February has been designated as Black History Month in the USA, and what a month it’s been! Chakita Patterson of United Street Tours returns to our blog to answer some of the questions we had about her experience in doing the beautiful and necessary work that she does. If you missed her first post, you can read it here.
Katalin: Chakita, it’s great to have you back on our blog, especially in an interview-style post. Thanks so much for chatting with us again!
Chakita: It’s great to be here again spotlighting black history through storytelling on walking tours. Since we last spoke, Nashville has experienced some pretty nasty, stormy weather and it has been raining non-stop. Nashvillians are patiently waiting on the sun to come out and bless us again as flood waters were flowing in and schools have been shut down because of it.
At times like this, being an outdoor, walking tour guide can be challenging and tours in Nashville can come to a fast halt. However, we tour rain or shine so I was delighted to get a 5-star, TripAdvisor review from one of our guests this week who braved the rain to join the Civil Rights Movement Tour.
He wrote, “The tour guide was well informed, articulate, and helpful in providing insight into the local history relative to Civil Rights events. She was patient with my questions and very friendly. I was most impressed with her commitment to complete the tour. I was the only one that paid, on a rainy day. She showed up and gave the tour on time and with a smile. My experience with these tours can be less reliable. She was reliable with my tour.”
K: Your job must be incredibly interesting. What would you say is your favorite part about it?
C: I am excited to be working in a field that I am absolutely passionate about. Our Nashville tours are incredibly fun and ever-changing. I absolutely love sharing black Nashville with guests who come from near and far to experience the city.
My favorite part is that every single tour looks different based on the questions, energy, and insights that guests bring. I get a variety of different questions every tour that influences how the 1.5 hours of time we spend together will go. Some of the questions include: do you still experience racism, what’re your thoughts on gentrification, how are race relations in Nashville, where do black people in Nashville hang out, etc. I also get a lot of history question about the civil rights movement, slavery, and the black community in general. When I get questions that shape conversations, the thing that is important for me to mention is that I am one voice and I do not represent all of the dynamic 42 million African Americans living in the US.
That being said, one of my favorite parts of the job is the fact that every day is different and every day provides a new opportunity to give and receive powerful insight from the different groups that join us. I also love the fact that locals and tourists equally have a fantastic time on the tours. In fact, last week, another one of our guests left a 5-star review on TripAdvisor about the Tour of African American Culture stating, “I’m a local, and I’m so glad I did this tour. There’s so much African American history that I’d never learned. Plus, Chakita was a wonderful guide and our group was so friendly! I would highly recommend this to anyone – local or tourist – looking to learn more about Nashville.”
K: Do you have a favorite story that you tell on every tour?
C: My favorite story to tell on every tour is the story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Since Nashville is considered the Music City and is well-known around the world for country music, the story of the Singers catches people off-guard often.
The Fisk Jubilee Singers started off as a singing group that was established six years after slavery ended in 1871. Their purpose was to sing as a means of fundraising to raise money for Fisk University because the school was experiencing heavy financial trouble.
The group went around the world singing negro spirituals, oftentimes to audiences who had never heard them before. They even performed in the White House and for Queen Victoria of England. After their performance, Queen Victoria said that with such beautiful voices, the Singers must come from a music city. This is how Nashville got its “Music City” name.
Most people don’t normally associate Nashville with black culture even though we have 4 lively historically black colleges and universities here, which are Fisk University, Tennessee State University, Meharry Medical College, and American Baptist College. We also have several black-owned and operated businesses such as Slim & Husky’s Pizza Beeria, the Cupcake Collection, Prince’s Hot Chicken, The Lab Nashville, and my company United Street Tours.
There are almost 174,000 black people living in the county, making up about 27% of the population. So it’s not surprising that Nashville has thriving black culture and black roots, it’s just not well known.
K: What black history story stands out the most to you?
C: Honestly, it’s the black American experience in general that stands out to me the most. The fact that people of the African diaspora were spread around the world as slaves, survived bondage and were victims of unimaginable hardships. From this victimization came a documented history of myths, misconceptions, stereotypes, prejudices, and racist ideologies that still lead to the continuation of discriminatory policies and practices as well as racially motivated violence.
As we fast forward to today, the offsprings of the victims are often painted as inferior, unworthy, or suspects when non-violent resistance has been one of the main themes of the black freedom struggle in America. I guess the story that stands out to me the most is the story that is still being written. The stories of support for minority and women-owned businesses. The success and economic stability of black families. The advocacy for more inclusive policies and spaces and the critical look into institutionalized racism and the systems that support it.
K: Which story do you think has the greatest impact?
C: The story that has a big impact on guests are the stories of the sit-in movement in Nashville that’s told on the Civil Rights Movement Tour. We explore how ordinary young people protested at ordinary places causing extraordinary changes that shaped our society. We tell stories about the female leader of the movement, Diane Nash, and we talk about the role that Congressman John Lewis played.
Our guests point out that all of the stories combined makes the greatest impact. For example, on TripAdvisor, Ashley from Nashville stated, “Thank you to Ogden and Chakita, founders of @UnitedStreetTours, for leading us through the rich and often untold stories of African Americans in downtown Nashville. We biked along the greenway to our first stop, Fort Nashboro, and began with the first African Americans who settled in the Nashville area. Next we learned about the entrepreneurial quasi-slaves living in the city, not on the plantations, as well as the rich contributions to the civil rights movement that occurred (sic) in Nashville thanks to student-led efforts at Fisk University, TSU, and fierce community members. We ended our tour at the historical Woolworths. This was a very informative tour and everyone in our group was very happy they attended.”
K: You mentioned in your previous post that in the beginning, you had a lot of adults wanting to come along on the tours. Has that changed? Have you been getting a younger audience?
C: Yes, at the beginning stages of creating the company, my target was students. Very quickly I realized that the tours were appealing to adults. Our target audience is 35+ for our public tours.
We are finding that younger audiences are dominating our private tours. We have several K-12 school groups scheduled to take our tours this spring and we’ve also been getting several inquiries from college groups. I’ll keep your readers posted at the end of this tour season and let you know how the demographics have changed. This is going to be a breakout year for United Street Tours.
K: How do you appeal to the younger generation to pique their interest?
C: Great question! As a millennial, I understand that today’s audiences that are made up of millennials and Gen Z have to receive information in an entertaining manner for it be relatable and beneficial. With this approach in mind, we design our tours to be compelling and engaging through the incorporation of storytelling.
On the tours, we tell stories instead of focusing on all facts. No one remembers numbers such as years but do will remember how learning about quasi-independent slaves for the first time made them feel.
Our guests find that the stories that we tell are the most appealing part of our tours. For example, another 5-star TripAdvisor review reads, “This was one of my favorite things I did in Nashville. I learned so much through Chakita’s gift for storytelling and dedicated research. Make time for this tour. You’ll be glad you did.” The storytelling on our tours makes us different.
K: What are new developments happening with United Street Tours?
C: There is always something new happening with United Street Tours. We are preparing for peak season in April so we are currently hiring for amazing tour guides to deliver black history stories in a compelling way. We are also working on expanding to Franklin, TN and determining when and were the best route and stories will be for a black history tour in a civil war town.
We are growing at a steady pace, and are excited to be a part of the growing number of black-owned and operated businesses in the Nashville community.
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