A map that elevates Black culture in America

Who: Black & Abroad, with Performance Art for strategy and creative, Toronto-based Alfredo Films for film production (directed by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall), Alter Ego for online, TA2 Sound + Music for audio, Initiative and Reprise for media, and Kinesso for audience development, and PR by Glossy.

What: “The Black Elevation Map,” an interactive data visualization using Black culture data to create a searchable travel map of the U.S. It’s a follow-up to the enormously successful “Go Back to Africa” campaign.

When & Where: The map went live Feb. 1 at BlackElevationMap.com, and is being advertised through online video, banner ads, and social media assets.

Why: While the U.S.-based travel company Black & Abroad created “Go Back To Africa” to encourage pan-African tourism, The Black Elevation Map is an effort to assist with a different kind of tourism in America. “We wanted to help Black travellers see the country in a way that prioritizes and celebrates the contributions of folks who look like us—and facilitates travel choices that deepen engagement within our community,” said Eric Martin, chief creative officer and co-founder of Black & Abroad, in a release introducing the new initiative.

The Canadian connection: Two years ago, Black & Abroad worked with Toronto-based FCB/Six to create “Go Back to Africa.” It became one of the most awarded made-in-Canada campaigns of all time. Some of the key leadership of FCB/Six at the time have since moved on to launch Performance Art. That includes Ian Mackenzie, who was the creative lead on “Go Back to Africa” and is also the chief creative officer behind this new effort, with the key production partners all based in Canada.

How: Performance Art used cultural data including Black population, historical markers, Black-owned businesses and social media activity to create the elevation map: The more data, the greater the elevation.

Visitors to the searchable map can email “favorites,” and there is an “add to map” feature. It pulls in Black travel-related social media conversations and aside from some 30,000 places of interest, there are also 12 curated city guides and 10 national guides.

“We know the data we’re visualizing represents just a fraction of actual Black cultural contribution,” said Mackenzie. “We see this as part of an ongoing conversation, and a conceptual counterpoint to a long history of maps created with harmful and unacknowledged biases.”

The project is being launched with a 60-second film entitled “A Hymn Away From Home,” which mixes footage of 30 Black business owners and shots of soaring mountain tops with original poetry from Washington D.C.-based poet Jasmine Mans.

The significance of maps: “From redlining to modern urban planning, you don’t have to look far to see ways in which maps have been used to marginalize, divide and oppress communities around the world,” said Martin. “Repurposing a traditional elevation map is a way for us to weave joy and uplift into the story, the experience, and our interpretation of the data.”

Targeting: Kinesso is identifying the target audience using cultural insights and digital media from its Kinesso IMPACT marketplace, which supports BIPOC-owned media inventory sources and creators.

And we quote: “We have always seen an opportunity to elevate the community through world exploration,” said Kent Johnson, chief strategy officer and co-founder Black & Abroad. “The Black Elevation Map is a way for us to share the brand’s positive view from a domestic travel standpoint, while encouraging exploration across our diverse community. We’ll always have miles to go. We hope this map helps with the journey.”

David Brown