Is Blackpacking For Me Too? (with Jeff Jenkins & Dr. Bettina Love) | Crooked Media
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August 31, 2023
Stuck with Damon Young
Is Blackpacking For Me Too? (with Jeff Jenkins & Dr. Bettina Love)

In This Episode

Jeff Jenkins, host of National Geographic’s Travel series Never Say Never, joins Damon for an extremely fun and lively conversation about their own (and some stereotypically Black) anxieties about travel. And then for Dear Damon, the brilliant writer and educator Dr. Bettina Love helps advise a prospective writer, who fears there will be no writing related jobs left when they graduate.





Damon Young: Has there been any experience where you’re like, man, fuck this. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah, like rock climbing. 


Damon Young: Okay. 


Jeff Jenkins: Like literally up a—


Damon Young: Okay. 


Jeff Jenkins: —real mountain. Like, I was in the Adirondacks, upstate New York, and literally just my hands and my feet going 75 feet up to the top. You realize, like, man, I’m like diagonal [laughs] on the rock. Like [laughter] how is my body even able to do this right now? That was something I did. It was like, I’ll never do this again. This is the only reason I’m doing it is so that it shows that other people can do it that look like me. But outside of that. Yeah, yeah. You won’t see me getting back up there. [music plays]


Damon Young: Welcome back, everyone, to Stuck with Damon Young, the show where we don’t have wanderlust because we have post-traumatic brokenness disorder and deep financial trauma. But maybe, maybe that’s just me giving myself permission to be a wimp and keep my horizons unexpanded. So even though I’ve never particularly been into it myself, I’ve long admired the people who can just travel to Africa or Europe or Asia or even Cincinnati with just a backpack and a Snickers bar and be able to thrive and to talk about international travel in the process of my own anxieties about it. I’m joined today by Jeff Jenkins, host of National Geographic’s Travel series Never Say Never. For an extremely fun and lively conversation about our own anxieties, about travel, about some stereotypically Black anxieties about travel, and about just how Jeff has been able to build the life that he’s been able to build. And then for Dear Damon, we’re joined by the brilliant writer and educator, Dr. Bettina Love, as we help advise a college student, a perspective writer, worried that there will be no writing related jobs left when they graduate. All right y’all. [music plays] Let’s get it. Jeff Jenkins is a travel journalist and the host of National Geographic series Never Say Never. Jeff, what’s good man? 


Jeff Jenkins: Nothing much? I’m excited to be here with you today, brother. 


Damon Young: Yeah, I’m excited to see you. So growing up as a kid, we never went on vacations. You know, we didn’t have any money. 


Jeff Jenkins: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: I’m from Pittsburgh [?] I live at Pittsburgh. And for us, a vacation was going to New Castle, PA, which is 60 miles from the city. Hanging out with my uncles, my cousins, my aunts. You know what I mean? My family up there. Me? Maybe we might go to Youngstown, Ohio, which is an hour and a half away. 


Jeff Jenkins: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: But we weren’t getting on a plane. We were taking no road trips, we weren’t doing nothing like that. And so I feel like this trepidation may be cultivated in anxiety. 


Jeff Jenkins: Mm. 


Damon Young: About travel. 


Jeff Jenkins: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: That has continued into adulthood, like I’ll travel. If there’s an event. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah. 


Damon Young: You know what I mean, like, I just came from Birmingham a couple weeks ago for NABJ, but traveling for the sake of traveling is just something that I just. I just don’t have wanderlust, and I feel like there’s a deficit there because there’s an anxiety and there’s also, I think, some financial trauma behind that anxiety. And so I’m curious, like for someone like me who maybe wants to, I guess, be more comfortable exploring. 


Jeff Jenkins: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: How would you suggest I go about doing that? 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah. So I feel like I’ve been raised somewhat the same way we did go on some trips, some of them was just to visit family. But it was always in a car, so I never got on my first airplane until I was 20 years old. And it was actually to go to Japan. So it was a rude awakening. 


Damon Young: Oh wow. Okay. 


Jeff Jenkins: And it comes down to like my experience of, like, just traveling internationally. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Jeff Jenkins: And I just realized that my older sister, I took her to Germany last October, and it was her first time going somewhere internationally that was outside of a cruise. And she had a lot of anxiety. And for her to be almost 40 years old and having this kind of anxiety. But at this time, I’ve been traveling 16, 17 years internationally, I really started asking her questions like, wow, like, talk to me. Like, how are you feeling? Like, what is this feeling that you’re having? 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Jeff Jenkins: And it was more so just that fear of the unknown, not knowing like what to expect, being isolated or embarrassed to be in another place. Will, I get lost, will I not be able to make it back home? So it was like all of these different things that were coming up. And so it made me think to myself of like, what did I do? And in some ways it was I always thought about the destination. I thought about the fun that I was going to have in the destination. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Jeff Jenkins: And and also just stepping outside of my comfort zone. It was on that trip that I learned that phrase, life begins where your comfort zone ends. When I went to Japan and my mentor at the time that was there, we were literally the second day in Japan. He was like, Y’all are finna go do a scavenger hunt around this city here in Yokosuka, Japan. And I was like, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Bro. [laughter] What you, what you about to make me do? Like, go around the city? Like, I just got here. I don’t speak any Japanese. I don’t know anything about this city, so I have no bearings. We came straight to the base, so we went from the airport to the base. It’s not like I even got to, like, ride around the city. So he was like, nah, you finna, you finna learn these things. And so it was that lesson that taught me, man, you just got to go out there and do it. Just as I can try and figure out how to navigate my way through America is the same way you can do in any other international country. And it’s just fun, like, man, to explore and be adventurous. It brings out sides of you that you never thought so is to me is like, think about the the fun and all the the wanderlust that you can have by doing this. 


Damon Young: That’s a really great point about how, you know, life begins when your comfort zone ends, am I getting that right or am I paraphrasing?


Jeff Jenkins: Yep, yep. 


Damon Young: I got it right. All right. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah you did. 


Damon Young: And like my first international trip, I was 19 and we went to Italy summer after my freshman year, and I’d been on planes before basketball related stuff. I played basketball high school, college. 


Jeff Jenkins: Okay. 


Damon Young: And so road trips, a few trips, things of that nature, but terms like an international trip, Italy, we were in Rome and I just remember, you know, me and like some of my teammates would be out at night, just going through the city, you know, I mean, just finding ourselves getting into shit, and Rome is one of them cities where they’re still at like two, 3:00 at night. There’s still like shops open, there’s still restaurants open, there’s still clubs opening. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah. 


Damon Young: You know what I mean, at that time of night. So to that end, I’m trying to unpack where the anxiety that I still have, where it comes from. And I think it also has to do with money. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah. 


Damon Young: Because again now. I am traveling a bit more because of events or, you know, I’m going to speak here, I’m going to visit here, whatever. But I think that this there is like this financial trauma, right. That has carried over to a place where I don’t really need to have it any more, but I’m still carrying it. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah. 


Damon Young: And so for someone who maybe wants to travel, right, but doesn’t think that they have the means to be able to travel, how would you advise that person? Or better yet, how would you advise like the 24 year old me? [laughter]


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah sure. 


Damon Young: You know what I mean. [laughs] Who had no money, living with their parents but once a travel. But if you could get over this hump, there’s this whole like new experiences out there that could be rewarding and enriching if you just find a way to get over that hump. 


Jeff Jenkins: This is a great question and I and I definitely get you. So is that hump is really more so like what’s what are you spending your money on? Because it’s not that you don’t have money at times. Like for some people, some people don’t have money. Like you feel me like like literally doesn’t have it, but is like, what are you spending your money on? And that’s something that I had to start noticing for myself. Do I want the designer shoes? Do I want the designer clothes? Because instead of buying these hundred dollar, $200 pair of pants or outfit, I can go get a plane ticket for that price, you know? 


Damon Young: But what are you gonna wear? But what are you going to, if you don’t got if you don’t got the fit, what are you gonna wear when you get over here? [laughter]


Jeff Jenkins: I can see. Okay. And I get you on that man. That’s that. I feel like that’s the Instagram side of it. Like, I feel you, but it’s more so Instagram and be on that sense, it’s like, I don’t I don’t know, like the only reason I like, dress up and stuff like that is because I’m getting paid. This is my business. 


Damon Young: Mm. 


Jeff Jenkins: Like if I get I can tax write off majority of this stuff compared to the to the average traveler. But to me, like back in the day when I was just backpacking around, man, we wore the same like outfits multiple times. We just washed them. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Jeff Jenkins: Over and over again. And so it really is dependent on like your love for travel. You saying 24, 24 is still a great age to backpack like that’s when there’s all the discounts still until like 26, 27. If you were to go to like Europe or or Japan or somewhere over there to where you’re getting super discounts because you’re still like college student age. But yeah, man, to me it wasn’t about like looking fresh. It was about me exploring new cultures and learning new things. So but it once again that that hump is more so like really trying to figure out like because the thing is, like I was, I was finding ways to not go out to eat. If I had to eat sandwiches at home, like just to save money so that when I get to go to these other places, I’ll be able to afford it. And if you go to like Southeast Asia, like it was so much like affordable compared to like being in the States. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Jeff Jenkins: My $2 go way further in Philippines or in Vietnam than it would if I was in Chicago or New York or even Pittsburgh, you know. And so it’s like to me, I got to live like a king in these other countries because the dollar went further. So it’s just like you figuring out a way. I always tell people, man, I got a friend who he has a whole like two or three books and then a whole travel like website called where you can like learn how to like budget, like your money and be able to spend less than $50 a day being in a destination. 


Damon Young: You know it’s funny that you mentioned, you know basically just having your priorities straight because I like even as I’m talking about, you know, not having money and not being able to, you know, not not having the willingness, but also not having to means there are women. And it was always women. All right, it was mostly women who I knew at that age who were like like making $9 an hour but they’re going to Japan. [laughs] You know what I mean? They’re going to Brazil. It’s like, yo, how are you doing this? Like, how are you able to afford this? And it comes down to, again, as you were saying, to saving and making, you know, and prioritizing to travel. You know, what I mean, not necessarily prioritizing, you know, the fit or, you know, or whatever else that you spend your disposable income on. But saving that and making it to travel the priority. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah. And that’s that’s so true. And I’ve done it. I know multiple people that have done it and people are still doing it now. Even influencers like the business of influencer travel influencers like the way that they got to not even rob Peter to pay Paul because some of them are definitely not doing that, but they learn how to like travel hack like getting those credit cards. You’re 24 years old, 24 year old’s can get credit cards and like whatever your day to day spending was that that reward that can like if you get one of the travel reward cards in the sense the money that you spend on the day to day can go towards points that get you to get discounted seats or free upgrades or hotel stays. So is there’s ways to like travel hack without having to break the bank and it’s all about that priority like you said. 


Damon Young: Yeah. Now 24 year old me was getting no credit card because my credit sucked and I [laughter] you know what I mean and I still I still had like you know—


Jeff Jenkins: Oh for sure. 


Damon Young: I keep it a buck, I still have like fucked up credit from like my parents using my name on bills and shit like that. 


Jeff Jenkins: Same. 


Damon Young: Like, so. But to your point [laughs] you know what I mean, to your point, there are a lot of different ways, a lot of different, you know, things out there that someone who is enterprising and and they could almost even be like a scavenger hunt here where you’re trying to figure out, okay, there’s this deal, there’s this method, there’s this thing that I could that I could do. You just have to hustle, I guess is what you’re saying. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yep. 


Damon Young: Like, if you’re truly interested in that, then there are ways to live that life. You just have to be very intentional about it, and you have to hustle. 


Jeff Jenkins: Oh for sure. And, and, excuse me to cut you off, but like there’s there’s also like letting the dest— The discounts determine your destination if you leave it to from what you’re even saying, if you leave it to somebody else planning your trip, that’s when travel becomes very expensive. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Jeff Jenkins: Like if you went through a travel agent or if you went through. Yeah, some company, travel company, that’s when travel becomes very expensive. But if you hustle and you put a little bit more time in, that’s where you can save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. 


Damon Young: When you go to these new places. One of my concerns also with traveling is food like I like to eat and I actually do like to try new things. And so when you go to new country, go to a place you never been before. Are you a person who is just like, you know what, I’m just going to explore, the local cuisine. Do you scout ahead of time in terms of okay, I heard this spot is good, I heard this spot is good, like which or is it more of a combination of both were you you do like your scout report but you also actually play the game too. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah, it’s a game too at all. I like how you said playing the game? Well, yeah, I definitely do a mixture of both now. I mean, technology, social media, there’s so many different ways to review a place before you get there. And that was one thing I learned about travel when I first started traveling, I was in Germany. It was my second time going international. That was all within like a six month span. But I went to Germany and all of the non-Black people planned out their trip before they got there. And so I’m like 20 still and and I’m over here like, like, wait, you already planned a trip before we got here? Before y’all? Yeah. And everybody was like yeah. Because me and my friend we was over there trying to figure out what to do, and they already had planned it all out. And I was like, man, that’s crazy. So that’s one thing that I’ve always stuck with because you waste time not like asking or trying to figure it out. Once you get to the destination, if you do a little bit of research before, for the most part, you’ll get it together. But, yeah, man. When it comes down to food, man, I want to hear like, if I go to Japan or if I go to Vietnam, like, what’s the thing I got to eat here if I’m in South Africa, was the one meal I have to try. So I usually say that and I’ll try it if I find something that I like, even though for some of the first meals, I’ll stick with that. By God, that might be the go to meal. 


Jeff Jenkins: [laughs] Okay. 


Damon Young: Consistently throughout it. But I also do food tours. Like food tours is a great way and they’re very affordable. It’s a great way to learn about like that country or that city that you’re in. Find out how the locals eat, find out what’s good, and you normally are sampling from different restaurants. So you go to like five or six different restaurants and you try their food and their drinks and that that helps you get a better understanding of the place that you’re in. But then also their local cuisine. 


Damon Young: Well, can you help just distinguish like or what distinguishes a food tour from, I guess, a regular tour? 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah, a food tour is like literally you’re going to like five or six different destinations, like, like local restaurants or a bakery. Some people even do like beer, wine, like food tours or alcohols. But it’s you’re going to sample different entrees or desserts in different places. So I did it in Italy. It was one of my favorite things to do. So we got to try pizza and pasta and fried artichoke. 


Damon Young: Okay. 


Jeff Jenkins: And is something that like Italians eat. And then we had like our coffee, we had our gelato. So it was like really cool. And it was like a group setting. It was like five or six of us. And we had a tour guide that took us around to the different neighborhoods and we walked around and stopped in to the different local restaurant that they already had preselected for us. 


Damon Young: So of all the countries that you’ve been to all the cities, all the countries, all the continents that you’ve been to. Who has the best food? [laughter] Answer it, answer it however you want to.


Jeff Jenkins: I mean. Hmm. I can. Well, I’m to be honest. I just. I’m a true as to who what I like. I like Korean barbecue and I like Caribbean food, mainly Jamaican. So it’s like, that’s my go to period. The first time I ever had Korean barbecue was in Japan, so it wasn’t even in Korea. [laughter] But I’ve had it in Korea. 


Damon Young: I mean, how is the Korean barbecue in Korea? Is it hitting the way it is—


Jeff Jenkins: It slaps. Oh, man, it’s slap, but it’s still my favorite. So, I mean, and I was I was going to be very disappointed. Like, I was like, please take me to some spots where I won’t be disappointed when I try and be like, everybody’s done it wrong, you know? But yeah, it definitely still slaps in in Korea, but then Jamaican food like, oh my gosh, I love it. I’m from Florida. So yeah, a lot of Jamaican food. 


Damon Young: I mean, for me that question and I’ve you know, I’ve been other places, I’ve been to other countries, other continents, but New Orleans is still my favorite place in the world to eat. 


Jeff Jenkins: I’ll give you that. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Jeff Jenkins: Okay. You know what? Now I’m thinking to myself, also Italy. Italy is—


Damon Young: Okay. I love it. 


Jeff Jenkins: —like fun. Like [?] eating, there like, oh, man, like, it was an experience because he was like, wait, the the pasta is not your, your main course. It’s like between the, the appetizer and the main course. Like what? [laughter] You eat this before you eat the entree? You know I was like, let’s do this. And people over are fighting over who got the best pasta in Pisa. It’s like yeah, man, that culinary experience is like, I got to have the culinary experiences that I got to have in Italy were just like, amazing. But I mean, I love Italian food, but I definitely still like Korean and Jamaica. 


Damon Young: And so one thing I appreciate about you and about your series is that you, you know, you you do immerse yourself, you know what I mean? You throw yourself in there, you take chances. You know, I’m thinking of like the like the fish manicure. Is that what it’s called? Where you—


Jeff Jenkins: Where you put your feet in? Yeah. 


Damon Young: Just the stuff like. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You might lose a toe. You know what I mean?


Jeff Jenkins: No, no. [laughs] The fish can’t do that. 


Damon Young: But, but again, so I’m wondering like is that something that I guess that developed, that, that, I guess that sensibility to like, you know, fuck this, I’m here I’m just throw myself into the customs, into the culture or is that something that is that’s something that you’ve always had even before you travel. 


Jeff Jenkins: No it was it wasn’t until I went to FAMU, Florida A&M University. 


Damon Young: Okay. 


Jeff Jenkins: I’m actually rocking the shirt today. 


Damon Young: I see, I see. 


Jeff Jenkins: Which is shocking. But yeah, like it wasn’t until I went there and I started realizing that like, oh, snap, like there’s there’s other cities out here or other people. 


Damon Young: Uh huh. 


Jeff Jenkins: Are from different places. Like, we’re not the same. Like, like we have this little tiny bubble that you’re in. And so that like, blew my mind. It also even told me how, like, Black people aren’t mono ethnic or monolithic, I meant to say. And so that like it did, it just started opening up my mind and started making me be like, oh, okay. Like, let me start like challenging or pushing the boundaries of, like what I thought. And so when I started traveling internationally, that’s when I really started learning like man there’s, really, really bigger place, are, there’s other countries out here other than just America. And like, my, my world became larger and I started wanted to learn more. I never been to a cathedral. I didn’t even know what cathedrals were until I went to one. And I was like, oh, this is what these European cathedrals look like. Like they’re incredible. Like, you’re just in awe the whole time. Or when I’m in Japan, like seeing people’s different cultures and like how they do their dances and stuff like that. So there’s just like it’s stuff that just kept developing. I just kept wanting to learn more and it’s very humbling and you have to learn how to humble yourself because I’ve been to places where I feel like expectations are the killer of joy. And like if you go into a place with like high expectations or something and not a flow kind of mindset, I feel like that’s where people start having a bad time traveling. 


Damon Young: Has it been any experience where you’re like, man, fuck this. [laughs] You know what I mean, I’m, I’m good. Like, I’ll. Yeah, this is y’all. Yeah, I’m good. 


Jeff Jenkins: I mean, I think so. I mean, there’s definitely been, like, multiple experiences, and I think some of them are usually around food. 


Damon Young: Okay. 


Jeff Jenkins: Because some of these jokers like to bring out stuff. You be like hey bro. You know this all, y’all man. I don’t. [laughter] I’m. I’m straight. My stomach going to be good. 


Damon Young: Uh huh. 


Jeff Jenkins: Like we ain’t. We ain’t on that. But to me, me being plus size or being a big guy. Like, there’s some experiences that I can’t even experience because of my size, you know, like my weight limits or size restrictions that actually keep me from doing some of those daring things that I that you might see me do on a show. And even with the show, we’ve learned how to, like, modify a lot of these things so that a plus size person could do it. And so that definitely kept me away from somethings. So there’s still some things that I want to do, but I’ve also learned how to, like, push myself to trust that I’ve never thought I would even try. 


Damon Young: Can you give an example of something that like that, like you really had to push yourself to to to do? 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah, like rock climbing. 


Damon Young: Okay. 


Jeff Jenkins: Like literally up a real—


Damon Young: Okay. 


Jeff Jenkins: —mountain. 


Damon Young: Okay. 


Jeff Jenkins: Like I was in the Adirondacks, upstate New York, and literally just my hands at my feet going 75 feet up to the top. And that was something that I mean, I did have like a safety rope. So if I fell, I would just like, fall to the ground all the way. But yeah, like to to not know if I can actually do this. And man, like, even how your body contorts, and even if you look at the we did it for the show, but even as you see the camera angles, you realize, like, man, I’m like, like, like diagonal [laughs] on the rock. Like, how is my body even able to do this right now? You’re like, what is going on? So it’s things like that climbing or crossing the the bridge in the sky, which was these multi color like logs that were like on a suspension bridge. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Jeff Jenkins: And they were all tied up and you had to walk across this thing and it’s over a mile in the sky. And yeah, that was, that was very terrifying. Like, that was something I did and was like, I’ll never do this again. Like, I was like, Is this the only reason I’m doing it is so that it shows that other people can do it that look like me. But outside of that, yeah, yeah, you won’t see me getting back up there. 


Damon Young: Yeah. I’m trying to think of something that I’ve done where I’m like, you know what? I did it that once, and I’m never, ever doing that shit again. So probably about ten years ago, one of my wife’s friends, her boyfriend, her husband at the time had a birthday party and wanted to go cave diving. 


Jeff Jenkins: Mm. 


Damon Young: Wanted to go spelunking. And so we went to to Laurel Highlands, Laurel Caverns, which is about an hour outside of Pittsburgh. And we we went down into this cave probably like, a mile. Underground, like on our knees and crawling between these crevices. And it’s like if you ever seen a movie like The Descent or some shit like that where they’re just like. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah. 


Damon Young: You know, just just beings down at us, you can’t see nothing. And I was like, you know what? Never. I’m glad I did it. I’m glad. I’m glad I came back to to the land [laughs] and I could tell people that I did it. But I’m never, ever doing that shit again. Ever. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t. I mean, I’ve always had a fear of being stuck under a cave. 


Damon Young: Exactly. 


Jeff Jenkins: They they would have to, like, measure out the whole cave. Know my body size measure the whole cave out and tell me the direction [laughter] I would go on, because that’s the only way I’m going through. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Jeff Jenkins: Because uh, uh. Like the thought of getting stuck—


Damon Young: And they tell you, like, if you if you like, break your leg or if get hurt. It’s going to it might be like eight, 9 hours while you’re there before they can get someone down to get you back up. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah. 


Damon Young: I mean, maybe a day, maybe a day. You know what I mean, and it’s it’s like, yeah, and they didn’t tell you that shit while you’re there. They’re like, yeah. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah. 


Damon Young: They make you sign a waiver. So it’s not like you could— [laughs] Everyone’s already there. It’s not like you could opt out. [laughter] 


Jeff Jenkins: Just made me think about this one experience I had. So we went on, we were doing Croatia, we were doing it by boat, yacht like, like yachts. It was two of my friend’s birthdays and there was this place where there was a cave, but it was like a more of a grotto kind of thing. And it was beautiful. When you got down here, it was great, but they said it was only like a ten, 15 minute hike down right? A, a, hour later. We made it down there. So even when I got down there, I was like, oh, snap, If it took me this long to get down here that I it’s going to take me even longer to get back up. [laughter] Right. And like the sun, there was no clouds. Like I thought I was going to die. Like, I literally, like, called my wife and was like, Hey, babe, I think this is it. I think I’m I’m. I think I’m gone. [laughter] Cause, like, I ran out of water, like everything. It was that bad, and it was just stone as well. So, like, there was just, like, rocks and stones and so like, that sun was just permeating and it was like. Like if I make it to this van, I would be. I’d get so grateful. But I really did. I thought I was gone. I thought I was a goner. Then I was like, I’ll never do that again. Nor would I trust [laughter] young fit white guys ever again. I will never do that. 


Damon Young: You should never, ever, ever, ever, ever. [laughter] They be chasing death like the, life isn’t life isn’t. You know, life isn’t exciting enough so they just invent reasons to like get this close to death. 


Jeff Jenkins: Reasons and then like, didn’t like [?] y’all need to get some timing together buddy. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Jeff Jenkins: This is this is not no 10, 15 minute hike. I could do that. Mm mm. 


Damon Young: It’s funny too that you talk about how grateful you were when you get back to the van. Like when I came out of that cave, I think we went to, like, Applebee’s. It was the best fucking Applebee’s I had in my life. [laughter] That was like a five star Michelin Applebee’s. 


Jeff Jenkins: Come on. Come on. 


Damon Young: You know what I mean, I had never, never tasted bacon— 


Jeff Jenkins: Mashed potatoes so good—


Damon Young: Or whatever [laughs] like that before. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yo man, those mozzarella sticks were just they were so crispy. [laughter]


Damon Young: And so one of my homegirls years ago, she went to MIT and she, you know, she used to say that her professors at M.I.T. would tell students that, you know, we are preparing you for jobs that don’t exist yet. And so you are a person who is doing this for living. You know what I mean? Like, you’re traveling, you’re you’re eating food. You’re you’re getting, you know, fish pedicures. And you’re getting paid for this. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah. 


Damon Young: So how does that feel like in terms of someone who has been able to kind of chart their own path, and I know, you know obviously, this shit ain’t happen overnight? Know what I mean, but in terms of someone who has the experience of creating a thing and then just doing the thing for a living, creating your own way, and creating your own path. You know what I mean, like, do you ever think about just, I guess, the uniqueness of that part of it? 


Jeff Jenkins: I consistently do, and I try my hardest to continue to show gratitude towards it. When I was actually getting started, like the before I even knew I was doing this. This is summer of 2017 where I told myself, like, I’m going to practice gratitude like consistently like, that’s what I’m going to practice every single day. And that whole summer, that’s all I did. And so I think to appreciate what I’m doing now, if it wasn’t for me practicing that gratitude before, I don’t think I would be in the position that I’m into today because a lot of times people won’t start something because of they want it to be perfect. And I like how one of my friends, she says, a, launch ugly. Like do things like when it’s not even like the prettiest, but know that like you are appreciated later when you continue to work on it and work at your craft. And so I’m very grateful that I was able. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, just like that mountain. I didn’t know I was going to make it to the top of that mountain, but we was going to figure it out. And all I could do was continue to just make steps and strides, not knowing if anybody would ever give me the opportunity, not knowing if anybody would ever pay me. 


Damon Young: Mm. 


Jeff Jenkins: And to be now being able to travel to multiple countries, to have my own TV show, to have a successful business with employees, it is definitely a monumental thing. And I even get awards now, which is something I never got. Not not looking forward to awards, but even get recognized by my peers and people within the industry has just been amazing as well because like literally, I don’t think I got one award ever in life until I started doing stuff that I wanted to do and started like just persevering and just pushing past just all the naysayers and going for what I wanted. 


Damon Young: Tremendous story. Jeff, thank you. Thank you for joining us. Today was a treat. It was a lot of fun. And you gave me some tips. You know what I mean? You gave me you. I think that this conversation might help me work through or meet me, help me extract some of the traumas. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah. 


Damon Young: Some of the trauma that are still lingering with me. And, you know, help me kind of just get out there and just immerse myself. 


Jeff Jenkins: Yeah. 


Damon Young: Whenever I’m in a new place. So. 


Jeff Jenkins: And. Real quick, man, I just thank you so much for having me. The one thing I did want to say is even talking about lack is to to even as you do go travel and you are to just continue to just walk out. This life is like, how do we live in abundance? And I think that’s one of the mindsets that I go through all the time. And like a part of my journey is like, how do I get out of this lack mentality into the abundance mentality? And so, like, just live in abundance. 


Damon Young: All right man, appreciate you. 


Jeff Jenkins: Thank you. 


Damon Young: Up next for Dear Damon, we’ll be joined by Dr. Bettina Love. But first, Damon hates. [music plays] All right. So a couple weeks ago, I’m in a coffee shop. I don’t drink coffee at all. I’m waiting to get a San Pellegrino, and I’m with one of my children. And there’s a person who is behind me or in front of me in line, they’re with me in line. And we’re making small talk, you know, whatever. You know, I’m not a big fan of small talk, but it is what it is. And then the person asked me, Where does my kid go to school? And I want to tell America and whoever is listening to this, wherever you are, Canada, Jamaica, don’t fucking ask that question of a parent, particularly a parent of a young kid that is sensitive private information, because now I am telling you and whoever else is within earshot of exactly where my children are for 7 hours a day, 8 hours a day, every day. And I don’t think I need to go into why that is a dangerous or potentially dangerous proposition for a Black parent, particularly a Black parent in a very white city and a very white country to do that. I don’t think that people who ask this question have like devious agendas or whatever with the question. It’s just like a random oh, I see a young kid, I see a parent. I’m going to ask, okay, where’s the kid go to school? But just don’t do that. Just stop doing that. [music plays] Dr. Bettina Love is the author of several books, including the upcoming Punished for Dreaming: How School Reform Harms Black Children and How We Heal, which will be released September 12th. Dr. Love, what’s good?


Dr. Bettina Love: Man. Everything is good. I’m getting over COVID. So I’m back. [laughs]


Damon Young: Yeah, we in the same boat. I mean, it’s catching a lot of us out here, but, you know, it took me a while to get comfortable getting back outside. You know what I mean? Because I was real conscientious about it, and I finally let my guard down like earlier this year. Like, you know what? Fuck it. It seems like it’s not a thing anymore. And I was fine. I was floating and then go to NABJ. 


Dr. Bettina Love: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: Come back, bring the plague, and also, I mean, my whole well not my whole family, but my wife got sick too. 


Dr. Bettina Love: Oh wow. 


Damon Young: So yeah. 


Dr. Bettina Love: Yeah. Same. This is my first time. 


Damon Young: Oh, wow. Okay. 


Dr. Bettina Love: It was my time. It was my time. I’ve been dodging raindrops for three years. It was my time. [laughter] 


Damon Young: Well, you know what, though? When when you’re all healed and in your back, in the Burgh, whenever you come back, we need to hoop. 


Dr. Bettina Love: We have to. That’s my first love. And I am always grateful to Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh for everything. So I love that city. 


Damon Young: Yeah. How often do you get back here? 


Dr. Bettina Love: Probably like once a year. I probably have a speaking engagement or a gig. 


Damon Young: Okay. 


Dr. Bettina Love: I was there last year around, I think February. The University of Pittsburgh Athletic department gave me an award. 


Damon Young: Awesome. Yeah. Next time you’re in the city, hit me. 


Dr. Bettina Love: I got your number now so we go. 


Damon Young: All right, Morgan the producer what we got this week?


Morgan Moody: Dear Damon, I’m a new student athlete in college who wants to pursue a path to writing. Should I go after this career? Sometimes I feel like it doesn’t seem like it has much of a future. 


Damon Young: Now, Bettina, before we even get into this, I want to ask you just about your journey. You know, you hooped in college, you’re an academic, bestselling author. And so how did you make that transition from basketball being your first love to now doing what you do now? 


Dr. Bettina Love: You know, so funny story. So I didn’t start out at the University of Pittsburgh. I started out at Old Dominion. 


Damon Young: Okay. 


Dr. Bettina Love: Which at that time was the number two school in the country for women’s basketball. And I was that cocky, arrogant basketball player who said, you know, I’m not going to the WNBA, I’m going to the NBA like I was one of those. [laughter] And my sophomore year I had an epiphany. And an epiphany was that I was in all the classes with the male basketball players and there was no women basketball players in my classes. And so I started thinking to myself, Where is everybody? So I start asking around like, What classes are you taking? Oh, I’m in chemistry, I’m in premed, I’m in journalism, I’m in communication. Me, I was in first aid, outdoor recreation and indoor recreation. [laughter] And I was like, I don’t think this is right. And so I decided to go to my athletic advisor and I said, Hey, I want to take the classes that everybody else is taking. And he simply said, You Black, you from the inner city, you got poor test scores, you’re here to play basketball, get out of here. I couldn’t believe that that happened to me. And I just became very curious. I became I wanted to know, how could a kid who did everything they asked me to do, who got good grades, who, you know, got to school on a basketball scholarship, number two school in the country. I couldn’t believe that. And so I started to be curious about education and I started to learn about education. I started to research education. And when you start to read, you start to write. And I started writing. I was not a writer. I didn’t grow up thinking I was going to be a writer, but I became very passionate about wanting to tell stories about young Black kids from the inner city who grew up like I grew up, particularly in the eighties and nineties. And so the more I read, the better writer I became. That’s really how I became a writer. I didn’t read my first book until maybe 21, 22 years old, and that was the Autobiography of Malcolm X. 


Damon Young: Oh, wow. 


Dr. Bettina Love: I didn’t grow up reading books and wanting to be a writer. I grew up wanting to be a ballplayer, and this became very late in life. In my twenties, I started writing. 


Damon Young: It’s funny how like, you know, you mentioned how the ballplayers, the men’s ballplayers, were like, funneled into like the. The Fisher Price [laughs] ass glasses. Basically, no offense to people whose majors are physical education or first aid or whatever, but this is what happens at universities where the football players, the basketball players are usually like, okay, well, these are the classes that you take. 


Dr. Bettina Love: Yeah. 


Damon Young: If you’re playing a sport, look, I get it. If you’re at Duke or if you’re playing football for Alabama and you have like a realistic chance of playing professional basketball or football, but if you’re ODU and you’re on a men’s basketball team. I mean, there are a couple that might, you know, make it to the league or whatever, but the majority of guys in that conference are going to have to get a job. 


Dr. Bettina Love: That’s right. 


Damon Young: After they graduate. And so there’s so much to be said just about how, although the scholarship is a valuable thing. Right. And having a degree is a valuable thing. It’s just doing these young kids a tremendous service to place them, to funnel them in these sorts of jobs that are basically just, you know, you’re learning how to play basketball. You’re not learning anything else while you’re at the school except for how to play basketball or how to play football. 


Dr. Bettina Love: That’s right. 


Damon Young: Get back to this question. You know, this person has this anxiety about writing. And I wanted to ask you about your career because I think that there is this hysteria that exists right now, which is like, I don’t want to minimize or dismiss people’s anxieties about making their career and media making a career in writing because it’s fucking crazy out here right now. You know, and people are talking about AI and ChatGPT and the industry is already fucked up. People are already losing jobs. People are already, you know, having to make sacrifices and didn’t do certain things that they didn’t think that they would have to do when they started this career. So I get that. But I think that there still are paths. 


Dr. Bettina Love: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: Right? There’s still opportunity. There’s still books being published, there are still blogs, there are still Substacks, there are still digital publications that you can write for. There are still ways that you can write for yourself. You know what I mean? And, you know, I think that we have to be honest and we have to be transparent with the challenges about making a career. You know, as a writer, I think that any kid who, again, who is aware of all the shit that’s happening and has some anxiety about that, I don’t want that anxiety to prevent them from pursuing their dream because it’s still a possibility. 


Dr. Bettina Love: Yeah, I 100% agree with you. And I think is just really understanding the reality, understanding what’s going on right now and how hard the grind is going to be. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Dr. Bettina Love: Of course you pursue it. Of course you should go after it. But don’t underestimate what this grind is going to be. Don’t underestimate what technology is coming. You always need to be thinking about what’s next on the forefront and how do I make my skills marketable in the current climate that we’re in right now. And so, yes, pursue your dreams. You want to be a writer. Be a writer, but don’t be a writer not understanding what’s going on around you and how you’re going to have to shift and how you’re going to have to pivot to make the kind of decisions that you need to make I think is really, really important. 


Damon Young: You got to be a hustler. 


Dr. Bettina Love: You’re an amazing writer right now with a podcast. Like, you got to have multiple skills. 


Damon Young: Yeah, you have to have multiple revenue streams.


Dr. Bettina Love: Right. 


Damon Young: Or be open to multiple ways to develop your craft. 


Dr. Bettina Love: That’s right. 


Damon Young: Because that’s, you know, yes, this podcast exists as its own entity you know what I mean, and it’s a different form media than writing a different way of delivering content. But again, I think that if you want to pursue a career, it’s never too early to start thinking about this stuff. It’s never too early to start thinking about ways to develop your craft. It’s never too early to start thinking about, you know, what type of writer do you want to be? You know what I mean? What type of writer, you know, can you be like? I liken it to, you know, you go to the Cheesecake Factory and they got that menu is like the motherfucking Bible. [laughter] Right. And I haven’t worked at Cheesecake, you know, before. But I would presume that anyone who gets a job there as like a cook has to learn how to make all that shit. 


Dr. Bettina Love: All of that. Yes.


Damon Young: All of that. Yeah. And make it good. Because if it’s not good, they’re going to send that shit back. And so if you are a young person who’s interested in writing, I think that it would also be helpful to expand. You know, now you don’t want to be the person that does everything okay and does nothing great. 


Dr. Bettina Love: There you go. 


Damon Young: You know what I mean? But I do think it’s helpful to have multiple to have a bag, basically to use like basketball terminology, to have like a deep bag, to have like a deep tool kit that you can pull from, you know, so that you could be flexible. 


Dr. Bettina Love: Yeah. 


Damon Young: And you could have more opportunities to pursue different things. You know. So that the hustling actually has like an application. 


Dr. Bettina Love: The talent got to match the hustle. Those two things go hand in hand. You got to be talented and you got to hustle. You know, I always say when I’m writing, it’s daunting, to open up your computer screen and see a blank white page like that’s a daunting task. 


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Dr. Bettina Love: It’s a lonely task. It’s an isolating task. But in my opinion, what I am trying to do is fill that white page up with little Black people. [laughter] Every letter. I’m trying to fill it out with little Black people, and I want them little Black people to sing, baby. I want them to be talking on that page. And so I also think you’re writing about. What? It’s not just what interests you. It’s also about who do you want to read your stuff? Who do you want to pick up your stuff? How do you want to be represented in the world? These are questions you have to be asking yourself as a writer. Why is this important? What are you trying to say that hasn’t been said? Or what are you trying to say? That’s new, that’s innovative, that’s thoughtful, that’s loving and kind. What are you trying to say? That’s not just porn about Black people’s lives and Black people’s hardships. How are you trying to say it different? And so I think to be a good writer is to ask yourself a lot of great questions and to try to answer those questions in your writing, because those are the questions that the people going to ask. Why should I give you $26? [laughter] You want me to come off 26? What you want, what you giving me for the 26? 


Damon Young: And that’s a really great point about how good writing is, asking yourself hard questions. 


Dr. Bettina Love: Mm hmm. 


Damon Young: And finding answers that attacks and even I found this, you know, to be true of myself, where if I’m not actively writing, if I don’t have like an active writing habit where I am putting words on the page, multiple hundreds, thousands, even words on a page every day, then I’m not thinking of things the same way. The writing does something, you know, fires up, you know, whatever needs to be fired up in my brain. And it allows me it helps me be sharper. It helps me be more conscientious. It helps me be more self-aware. There’s no other way for me to replicate what writing does for me. Now, that might not be true of everybody, you know what I mean? But I think that people who are called to writing, you know, have a similar mechanism happening with them, where the writing is, how you think through things. And so, again, if you’re a young person who is interested in pursuing this as a career, you know, it will be frustrating. It will be hard, you know, and we’re not even talking about trying to find a job, but just trying to find your voice and trying to push it on page. But if you go in with an open heart and you go and ready to work, and also, if you’re a motherfucking active reader—


Dr. Bettina Love: You can’t skip over that piece. 


Damon Young: You got to read. You have to be reading all the time. You got to be a curious and voracious reader. And then hopefully those skills will translate into your writing. 


Dr. Bettina Love: You know, I always tell my students, if you’re not reading, you don’t know that you’re not saying anything new. So I have students and I’m like, well, did you read so and so? You ain’t saying nothing new. Right. So if you’re reading, then you can actually find where the gap is, what hasn’t been said? What are the ideas that are here? But we haven’t brought up yet. 


Damon Young: And also too and it helps you enhance your craft because, you know, I liken it to hooping where, you know, you play basketball and you watch on the basketball players and you pick up shit from them and it’s like you’re not completely copying somebody else’s entire game, but you’re taken this from here, this from there, and you’re, you know, consuming that and you’re trying to synthesize that with what you already have, you know, to create your own game and create your own lane. And writing. It’s the same thing where if you read and then, you know, you take this from this person in this stylistic thing, from this person. 


Dr. Bettina Love: You sampling, you sampling. 


Damon Young: Yeah, you’re just taking little pieces from the buffet. You know what I mean? The thing is, you don’t want that to take the place of you. What do you want it to do is begin to again, to find a way to synthesize all of that other shit with your own sensibility, with your own perspective, with your own voice. And then, boom, you have what you have. 


Dr. Bettina Love: The best advice I’ve ever gotten was to read for multiple things, to read for style, and then to read for punctuation. 


Damon Young: Mm hmm. 


Dr. Bettina Love: I remember I spent maybe four or five months just reading for punctuation and getting excited about how Bell Hooks uses a semicolon. [laughter]


Damon Young: Yeah. 


Dr. Bettina Love: Like it was an older Black man, and I came to him to become a better writer, and he was like, your writing is strong. You just need to read more. Of course. And he said, I want you to start reading for punctuation. Then I want you to read the same book and read a style that I want you to read the same book and read for tone. And it was one of the best exercises I’ve ever done to become a better writer. 


Damon Young: Dr. Bettina Love. Thank you. Thank you so much for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit about your new book? 


Dr. Bettina Love: Yeah, I got the new Punished for Dreaming: How School Reform Harms Black Children and How We Heal. It comes out September 12th. And, you know, I’ve been trying to write this book for a very long time. It’s a book that I think I’ve always had in me. So I’m from upstate New York I’m from Rochester, New York, and I went to a huge high school. 2000 kids. My freshman class was maybe 300 students. We had an airplane inside our school. It was huge, it was a vocational high school and I graduated. Half of those students didn’t graduate with me. That started out. And I remember walking across the stage thinking to myself, where did everybody go? And what like what happened? And so I’ve always been curious about my generation, and I’m 44 years old. I don’t know how old you are. Don’t want to assume. 


Damon Young: Same. Same. 44. 


Dr. Bettina Love: 44. Come on now. So we eighties babies, we’re post-civil rights babies, we hip hop babies. What We were the generation that they created mass incarceration, charter schools, vouchers, standardized testing that was created on our backs. We are that generation. And so I wanted to understand how a generation of young people who were called crack babies, super predators, thugs, they called our mothers welfare queens. They said our fathers and brothers were, you know, thugs and had to be incarcerated. How did that generation, what was our educational story? And so I think that story has been told, but it has been told through the lens of education. So the book looks at the last 40 years of education reform, talking about reform, but also using real people’s lives to understand what educational policies did to our generation. 


Damon Young: Wow. Okay. You heard it. [laughter] You heard it. September 12th. Pre order. Go cop the book. Dr. Bettina Love. Thank you again. It’s a pleasure. 


Dr. Bettina Love: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. And I love everything you write it’s funny, it’s thoughtful, it stays curious so thank you for having me on. 


Damon Young: You know, I did not ask her to say that. 


Dr. Bettina Love: [laughs] You did not ask me to say that, but I’m gonna speak the truth. So thank you. 


Damon Young: All right. Just want to thank Jeff Jenkins, Dr. Bettina Love for coming through. Great conversation, great show, great topic. It’s really fun having them both on. I really enjoyed both these conversations and I hope that you all enjoyed them too. It was a lot of fun for me. Also stuck with Damon Young is available wherever you can get your podcast, but if you’re on Spotify, particularly if you’re on the Spotify app, we have interactive questions, answers, polling you should just go on the app, have some fun, knock yourself out. Also, if you have any questions about anything whatsoever, hit me up at All right y’all. See you next week. [music plays] Stuck with Damon Young is hosted by me, Damon Young. From Crooked Media, our executive producers are Kendra James and Madeleine Haeringer. Our producers are Ryan Wallerson and Morgan Moody. Mixing and mastering by Sara Gibble-Laska and the folks at Chapter Four. Theme music and score by Taka Yasuzawa. And special thanks to Charlotte Landes. And from Spotify our executive producers are Lauren Silverman, Neil Drumming and Matt Shilts. Special thanks to Lesley Gwam and Krystal Hawes-Dressler. [music plays]