Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kena Williams
The Black Expat: 'I Feel An Innate Connection Here In Johannesburg'
Kenna Williams is a former aerospace engineer who now runs her own travel planning and consulting company, Kenna L. Williams, LLC. Originally from Memphis, Kenna spent much of her life in Oxnard, California, and has traveled to many countries, visiting every continent except Antarctica.
In 2019, after numerous trips to South Africa, Kenna made the decision to relocate to Johannesburg.
“In late 2018,” Kenna says, “I visited South Africa for the fifth or sixth time. I met a young man online, and we met in person. Things started moving fast, and I was engaged to him by the end of the year. We had originally decided that he would come to the States, but we ended up deciding later that I would move to South Africa instead.”
The two had an amicable split a few months later, but Kenna decided to move to South Africa anyway.
“I had been coming to South Africa since 2014, so I’d made friends here throughout the years and I felt like I had a general lay of the land.”
“The process of moving here wasn’t too difficult because I was prepared and had made all the necessary arrangements in advance. I quit my job and put my house up for rent with a property management company. “
“All my belongings I either sold for cheap or gave away. The hardest part was the day I closed the door of my home for the final time. I had to detach from it and realize it was only a material belonging. That was a bit difficult.”
Despite this challenge, Kenna says she does not regret her decision to move to South Africa.
Kenna has felt welcomed by the locals ever since she first started visiting South Africa.
“My American accent makes people interested in talking to me, and they often ask me why I moved here. Many of them would love to move to America, and they don’t understand why an American would move overseas to their country.”
Kenna says that out of all the cultural differences, the most challenging has been adapting to life in a country with 11 official languages.
In addition to native South Africans, Kenna says she has met several other Black American expats living in South Africa, most of which have been in the country for less than two years but are planning on staying.
“I have also met some that have been here 25+ years. Sometimes people come for a few months to visit and then decide to come back and make it their home. When you come you might not want to leave.”
“I think the majority of Black Americans feel an innate connection to Africa. We know this to be the Motherland, the birthplace of humankind, and are reminded that this is where we started. That’s a connection that is undeniable, and we own it.”
“Coming here to the continent is like visiting an extension of your unknown family throughout generations. I’m always thankful when African people tell me ‘welcome home.’ This is a place our ancestors were forcefully removed from, yet we have come back and returned to our roots to live and thrive in these regions.”
Kenna says she feels it is important for her to give back to a place she is now calling her home. Part of the profits from her company go back into the local community.
“Each year I bring a group of people to South Africa for Thanksgiving,” she says. “I partnered with a local community organization so each November my company provides scholarships that pay for tuition, uniforms, two meals a day, supplies, and more.”
The desire to travel is in Kenna’s bloodline. Mathew Henson, the first Black man to reach the North Pole with Sir Edmund Hillary, is a distant relative of hers.
“Traveling is everything to me. I live it, breathe it, and consume it daily. Like so many other people, traveling is therapy to me.”
“My grandmother also played a big role in inspiring me to travel. She was from a small city in Mississippi called Winona and used to visit me in California more than my own parent. She was not afraid to take the bus, train, or hop in a car with other relatives headed west.”
You can follow Kenna and her travels at @justmekenna.