There’s an old African Ubuntu philosophy that a person is a person because of other people, or, in other words, I am because you are. In that same spirit, award-winning actress and entrepreneur Gabrielle Union marked her 50th birthday in Africa with friends and family as they connected with the past and celebrated the present.
“Gabrielle Union: My Journey to 50," a two-part original series streaming on BET+ on June 15, documents Gabrielle making the transformative trip with her husband, Dwyane Wade, daughter Kaavia, and other family and friends. Together, they find experiences that help them connect and better understand their ancestral past. Traveling throughout Africa, stopping in Ghana, Tanzania, Namibia, and South Africa, is something that the Hollywood star hopes other people of African ancestry can experience for themselves.
“There’s nothing to me more calming and relaxing than being on the continent of Africa,” said Gabrielle. “When my feet touch the soil … there’s something about the land that allows me to breathe different, and I see things different and I’m experiencing everything almost like for the first time. I’ve been all over the continent so many times, but for my 50th I knew I needed to be in Africa … and I wanted to bring folks along who I love and who love me back.”
We’ve outlined some of the most memorable highlights from Gabrielle's family trip, which was coordinated by Carmen Davids, founder and CEO of WilliamDavid Travel, experts in curating extraordinary travel experiences.
“Ghana was the first stop on this trip, and for good reason,” said Davids. “With a captivating blend of history, culture, and natural wonders, Ghana offers a powerful reflection on its role in the transatlantic slave trade at Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.”
Gabrielle, Dwyane and their group went to the Assin Manso Ancestral Slave River, which was one of the slave markets used for gathering people during the transatlantic slave trade. It served as the final link in the slavery route from northern Ghana. They also traveled to the Cape Coast Castle in Nyame Bekyere, which is one of about 40 slave castles built by European traders. It contained underground dungeons where slaves were held before being forced across the Atlantic.
While the past can be painful, Ghana has much to offer today to both its citizens and visitors alike. The couple attended the enstoolment of tourism ambassador to Ghana and Year of Return co-founder Diallo Sumbry. The ceremony elevated Sumbry to Chief of Development, a recognition for his tireless work representing Ghana's rich history to those in the Diaspora. While in the Nyame Bekyere region, the couple also visited a library in the region dedicated to the educational advancement of children.
And as Davids highlights, Ghana also invites everyone to the annual AfroChella, the most exciting New Year’s party on the continent. So whether it’s paying respect to the sacrifices of the ancestors or partaking in the festivities of today, Ghana provides a multifaceted experience for all.
While in Tanzania, Gabrielle, Dwyane and their group traveled to the private island of Zanzibar, which is accessible either above the water by simply flying in or by boat from the Dar Es Salaam port. The island, people, and culture are infused with African, Arab, European and Indian influences. “It boasts some of the best beaches on the continent, great markets with fabric that doesn’t lose color, some of the best food on the continent, and the nicest and most accommodating people,” said Davids.
While visiting the unique island, they stayed at the Meliá Zanzibar, an all-inclusive resort with private villas, infinity pools, six restaurants, five bars, an Africa-inspired spa, and views of the Indian Ocean. The hotel deems itself “Your own private corner of paradise on Spice Island” and is surrounded by white sand, coral reefs, and crystal-clear water.
For those who want to stick to the mainland of Tanzania, there is plenty to do as well. As Davids notes, there’s the awe-inspiring Great Migration in the Serengeti, Africa’s highest peak at Mount Kilimanjaro, pristine beaches, and diverse wildlife in the breathtaking Ngorongoro Crater. Whether it’s indeed finding your own corner of paradise or embarking on an adventure in nature, there’s no shortage of things to explore in this part of the world.
Moving on to...NAMIBIA
The country gained its independence from South Africa in 1990 and its name is derived from the Namib Desert, the world’s oldest desert. While visiting Namibia, Union and Wade traveled to the Namib-Naukluft National Park which covers an area of 19,216 sq. miles, making it the largest national park in Africa and the fourth largest in the world. The Namib Desert is at the heart of the national park and boasts spectacularly colored sand dunes that stretch throughout the horizon.
“[This was] one of Gabrielle’s top three places that she visited on the continent, it is as breathtaking and remarkable as it appears,” said Davids. “The sheer scale and beauty of the desert offer you serenity and perspective in a place where your significance and belonging reveal themselves to you.”
Gabrielle also wanted to visit Etosha National Park, a game reserve also known as Namibia’s foremost wildlife sanctuary. Lions, elephants, leopards, giraffes, cheetahs, two kinds of zebras, hyenas, and more can be found at the park, which also provides overnight accommodations both inside and outside of the park. There are floodlit waterholes at all the main camps, and most of the lodges have private decks or verandas to wake up to the most remarkable landscape you’ve ever seen.
While in Namibia, the group learned about the Himba tribe and visited the Etosha Himba Village at Farm Vierling, a private area where members of the Himba tribe reside. The Himba are an indigenous people with an estimated population of about 50,000 living in northern Namibia. They have preserved many of their lifestyle habits and beliefs, including their ancestral methods of hunting and gathering.
As Davids aptly states: “Namibia offers you a journey to you, your spirit, and your truth.”
Last Stop is...SOUTH AFRICA
At the southern tip of the continent is South Africa, with its vibrant nightlife, award-winning restaurants, bars, and wineries. And if you are looking for a less cosmopolitan experience, there are options for safaris and historical sites as well.
“One of the most beautiful views to behold is a sunset on Table Mountain or Signal Hill, you cannot replicate it,” said Davids. “Explore the iconic Kruger National Park and witness the majestic Big Five— lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffalo— roaming freely in their natural habitat. Lose yourself in the rolling hills of Mpumalanga, where lush landscapes and breathtaking vistas await at every turn.”
While visiting the diverse nation, Gabrielle and Dwyane patronized Les Creatifs Restaurant, located in Sandton, where we heard fine dining meets a world-class wine list. They partied at the KONKA club in Soweto, which is known for its bottles of premium alcohol and boasts a who’s who of attendees on the regular. They also stopped by Montana The Club in Johannesburg while exploring the rich nightlife of the area.
The NBA legend made the trip even more special for his wife by surprising Gabrielle with a gift that reflected his unwavering love. While visiting the Tomb Tattoo in Cape Town, he arranged for a tattoo of her initials on his wrist along with a heart.
Dwyane has his own wine label (Wade Cellars) which was born out of a passion for great wine, so it would make sense that he would also want to visit Klein Goederust winery, which offers several options of extraordinary wines and unique cuisine. As Davids put it, “It is sacrilege to go to Cape Town and not go on a wine tour. Whether you consume wine or not.”
And finally, no trip to South Africa would be complete without a visit to the Nelson Mandela Museum. First opening its doors 10 years after Mandela’s release from prison, the museum serves as a living memorial to his values and vision. As their site emphasizes, the museum offers a memorable cultural experience that gives insights into the life of Nelson Mandela, with guided tours and a heritage that follows his footprints.
Whether in Ghana, Tanzania, Namibia or South Africa, there is much to learn, enjoy, and embrace. Gabrielle summed up the visit best herself: “I recognized that there was so much trauma that I had held on to for the last 30 years that I was ready to release it and I was ready to embrace my full authentic self, and I wanted to be comfortable as I reclaim self, as I learn more about self, as I take more people who had never been on the continent into this journey with me. Maybe there’s something that other people can learn, or take away, or be inspired by.”
Tune in to “Gabrielle Union: My Journey to 50” streaming on BET+ starting on June 15.
Nida Khan is an independent journalist who covers a wide range of national and international subjects. You can follow her on Twitter @NidaKhanNY.