When Sharon Burton Turner and the Montclair Art Museum’s African American Cultural Committee saw each other at a recent event, the atmosphere was like that of a college reunion. It wasn’t good times on campus, however, that members of this group were reminiscing about, but rather an April 2011 Road Scholar charter adventure to Paris.
“The program was 100 percent successful, from beginning to end,” Sharon says. “All of us on the committee were still on a high. Everyone was still raving about the program.”
Through Road Scholar’s charter initiative, all of our nearly 7,000 learning adventures are available to groups like the African American Cultural Committee to reserve exclusively for their members.
Sharon recalls a committee function in 2009 during which someone introduced the idea of going abroad together to study a subject dear to them all. “Someone suggested how wonderful it would be to go to Paris to study the African American expatriates who have lived their since the late 30s. We decided to try for 2011, and the next question became, ‘How do we do this?’ We didn’t have a clue how to go about it.”
That was when a member of the committee suggested Road Scholar. Sharon contacted the Road Scholar Group Charter Team, and a few telephone calls later, what started as a kernel of an idea was materializing into a learning adventure that none of the committee members would ever forget.
“Road Scholar helped us schedule it for Easter break,” Sharon says, recalling that a third of the participants are educators who needed the program to coincide with a school holiday. “We even stayed in a hotel in the Latin Quarter where Richard Wright had lived and worked. Simply put, it was perfect.”
Sharon and her group enjoyed all the hallmarks of a Road Scholar program — local experts, engaging educational content and remarkable value. Cherifa, the group leader, met the group at the airport and didn’t leave their sides until they boarded the return flight. “She was outstanding. Whatever information we wanted, she was there able to give it to you with pleasure,” Sharon reported, adding, “If all of Road Scholar’s group leaders are like her, I’ll go on many more programs.”
Road Scholar adventures grant access to the true heart of a place through the rare insight only local experts can provide. In Sharon’s words, “Being with people who really know the city and this aspect of its history makes you feel that same sense of belonging that these expatriates experienced. When you couple that with experiences in the Louvre, the D’Orsay and the African American Diaspora Museum, it’s truly magical.”
At significant sites in the lives of African American expatriates, Sharon and her companions benefited from the expertise of local husband-and-wife instructor team Tom and Monique. Says Sharon of Monique, “Her knowledge was very evident and you could see and feel the passion she felt for the history in each place. We might be talking Beaufort Delaney and Monique would have researched the topic.”
Among the highlights of the program was a morning spent talking about literature and life in France with contemporary expatriate Jake Lamar. Sharon came to learn that Jake and many other adopted Parisians have the same story to tell. “Many simply came on vacation,” Sharon says, “and loved it so much that they stayed. There’s something about the mysticism of Paris that just draws them in. You feel it just looking up at the apartment where James Baldwin wrote, the theater where Josephine Baker performed.”
At times, it seemed as if unexplained forces were at work. One particular night, the group was outside a well-known Paris jazz club, waiting to go inside and experience the same atmosphere as the expatriate jazz musicians of the 1940s, when they spotted a familiar name on the marquee.
“It was Steve Turee,” Sharon says, referring to the acclaimed trombonist from Montclair, N.J. — home to the Montclair Art Museum, not mention most of the committee members. “Here he was, his first time playing in this club, in need of some support, and he finds himself surrounded by neighbors and friends. No one could have planned that.”
Other highlights of the program included a visit to Monet’s garden at Giverny in mid-April bloom and a meal at a French-African restaurant, owned by a woman from Cameroon who greeted the group personally.
“I’ve been asked,” Sharon recalls, reflecting on the experience, “’Do you think it can be repeated?’ And I answer, ‘I don’t think so, but I’d love to try.’”
For more information about Road Scholar’s charter program, please visit www.roadscholar.org/programs/charter_programs.asp or call us toll free at (877) 209-4634.