In the summer of 2020, when the U.S. was experiencing both a racial reckoning and an early peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Leroy Adams turned the deep sorrow he felt into motivation to create a space to empower Black travelers to explore the world and escape tribulation.
Today, that space is The Buddy Pass, an online and print magazine aimed at Black millennials that covers all aspects of travel, including lifestyle pieces, planning tips, inspiration and stories of Black entrepreneurs in the travel industry.
Adams, 34, sat down with the San Antonio Report recently at Estate Coffee Co. on East Houston Street, where he often works. He recalled becoming passionate about travel during a difficult time as a student at the University of Houston.
He had recently lost his brother and was feeling lost when an opportunity to study creative writing in Taiwan opened up. While it wasn’t easy funding the trip, Adams juggled his classes and multiple jobs to be able to hand his professor the check that would ultimately change the trajectory of his life.
He became the first person in his family to obtain a U.S. passport and travel abroad. During his trip, he met many Taiwanese people fascinated by Black culture and history, which he enjoyed sharing.
The travel bug bites
Adams, in turn, was fascinated by travel. He returned to finish his degree at UH and immediately joined the Peace Corps, moving to Ethiopia to teach and train teachers; He ended up leading an effort to build classrooms as well.
Adams said he became a project manager practically overnight. He drafted a proposal to build two classrooms, worked with local construction companies to donate materials and organized an international fundraising campaign for educational materials.
It was an incredibly rewarding time, but he was also struck by something else: In his Peace Corps cohort of 70 people, only seven were Black. When he asked Peace Corps leaders why, he was told Black students weren’t interested.
“That was another opportunity for me to say, ‘I can show people from my community that we can experience opportunities like this,’ because no one else is going to do it,” Adams said.
Later, he moved to China, where he established BLK GEN, a brand with a mission to organize community arts events centered that showcased Black culture, including poetry and music.
The goal was to bring people together, he said. “We all have these misconceptions of each other, despite the fact that we had never actually met each other.”
Launching the podcast
In 2018, Adams moved to San Antonio, but he wanted to keep sharing the stories of Black travelers. He started The Buddy Pass podcast and eventually traveled to Mexico, Switzerland and Ireland, interviewing Black travelers and expats.
He began getting questions from listeners: How do I get a passport? Do I need a visa to travel to specific countries? How should I navigate foreign customs?
His podcast evolved to help answer those questions.
When he returned to the U.S. Adams pitched Black travel stories to various magazines. All were rejected. Along with the continuous spotlight on the murders of George Floyd, Ahmad Arbery and Breonna Taylor, Adams felt even more frustration over the lack of space for Black travelers to tell their stories.
“Because our stories are so raw, and because our stories are also imbued with the discrimination that we experience in the states, no one is interested in those stories because they’re painful,” he said. “For us, it’s a reality. We don’t travel just for a vacation. Black people [also] travel to get away from America, because we’re tired, we’re exhausted because of what we deal with here.”
For many Black travelers, lying on a beach is not just about soaking up the sun and relaxing, he said. It’s also getting away from the psychic pain of being Black in America.
“We just want to be in a space where we feel safe, and we feel at peace, and we can just enjoy ourselves and just be,” he said.
The Buddy Pass podcast highlighted those experiences. But Adams wanted to do more. He planned to create a book out of 10 podcast episodes, with contributed photos.
As he worked on the book and shared his ideas on social media, Black travelers reached out to contribute and share. The book evolved into the first issue of The Buddy Pass magazine.
Adams spent $200 to print 20 copies of that first issue. At that point, Adams said, he knew he had something real.
Creating a keepsake
Creating a printed magazine that showed a cultural representation of Black people was important to Adams. Black households often cherish and save such magazines, Adams said, and he wanted The Buddy Pass to become a similar inspirational item.
“In the Black community, we consider things like this art, so when it’s done right, and when it’s represented well, we save this because it’s for us, it’s a representation of who we are in our culture,” Adams said.
The magazine is printed in San Antonio by Shweiki Media, a full-service printing company located off Loop 410 near Brooke Army Medical Center. The second issue of 100 copies rolled off the presses last week, with a list price of $29.99.
With a hard spine and 80 pages, the second issue features an image of a young Black man in front of the Li Nong Tea House on Lantau Island, Hong Kong, on the cover. Inside, Black travelers share stories of trips to Mexico City, Europe and Bali.
As the pages printed in the digital press room last week, Adams walked back and forth watching the pages go through each stage along the conveyer belt. He recorded the process on his iPhone, smiling.
For the cover story, Adams wrote about why some Black Americans are choosing to live abroad. He also wrote a story about a Black family from Toronto and how traveling to 27 different countries within a year changed their lives.
Coming full circle
Seeing the second issue roll off the presses became a full-circle moment for Adams; he felt like the magazine was a print version of the work he’d done to highlight Black culture in Beijing.
For now, the magazine’s contributors are donating their work, but Adams hopes to be able to pay them soon. After the first issue came out, Adams asked his extended family to invest $250 each to help produce the second issue.
With their investment and a small amount of income from advertising, Adams contracted with an editorial designer to begin producing the second issue. He also connected with writers from Panama and Portugal.
His next goal for Buddy Pass includes launching a subscription model, which will be tested after the Juneteenth issue. For $5 a month, readers would be able to access all of Buddy Pass’ online content, the podcast and the magazine. Adams also hopes to provide resources, like scholarships, to Black students who wish to study abroad.
And while he sees Buddy Pass as an international venture, Adams said he also hopes to use it to promote the rich culture of San Antonio’s East Side and lure visitors from across the world.
“If you find this magazine valuable or interesting, buy it, support it. I’m not asking you to support because it’s a Black business, I’m asking you to support because it’s a really cool magazine with really cool stories,” Adams said. “We want to support businesses on the East Side, we want to support students to travel abroad. … We can only do that if we continue to grow.”