When Dr. Tarika Sullivan first came up with the concept for her mural tour of Atlanta, it started off as a simple way to enjoy a unique kind of entertainment in the city.
“I loved to travel, and I loved murals and art. So, when I would see these things in different cities I traveled to, I went, ‘Atlanta has all of this,’” she tells ESSENCE. “When my friends would come from out of town to visit, they would be like, ‘Tarika, what is there to do in the city outside of partying?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m going to show you these murals and I’m going to just tell you what they mean to me and how beautiful they are.’ I would do a little research on the artist, and it became a thing for me to show my friends these murals.”
What started as a small adventure with friends experiencing art in a different way expanded in 2020 into a popular tour that provides fun, luxury and a safe space to celebrate and uplift Black women: Black Girl Magic Tours.
“It’s about Black women connecting,” she says.
When you sign up for the tour, after receiving a detailed email sharing the meetup location and arriving there, you are greeted with a “Black Girltini,” the first of many refreshments and snacks offered. All of the attendees do a toast and introduce themselves, and from there, you get to know one another while also getting to see the stunning, elaborate wall art in the city. Guests ride to each one in a Sprinter van with help from the Director of Transportation, Charlie Jackson, and at the mural locations, there’s an opportunity to talk about what the work means to you while learning about the artist behind it. As the three-hour tour goes on, a sense of camaraderie is built among participants who look like one another and can feel comfortable being themselves.
“The reviews that I have heard have nothing to do with the murals,” she says enthusiastically. “It’s like, ‘Oh my god! This is an opportunity to connect and develop sisterhood and to build my network. It’s just a beautiful space to celebrate myself.’ How many of us have had an opportunity to do that within the last year and a half?”
As they ride through prominent neighborhoods like Sweet Auburn, the women relate to one another about their experiences, bonding as they spend time together.
“We talk about what are you balancing right now? What are some of the experiences that you have had? How are you engaging in self-care? Why are you here? Why did you come on this mural tour? When you create a safe space and everyone knows everyone they start to talk,” she says.
She recalls an emotional time on the tour when a woman felt safe enough to be incredibly vulnerable with her fellow participants. On that day, it was extremely hot, and the woman wore her hat for almost the entire three hours. It wasn’t until they arrived at a specific mural and everyone was sharing their feelings about it that Sullivan says the young woman uttered, “I’m having a hard time seeing beauty in the mirror.” She removed her hat and showed the ladies patches of hair on her head. She was suffering from alopecia. The group was touched by the young woman’s story and her having the courage and feeling comfortable enough to share it with them.
“There are times when things get really emotional” she says of such moments. “This is an opportunity for us to reflect and to see how great we are.”
With these types of experiences in mind, it makes sense why Dr. Sullivan decided against calling this experience something simple like the Black Girl Mural Crawl. It’s about more than that. Sure, the murals are great and the initial draw, but what’s even greater is the magic that happens when the women join together.
“I wanted to keep things open,” she says of choosing the name Black Girl Magic Tours. “It will always be an exploration of Black women and their contributions to the culture and society.”