All year long, people of African descent have been making the voyage to Ghana to unite on the continent with their brothers and sisters of the diaspora for the “Year of Return.” So it comes as no surprise that with its mission, the NAACP would be next in line — and Airbnb would be right there to follow suit.

Two years ago, Airbnb partnered with the NAACP to create a program aimed at diversifying the company’s pool of hosts and its customer base, following a number of complains about discrimination on the platform. That’s when they brought in activist and diversity champion, Janaye Ingram (formerly of Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and now Director of Partnerships for Airbnb) to focus on developing a recruiting program, which touts Airbnb as an economic opportunity for communities of color. Seeing success in this initiative the program has since rolled out in 8 cities, including Miami, Seattle, Oakland and more. 

To expand this growing partnership, Airbnb embarked on a Jamestown to Jamestown pilgrimage along with the NAACP,  who has also hosted a series of events in the US as a part of the “Year of Return” commemoration, to supports the company’s commitment to cultural exchange and creating a world where anyone can belong anywhere. This included celebrating 5 diverse hosts from around the country who have continued to support Airbnb with this important theme.

Ingram, spoke more on the partnership with ESSENCE, “We want people of color to be able to tap into that [entrepreneurship and economic empowerment]. There’s a lot of intentionality that has gone into creating the partnership with the NAACP, but also some of the other partnerships and relationships that we have, not just with communities of color, but all types of communities. This partnership was born out of that.

The hosts, who were handpicked, have special ties to Airbnb, with Ingram sharing that they have been “integral” in helping the platform launch these diversity initiatives in various cities.

“It is really about us connecting locally with communities,” Ingram explained.

The trip, which started in Washington, DC, then saw a bus ride to Jamestown,  Virginia for a prayer vigil and candle lighting ceremony to mark the 400 year anniversary of the first enslaved Africans arrival and honoring the memory of all those stolen from Africa over 400 year ago. They then embarked to Ghana, where activities included a visit to the Cape Coast Castle slave dungeons, the Assin Manso Last Bath Slave River and the Business, Development & Investment Summit.

“It was emotionally charged from the highs and the lows,” says Ingram. “When you think about the 400 years since the beginnings of slavery in this country it brings a myriad of emotions. We started the trip here in the U.S. and the first part of the trip was going to Jamestown, Virginia. That started the swell of emotions. You were able to be in this space and this place where our ancestors were brought — the first slaves were brought to Jamestown. There was a part of the ceremony that they had in Jamestown that we collected water from the banks of the river and we would carry that water with us, and we were able to write notes with our ancestors.”

Jamila Ross, one of the hosts who was also able to attend the Ghana experience also described her first visit to the continent with Airbnb as a “pleasant surprise.” 

She explained, “It wasn’t until our first day, that we realized that we came on this trip with a purpose — with a goal of understanding our ancestry and to embark on a journey much much greater than ourselves. With that it came along the potential for business of where we could fit in with this economic increase in the country.”

Ross, along with her partner Akino West first started their hospitality group by purchasing a four bedroom, two bathroom house and renting the space as a vacation rental property in Miami and renting one room on Airbnb. The purchase of their first Miami home transcended into the creation of The Copper Door Bed and Breakfast.

The couple have Airbnb to thank for getting their feet wet for Copper Door, because they first ran a successful Airbnb property out of their home in Buena Vista, with over 24 properties now listed on the platform. This has prepared them to onsite at Copper Door, managing the day-to-day aspects of a B&B from emergency maintenance fixes to daily breakfast menus.

Ross and West are just numerous case studies on Airbnb’s commitment to diversifying hosts and experiences, while also creating economic opportunities for communities of color. Still, with this commitment, Ingram also shared that Airbnb has another local partnership coming up next month.

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