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Sheena Collier on feeling changed by Ghana, trying french fries everywhere, and giving in to relaxation

We caught up with the founder of Boston While Black to talk about all things travel

Sheena Collier at the Afrochella Festival in Ghana.Handout

When she traveled to Ghana for two weeks in 2019, Sheena Collier said she felt “really light” and empowered. “I wasn’t thinking about racism and how I was being treated and how I was being perceived. … I had never felt that before,” she said. “I just came back bolder.” Collier, 37, took that newfound strength and started Boston While Black, a membership network for Black professionals, entrepreneurs, and students seeking connection and community. After graduating from Spelman College in Atlanta, Collier came to Boston in 2004 to attend Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. “It was a culture shock,” she said bluntly. “It took a while to find my way and feel like a part of Boston and learn how to access things I liked — the culture, music, food.” Collier said she planned on leaving Boston after graduate school, but stayed for a job. She made it her mission to organize events ranging from dinners to cultural outings for young Black people “to help build community.” But it was only after her trip to Ghana that Collier decided to parlay her passion into a full-time job and create a membership-based platform. She launched Boston While Black (in a virtual format) in July 2020 and has more than 300 members so far. That number has grown steadily, in large part due to partnerships with companies and organizations such as Wayfair, HubSpot, DraftKings, and, most recently, ArtsEmerson. “Our overall vision is to reimagine cities — starting with Boston — as spaces where Black people are thriving,” she said. “My hope is for us to really become a hub for folks moving here, or [those] who have been here, who are looking for a community that helps them to have a sense of belonging and joy in the city.” We caught up with Collier to talk about all things travel.

Favorite vacation destination?

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I went to Ghana in 2019. It fed my soul to be in a country surrounded by Black people owning businesses, working at businesses, on billboards, on TV … everywhere. I also got to attend a baby-naming ceremony and a wedding!

Favorite food or drink while vacationing?

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I like to eat food native to the country I am visiting.

Where would you like to travel to but haven’t?

This is a long list. One place that I really want to go to is Senegal. There is a lake there, Lake Retba — also called Lac Rosa — that is pink, due to the high salt content in the water. From the pictures I’ve seen, it looks beautiful — and pink is my favorite color, so there’s that. I also want to visit countries in East Africa, like Tanzania and Kenya. I was planning to go in December 2020, but didn’t because of COVID.

One item you can’t leave home without when traveling?

Flowers to wear in my hair.

Aisle or window?

Definitely window, so I can take a good nap.

Favorite childhood travel memory?

Anytime my whole family was together — laughing, listening to music, eating.

Guilty pleasure when traveling?

I need to taste the french fries everywhere.

Best travel tip?

I plan to be away at least seven to 10 days so I have a few days to adjust from traveling and reminding myself to not worry about my long to-do list at home. By day four, I am completely relaxed and have no worries.

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JULIET PENNINGTON