe, and I found an entire group of POCs who talked about Burning Man. I thought, “Okay. Black and Brown people are there. Wow, we actually do this.” Then we had the conference where we brought you to speak. And you really talked about it in depth. All of our antennas were up, and I felt that I have got to get to this place. Ever since then I’ve been following Black Burner Project. All the series you have done, the IG Lives, all of them, I’ve just been so drawn to it all, like a magnet. To hear men talk about their emotional journey. I think about the experience you talk about looking for the Afro pick. I’m like, I have to have this experience, a place for self discovery.
Why do you feel like now is the time to go for you?
I gave so many excuses for why I couldn’t go before. There are no excuses now. I’m going. What COVID has done for a lot of people is make you question why you haven’t lived your life the way you want to yet. We see now, more than ever, how in a blink of an eye everything can be gone. So I’m like, I’m not missing it now. If not now, then when? People don’t want to miss out on things again ever.
What have your personal travel experiences been like as a woman of color? How can you describe it to someone who can’t relate?
Hmm, that’s a good one. Oh… you know when your sibling lies on you and tells your parents that you’re the one who did something when you didn’t do it? So you’re getting blamed for no reason because someone was being malicious towards you and there’s nothing you can do but take it? That’s how I would describe my experiences over the years.
As a Black woman I get mistaken for a prostitute all the time. Like, I can’t be with a white counterpart without people thinking that they’re paying for my services. I mean, that’s my homeboy and we are just out having dinner and I’m being treated a certain way because I’m cute and I’m wearing a skirt because it’s 110 degrees out. People have no idea what that feels like — to be judged before you even get to show who you are, or to have consequences for how you look before people know you.
I’ve been called monkey, or people have made monkey noises at me as they drive by in different countries I’ve been to. People have no idea what that is like. Thinking about how much you have to endure. Who wants to travel when you have to go through things like that?
This is why there are so many Black communities out there now, for the reliability of the experiences we have had to go through and not have to be alone in it. We have to think so differently and double-think everything we do or want to do. This is ingrained historically.
In your travel experiences so far, what’s one or two places that stand out as examples of strong artistic communities?
One place that comes to mind is Santiago, Chile. Their graffiti and mural culture is so powerful. The art is beautiful on its own, but artists also incorporate what’s going on in the community, be it political or religious, in their art. Whatever is happening that’s affecting the people. If the community is protesting or pushing for or against anything you’ll find it in the artwork in very unique ways. Graffiti art, sculptures, murals speak to what they are feeling. It’s so beautiful. Some art is new, but some has been around for years. It’s so fantastic. And it’s everywhere you look.
Two of Burning Man’s 10 Principles are Radical Self-expression and Immediacy. Burners are used to hearing other Burners pontificate on the principles, but as an experienced traveler who hasn’t been to the event yet, what comes to mind for you hearing these terms as you begin to plan an adventure to Black Rock City?
When I hear the terms Radical Self-expression or Immediacy, it makes me think how everyone can be themselves, or be who they want to be, or are meant to be in a safe space. And that’s exciting to me. With this being my first time, to think: nobody knows me, no one knows my past or my present, they’ll just know who they get on the playa. And because it seems the playa brings out something in you that may not normally be there, to me it means people are getting the best or most authentic version of you and that’s I think its why it’s radical. I think it’s radical because people don’t know the person you’ve always wanted to be or what you see yourself as but haven’t been able to be. And you’re able to be this at Burning Man! I want to maximize my experience so I know I’ll have to let all my walls down, just let everything go.
What are you looking for through this experience? Do you have any expectations or intentions?
I don’t know, but that’s what I’m looking forward to most. I literally have no earthly idea what Burning Man will have for me. But I think it will make sense when I get there. It’ll all come together. It’ll be that person I was meant to meet, that message I was meant to hear. When you open yourself to the universe you get the possibility of everything… anything. Whatever you need. Whatever you’ve been asking for, it finds you in so many different ways. I just want bliss.
From your experience of jumping into the unknown many times over, what’s some advice you can give to others who might be jumping into their first Black Rock City experience?
I would say have no expectations, and live in the moment. Your journey is up to you, let nobody else dictate it.
Cover image of Marty recently spending one month in Antarctica on Deception Island (Photo by Phil Calvert)