By Annie Fitzsimmons
The past year has been challenging for all of us, but for travel host Ernest White II, it has also included major professional highs. His 11-episode PBS series, Fly Brother with Ernest White II, debuted last spring, taking viewers to lesser-traveled places like Ethiopia, Namibia and Afghanistan, and showcasing his real-life friendships. In a year that brought social justice issues to the forefront, his perspective as a Black, gay travel host feels refreshing and overdue. Before life as a TV host, the Jacksonville, Florida native lived and worked as a journalist and educator in São Paulo, Cape Town and Berlin, among other places. He started his blog, Fly Brother, in 2008, and its success led to broadcast gigs with brands like Travel Channel. Up next? He is working on season two of Fly Brother and new spin-offs and productions with his creative studio, Presidio Pictures, focusing on BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and senior narratives. We chatted with the charismatic White, 43, about his purpose in life, where he wants to go next and transformational travel experiences.
Bal Harbour Magazine: You have built a life that you’ve worked so hard for—with some luck, too!—but you often say that you want to bring people along with you. Can you talk more about that?
Ernest White: I see it more as what am I here to do rather than what do I want. And that is to help people feel seen, empowered, and loved. I named my company, Presidio Pictures, after the Presidio in San Francisco, a place that means so much to me in terms of magic and romance. Romance isn’t just between two people attracted to each other, but the attraction and alignment we have with life. There is a romance to eating delicious food, laughing with your friends, a great view, a song that takes you back. And there is romance when you’re in your mission and work, and you think—I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. Travel is the romance of life and I want everyone to have that feeling.
BHM: What are the places you love to return to again and again?
EW: South Africa, São Paulo, Sweden, India, and Ireland. I lived in Brazil and South Africa, and studied abroad in Sweden. Stockholm is like my European hometown—I have so many amazing friends there.
BHM: And where do you want to go when we can travel more freely?
EW: Greenland—for the “away-ness” and adventure of it. I also want to go to Madagascar and I’d love to go to Iran.
BHM: Tell me about one of the WOW moments from your travels.
EW: In Tajikistan, we went to a castle that was a Silk Road ruin. It was 3,000 years old—12,000 feet up overlooking Afghanistan—and we were the third camera crew ever to visit. It was powerful and humbling to be in this space with so much history, a place of comfort in a historically inhospitable environment, connecting east and west. I didn’t speak the same language as the caretaker, but there was an understanding, and he gave me a beautiful piece of quartz that I still have, just to give me a piece of his world.
BHM: I also traveled to Natchez, Mississippi because I was curious.
EW: There, I stayed in an old plantation house and learned the story of John Lynch, who had lived there when he was born into slavery, freed after the Civil War, and was elected as the youngest member of Congress at age 26. He later became an attorney and died at 92 years old in Chicago. These are stories that go untold because we’re afraid to open our eyes or seek out different places.