Meeting with Monique Wells founder of the Wells International Foundation, Entrée to Black Paris Cultural Awareness Program was enlightening and inspiring. Her background and knowledge in the touring of one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Paris France had been quite fulfilling for the entrepreneur. A dual citizen of Paris her US non-profit organization is based in her home town of Houston, Texas. Her long stay in Paris since 1992 leaves her to celebrate a 29-year anniversary of living there in June of this year. As Monique grew in Paris do did her ideas about how to make Paris work for African Americans there and in the US. With a supportive husband/partner and a country free of the thoughts of color as a barrier its no wonder that Wells has developed the necessary grit into the Wells Foundation and the Entrée to Black Paris Cultural Awareness program. She had always been passionate about having a collaboration between Blacks in the US and those like herself and husband Tom who live in Paris. In 1999 originally, they called the idea of creating a bridge of travel between the US and those in Paris. “Discover Paris” came to life. Later and with a glaring amount of data they saw that their contact base was mostly African Americans desiring to tour Paris.
Working closely with the Paris office of tourism the pair got busy developing the idea of how to partner with those in the United States who had the desire to travel to France. The original idea was to offer all a trip to the city of love, romance and the Eiffel Tower, however they noticed that most who contacted their offices were African Americans, thus the name Entrée to Black Paris. Another interesting thing happened in the year of 1999, Wells created several In the can placebos of Black Americans in Paris walking tours. She noticed they would walk around taking in the scenery and engaging in conversation about it. The tours were all self-guided and there was a booklet to go along with it. There were lots of people to talk about, things to see and stories to be heard.
During the 2nd Gulf War interest waned in the self-guided tour it was just a passing phase the pair created guided walking tours and now have thirteen recorded tours of the African American experience in Paris. Some of the tours are theme based and some are people based, Wells told 15Minutesthe Show. When the pandemic hit last year, the borders shut down and travel was down the Wells Foundation and Entrée to Black Paris relies heavily on the US travel between the two countries. Wells had to produce a way to pivot having the pandemic and the slow travel work on their behalf. In 2015 after the IRS approved their non-profit status Monique Wells founded the Wells International Foundation. This approval gave Wells the impetus to raise money for a one man show on the work of American artist, Buford Delaney. Delaney, was born and raised in 1901 in Knoxville, Tennessee. He came to Paris in 1953 and spent the last 26 years in Paris spending the last four in a mental institute. Wells took an interest in his story and founded a non-profit in France to place a tombstone at the head of his unmarked grave. Wells felt the best way the ultimate way to honor Delaney was to exhibit his body of work. Entrée to Black Paris has focus in the history culture and contemporary life in Paris. To honor and exhibit Dulaney Wells decided to make Wells International have one of six strategic focus areas breakdown of six strategic points on travel and study abroad. The other strategic focus area is in the arts. So Wells and her team were able to bring all of these things together order to do the Delaney exhibition. Entrée to Black Paris and the Wells International Foundation are partnering in a virtual Black Paris experience. The idea serendipitously came out of a very powerful experience through #BlackLiveMatter.
There is an Australian gentleman in Paris who announces a weekly podcast called, Earful Tower” a play on Paris’s popular tourist site the Eiffel Tower. It was also a sensitive time in the lives of all people of color particularly black people when the entire world saw the death of George Floyd at the hands of police and live took on global proportions. The podcast announcer returned to his podcast and put out a public message to stating that for “BlackLivesMatter he wanted to support an organization asking anyone listening who would they suggest he support? Someone called in and mentioned he should reach out to #BlackLivesMatter. He called the Wells International offices and spoke directly to Wells asking her if she could advise him of how he could assist and who how he could donate. She told him of the fundraiser goals for the Buford Delaney exhibition. Wells wanted to set up a way to fundraiser for Delaney’s exhibition. The stranger wanted to offer one of his Paris walk tours and was advised by Wells to go online to find an organization to give a donation. Wells had a strange feeling because she didn’t know anything about the stranger however 24 hours later the man called back again saying that he would like to donate to the Wells International Foundation. He had nothing but good to say about Wells and Entrée to Paris. He loved the Buford Delaney exhibition idea and wanted to do a walk show and was already doing walk through tours himself of Paris and recording in his IPhone the experience. He shows his walk path to different parts of Paris. Sometime by himself and at other times with a guest. He wanted Wells to walk with him and introduce his fan base to black folk and that would be the best way to raise the money for your Delaney Project. Within five days of their introduction meeting together they raised over $11,000.00. He posted his walk show on You Tube. They are using the Entrée’ to Black Paris Virtual Experience and making it a curated experience out of the two hour walk Rather than use the two hours to walk the donor and Wells created a Zoom for an elevated experience for the traveler. The traveler guest will enter a space called the “The Sky Lounge” and will have interactive activities for the guest. The guest will board a virtual plane. The guest is introduced to the Pilot and crew. The guest will experience the virtual flight making landing in Paris their destination to do the walking part of the tour. Instead of watching the entire tour there are highlighted segments for the participants and guest to ask question. Wells is the tour guide and will answer all questions from the guest. The entire event is curated live. Entrée’ to Black Paris for profit is a member of the Paris Tourist Office the Paris. The Paris Tourist Office supported to event by posting live on their social media pages. For more information on Monique Wells, Wells International