Brian Booker is a native Memphian who grew up in Orange Mound. He got his first passport when he was 24, kissed his mom on the cheek, and left for a year to study abroad in Japan. The experience shaped him as an explorer and changed him as a person.
Booker has been traveling since 2009, having lived abroad for three years and traveling to 30 countries around the world. He returned to Memphis on January 15, 2015 -- what would have been Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 86th
birthday. That very day, he founded OneStep Initiative
, a non-profit that introduces underserved high school students to international education opportunities.
The most recent data shows that 74 percent of US scholars who studied abroad were white, in comparison to 5.6 percent black or African-American study abroad participants. Studies also show that study abroad programs have myriad benefits for participants, including higher starting salaries, coveted international experience, and acquisition of life skills like independence and maturity. In Memphis, where 63.3 percent of the population is African-American, this is an obvious missed opportunity in terms of developing youth.
OneStep took their first trip in December 2015 to Ghana with a group of Memphis high schoolers. “I feared that students wouldn’t latch onto the idea -- but kids want to explore. It’s not that they don’t want to go anywhere, they just don’t know that exists for them,” Booker said.
Getting to Ghana wasn’t easy, but Booker is grateful it happened. “It was Christmas, and we had a bonfire. The kids were dancing in a circle with the locals. I stepped back and saw kids from three different Memphis communities become a family. And not just with the other Memphians -- with the Ghanaian kids as well.”
Booker recently traveled to Boston to solidify a partnership with EF Educational Tours, who going forward will handle logistics for trips to Japan, Italy and Spain. Students who complete the EF Tours trips will also receive six college credit hours. “We’re planting seeds for them to continue their education,” Booker said.
Booker plans to stay in Memphis after completing Start Co
.’s SkyHigh accelerator, eventually expanding OneStep into other cities like Atlanta and St. Louis. Booker says the most important piece now is involvement from local philanthropic and giving communities.
On his goals for future study abroad travels? “For each trip, I want a bonfire moment. I need a bonfire moment.”