When Yannick Florest was 32 he traveled for the first time to Thailand/Beijing with Passports Tatted, a travel group for Black men. This trip gave Yannick a first look at how he and others who looked like him could be viewed differently outside of the U.S. As he states "There are places in this world where you are a human first and your skin color is irrelevant."
How did you learn about this trip?
I learned of the group through a friend and figured that it would be the perfect way to start off my international traveling adventures. As well, the last of the trip was my birthday, December 4th, so I felt like this was divine in my going.
What Impact do you feel this trip had on you?
The trip gave me a larger sense of being in this world. It was eye-opening to see how much differently people lived in other geographic locations but it was still the same at its core. Having walked the streets of Thailand and staying primarily in what I would consider the comparison to the inner cities of America, I couldn't help but observe the large disparity between classes and how that affected everyday living.
I could easily see the stark difference between those who had and those who had not because many of the people who were impoverished did not look much different from me.
Another thing I noticed was how invested other countries are in American political affairs and how many of us Americans are not reciprocating in those efforts. Many of the locals in Thailand asked questions about how we felt about the newly-elected Donald Trump as President yet I had no clue about the policies regarding their King's transition. It was a great contrast and learning about what other countries are facing was something I decided to become more active and urgent about learning.
Do you feel this trip effected your sense of self or the world? If so, in what way?
Going to Thailand vastly improved my sense of self. I was forced to move and exist in a different way than I would in America. To be quite honest, I forgot that I was Black until the very last day of my trip when I experienced the same prejudice that I would normally experience here. I was not made to feel like an "other" while I was there and that reinforced what I heard over the years about travelling as an African-American:
"There is a lot of love for us outside the States."
What do you think you accomplished or pursued that you otherwise would not have?
Not much has changed for me in that regard. My goals are still the same but I learned that I do not have to believe the narrative that things are the same everywhere for people of color. There are places in this world where you are a human first and your skin color is irrelevant.
What do you feel contributed the most to this effect?
Being able to look and be around people in Thailand and in China and not having to worry about if someone was going to treat me as if I were invisible or a threat simply due to my skin color. Although I also understood the dynamics of my being a tourist and Thailand being a tourist country, I felt at ease for a majority of the time being there.
How do you feel you experience was different as a person of color?
I did not feel marginalized the majority of time that I was there. I did not feel anxiety from walking the streets or in a mall that I would in America. One thing that my travel group noticed about 2-3 days into our trip was the lack of police officers patrolling. Here in America, we are keenly aware when there is a police presence because it could mean life or death. Yet, in Thailand the only time we actually saw police was during one of the funeral services they host for the King who had transitioned. Even then, the police did not have guns or even tasers. There were military forces there securing the event as well and even they were not armed heavily, while in New York I cannot spend a single day without seeing at minimum, a pistol, taser and nightstick.
"It opened my eyes to how people of color live and how much better I could be experiencing life without constantly feeling a target on my head".
Yannick Florest is a hip-hop artist and educator working with youth in a variety of capacities for over eight years in both public schools and the nonprofit sectors, and with under-served communities all over New York City.
After graduating from SUNY New Paltz in 2006 with a B.A. in Journalism, "Nick" expanded his professional and volunteer experiences at youth organizations like including City Year New York, iMentor, and the NBMBAA CASH Mentoring Program. He has organized community events for over 700 families and created the award winning The Genesis Project afterschool program, which aimed to improve literacy rates through journalism
Yannick is also the founder of We Are Boss Level, an events collective that produces events themed around gaming and comic book culture while fusing independent music and talent.
We Are Boss Level’s work has been featured in publications such as AM New York and USA Today.
Yannick has released two albums, Little Brother Syndrome (2012), and an EP, Peacoat Season (2014). He is currently working on his newest album, #Educatorlife .