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When native Chicagoan Crystal Dyer found out her grandson Devin had been shot and killed at a party just before his 18th birthday, she was devastated. “It happened in 2011, right here in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood,” remembers Dyer.
“I had been working in metro Atlanta for AT&T, and I knew I needed to move back to Chicago, which I did in 2013,” she adds. “But there was always a nagging feeling that I needed to do something to help stop youth violence in our community.”
Though she was born and raised on the city’s South Side in areas like Bronzeville, Englewood and Roseland, Dyer decided to get a home on the West Side in the Austin neighborhood where her grandson was killed. By then, she had retired from making all of the travel arrangements for the executives and technicians at AT&T and was running her travel agency, Gone Again Travel & Tours, from her home.
“And I kept asking God to show me what to do for the youth, and He gave me the message to travel,” shares Dyer. “He reminded me of what I did for my son Christopher when he was in his terrible teens and wanted to be like the boys on the corner. I got him out of the city and took him to New York and put him in the presence of men who looked like him who told their stories on how they prospered and excelled,” Dyer explains. “And that changed my son’s life.”
Traveling Beyond the Neighborhood
Dyer took some free courses with nonprofit organizations, and they suggested she start her own organization. “I established Chicago Austin Youth Travel Adventures (CAYTA) in 2015 and then rented space from a friend to open the storefront for my travel agency in 2016,” says Dyer.
“It’s the only Black-owned brick-and-mortar travel agency in Chicago,” she boasts. And it’s where she hosts her CAYTA programs. “The main mission for CAYTA is violence prevention. And we do that through local cultural immersions, careers in tourism, and our yearly birthright journey to Ghana, West Africa.”
Dyer started bringing kids, ages 14 to 23, in for a summer school program where she would take them on excursions to local cultural centers and introduce them to careers and occupations that they don’t learn about in school. “I feel if I can show the kids alternatives, then they’ll make better life decisions,” Dyer adds.
The bus excursions also included stopping at a restaurant so the kids could learn about different cuisines. “I took them to the Chinese American Museum and found out most of them had never eaten Chinese food,” notes Dyer.
“And in some cases, some of the kids had never even been downtown. A young man who was almost 18 years old told me he had never seen the Chicago River. And some of the kids had never even been to the South Side,” Dyer laments. “But why would they?” she continues. “For many of their parents, going all the way to the South Side to the Dusable Museum or to the Chicago Children’s Museum would be like going out of the country.”
Growing up, Dyer herself didn’t travel much, but she did go to Indiana Dunes, the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry. “And believe it or not, we would travel to a cemetery in the neighborhood to study gravestones, the different types of granite and things like that,” adds Dyer. “So at Oak Woods Cemetery, there were gravesites for Civil War veterans and things like that and it really interested me in archeology and studying my past history.”
That’s why it was important for Dyer, who didn’t take her first trip out of the state until she was 27, to expose her youth to international travel to West Africa. “I want them to learn their ancestry and how powerful they really are,” states Dyer.
Words by Kalin Thomas.
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Cuisine Noir Magazine is the country’s first Black food publication, launched in 2009 and dedicated to connecting the African diaspora through food, drink and travel. To read the rest of this article and more, visit www.cuisinenoirmag.com.