Speaker Spotlight: Erick Prince-Heaggans

We got so lucky on this one! The hard part about getting travel bloggers to speak at a blogging conference is that they’re likely to be, well, traveling. When we first spoke to photojournalist and travel writer Erick Prince-Heaggans to see if he would be interested in being a part of Press Publish, he’d recently landed in Bali, and had a travel schedule planned through the end of summer that was going to take him through Europe, Africa, and Asia. Luckily for us, the stars (and flight schedules) aligned just right for us to bring him to Portland by way of Bangkok to share his experiences with you.

There are so many reasons I’m excited to have Erick join us. Where to start?

Erick makes his living as a photojournalist and travel blogger, visiting places all over the world. That’s a career I know many people would love to have — being sent to Bali during our rainy Portland winters sounds pretty great, right? So far he’s traveled to 71 countries on 5 continents.

The story of how he first experienced travel in the military, went to college, started a travel blog at minoritynomad.com, and built his career is inspiring. While that alone would be worth hearing about, Erick also has a social justice inclination that will resonate with many people in Portland. In addition to making a living from travel, he gives back to help others, especially students, learn about the opportunities that exist when you open yourself up to possibility.

As the founder of A World Beyond Youth Exploration, Erick is developing mentorship programs for low-income teens to learn skills like photography/videography and to experience international travel, with the first cohort planned for 2016. On a more individual level, every three months Erick offers a free U.S. Passport: he will cover the costs of obtaining a U.S. passport for a reader of his blog or a student in good academic standing from a U.S. minority community, to help increase the possibility of international travel for these people. While he’s in Portland for Press Publish, we’re also trying to help connect Erick with local high schools serving low-income populations and groups like iurbanteen.org, so that he can speak to students about travel and making the most of opportunities.

Another reason we’re so happy to have Erick speaking is his photography. His photos are good. He takes beautiful shots of everything from architecture to landscapes to portaits, and you look at them and think (or at least I do), “Wow, that’s gorgeous. I want to go to there.” At the same time, he shoots with such a natural style that you feel like if you were traveling to these places and had a little bit of training and a decent camera, you could get these kinds of shots, too — they’re not overburdened with the filters and special effects some photographers use that make their photos seem out of reach. If our luck continues, hopefully Erick will include some tips on how he approaches photography in his Press Publish presentation. Here’s a sampling of some of the photos you can find on minoritynomad.com (I picked some of my favorites — click on one to see them in the photo slideshow):

As with all our speakers, we asked Erick to respond to a set of questions to help our attendees get a feel for his blogging experience before the conference.

Q. What made you start blogging on minoritynomad.com?

A. I started blogging to share my travel experience with other people of color. At the time I started, there were very few travel blogs by people of color that were getting any kind of attention. I believe it’s important that low-income youth see someone traveling the world that comes from a background similar to theirs.

Q. What kept you (and still keeps you) posting regularly?

A. Direct feedback from readers. Early on the emails were spaced out. Thanking me for posting and sharing my experience. As time went on, the messages starting coming in daily with a wide range of conversations. Some questions, some travel stories, and some just thanking me. I’m inspired by people. Running a successful travel blog isn’t easy by any stretch. But knowing I’m helping a marginalized people gather the courage and information they need to make a big step in life keeps me publishing content.

Q. What’s your most popular post? 

A. How Travel Can Save the Lives of African-American Men

Q. Is that also your favorite post? If not, what are a few of your favorite posts, and why?

A. It is. Several of my photo essays have done well in terms of coverage and comments. My photo essay on Dubrovnik was the last feature I had with Yahoo Travel. But my piece on Travel and African-American men has taken off since its publishing in mid-January. I think it’s my favorite, and others’ favorite as well, because I say some things not many others are saying. I’m not only pointing out the benefits that travel has but what needs to be done in the U.S. to promote an equal society.

Q. How have readers responded to your writing?

A. Overwhelmingly positively. I think it’s because most of what I write about people can relate to. I don’t really care much about offending people. I say what I believe and always explain why. I think the problem with “blogs” and lots of social media “activists” is that people have an opinion but can’t defend it. Saying, “Well, that’s my opinion,” isn’t justification. If you look at all the opinions I write they are defended with historical, observational, or at least anecdotal evidence. That way people can see why I believe what I do and challenge me if I’m out of bounds.

And believe me, they do all the time.

Q. Is there anything you’re hoping to share with the Press Publish audience? 

A. My passion for helping others. I hope anyone listening to me speak will leave feeling inspired to help someone do something. Be it knit a sweater or build a school for orphans. Just do something to benefit another.

Q. Is there anything you’re hoping to learn at Press Publish?

A. I’m always looking for new ways to better myself as a writer. I hope to learn how to possibly do that. Or at least care more about my grammar. lol

If you want to be there when Erick shares his experiences at Press Publish in Portland, get your ticket now! 🙂

Portland Lineup Confirmed

We’ve been busy behind the scenes working on the details for our first two events in Portland and Phoenix this spring, and I’m happy to announce that our Portland lineup is confirmed! We’ll be rolling out session descriptions and speaker spotlight posts over the coming weeks, but here’s an overview of what to expect in Portland.

On Friday, March 27th, we’ll open the weekend with an evening mixer for conference participants. You’ll be able to pick up your registration packet to save some time on Saturday morning, and can start meeting some of the speakers and your fellow attendees. The mixer will include entertainment in the form of a storytelling/reading event by Longreads. Longreads is part of the WordPress.com/Automattic family, a site for finding and sharing outstanding storytelling. I like to think of it almost as our magazine, and the similar storytelling event they put on in New York was great fun and received excellent reviews from attendees. This evening event will be open to the public, so feel free to bring a friend or significant other!

On Saturday the 28th, we’ll have speakers all day in the ballrooms, a mix of successful bloggers sharing stories of how their blogs helped them get to where they are today and members of the Automattic crew giving practical tips and instruction on how to make the most of your site. We’ll also have a smaller classroom running smaller hands-on classes and clinics, and will have Happiness Engineers on call all day in the Happiness Lounge to help you with your own blog if you have any questions or site problems in need of solutions.

I’m especially excited about the breadth of experience we have among our featured blogger speakers. They range in scope from Kathy Cano-Murillo, running a virtual crafty empire, to Cecilia Gunther, running a farm in her own backyard. They come from as close as our backyard, like Portland food blogger Kelly Bejelly, to travel blogger Erick Prince-Heaggans, who’ll be coming to Portland during a break in his Europe/Asia/Africa spring tour and flying in from Bangkok. They are writers and published authors in a variety of genres — memoir, humor, fiction, non-fiction — like Ananda Leeke, Christine Lee, Mary Laura Philpott, and Jerry Mahoney. We believe each one of these speakers has an inspiring personal story, and their successes can provide conference attendees with a guide on how to grow their own blogs.

We’ll be putting together the schedule grid, including each speaker’s topic, over the coming week and posting it here on the Portland event page. If you want to be inspired, want to grow your blog, or just want to be around other people who enjoy blogging as much as you do, get your ticket now!