Jennifer Tosch is the CEO of BHAT- Black Heritage NYC and Amsterdam Tours
Kevin: Your position as CEO of BHAT has an interesting story in that it ties to your own ancestry that you were unaware of until you reached adulthood. Can you describe how this fuels your drive for revealing unknown or seldom shared information in our collective history?
Jennifer: When I was growing up my mother shared bits and pieces of my family history and heritage, but I never really thought it was important to develop a strong identity. It was when I took the first course about Dutch-Suriname history when I went back to school after a 20-year absence that it all connected for me. At that moment all the stories my mother had shared, and the missing pieced that she left out, made sense. From that point on I have been driven to learn more. The point is, as adults we think our children don't hear us when we try to share family stories, but I'm proof that they do, but like many of us, it takes years to come full circle. In my case, it was spawned by my life events that catapulted a major paradigm shift.
Kevin: What inspires you personally and why?
Jennifer: First and foremost it is God. I am in every way divinely guided in my faith and sense of purpose fulfilling a divine calling. Second is my daughter, Noel. She is the main reason I started this journey. There was a point when I saw we were growing apart and she was getting involved with "the wrong crowd." I wanted to leave her a legacy that she could follow and I believed that she would learn better from me if I showed her rather than told her what to do. It's working!
My other passion is my mother, Cecelia Reid. She grew up in the Netherlands, but when she died many years ago she left behind some "unfinished business. "I know I am fulfilling her lifelong dream, not only in my life but also her own. If it were not for her teaching me how to be the best I can be, this would be a very different journey.
Kevin: How did Black Heritage Amsterdam Tours begin?
Jennifer: The inspiration for Black Heritage Amsterdam Tours first came from the transformative experience I had as a student of the Black Europe Summer School (BESS), which was followed by a very different experience in a Dutch university, where there was a lack of positive narratives about Black history in the Netherlands. After extensive research, I firmly believed I could add to the single discourse by revealing Amsterdam's hidden and often erased history.
"The problem with a single story is not that it's wrong, but that it's incomplete."
Kevin: What do you hope to instill in those who attend the tour?
Jennifer: My hope is that after you've experienced the tours you will have a better view of "the other side of the story", gain a deeper understanding of history that is still visible all around us.
Kevin: Amsterdam is world famous for many things. Do you find that people are surprised by the historical content of the tour? What do you attribute this to?
Jennifer: People are very surprised by what they will discover on the tour journey, especially those who are born in Holland. I attribute this to a common idea that we often feel a sense of entitlement or arrogance when it comes to the places we come from. I also attribute this to the fact that what we "learn" in school is based on the dominant "national" narrative, which is inherently "one-sided" and as I love to quote, Nigerian writer and author, Chimamanda Aduche when she says, "The problem with a single story is not that it's wrong, but that it's incomplete".
Kevin: You've provided tours for a variety of participants; providing a positive experience for your guests. What inspires you to give back to the community?
Jennifer: When I see an impact of what we are doing changing lives, inspiring people to go further in their own journeys of self-discoveries. I believe in the idea of "It takes a village." I know that whatever we give comes back ten-fold.
Kevin: The tour has become a "must-do" on the list of attractions in Amsterdam. What do you attribute this success to?
Jennifer: Part of it is, the tour is not just about Black people, it's really for everyone who is interested in learning about the silenced or erased part of our shared history; and, it's a beautiful experience, what I call "time traveling" along this historic city in a new way. The other part is we do not "demonize" one group or "victimize" another, we have an open dialogue and encourage interaction, so it's not just one person talking the whole time, we are engaged in building relationships and making connections that will carry on long after the tour is over.
Kevin: Are there any additional community-based initiatives that you are involved with?
Jennifer: Yes, there are several I love, but I am very committed to the organizations that really embody the spirit of education, economic empowerment, self-awareness/improvement, community and Black consciousness:
Kevin: How can people get connected to support and participate?
Jennifer: Join us on the tour in Amsterdam, whether you live in the City or travel from elsewhere.
Invest in our future with time and money so we can offer more tours to financially disadvantaged youth and schools, and, continue to grow by adding new tours in different parts of the world.
Start your own initiative. If you see there is something missing, then do it, start it, or create it, because it takes a village to change the world!
Spread the story about BHAT on all social media to tell your friends and family about what we are doing and encourage them to join! Find us online: www.blackheritagetours.com, like Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Welcome-to-Black-Amsterdam-Tours/351401081614405 Tweet about us: @BlackHeritageAm
Every story usually consists of three essential components; a beginning, a middle, and an end. History is full of stories. However, with history where the story ends, we can often chart a clearer course for our future. There is a saying that goes, "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." History communicates, it speaks of the lives of our ancestors, our social systems of the past, our ever-evolving cultures; offering wisdom to those who take the time to listen and examine. The subject of this profile shares her passion for Time Traveling by sharing a piece of "herstory"...