“Fly to Paris, and end up in Tokyo. Let’s start a coalition so even the broke can go.”
If taking a hot line and making a hot song is the precedent, then Kenji Summers is definitely raising the bar. After hearing Pharrell’s line on Lupe Fiasco’s “Paris, Tokyo (Remix)” while in Barcelona for his 23rd birthday, Summers took the line and decided to launch a movement.
“I’m listening and I’m like ‘Why is this song speaking to me right now?’ and then I heard the next line when Pharrell says, ‘Let my people go, to broaden their horizons’ and that was it right there.”
Summers, a young marketing professional, decided right then to set out a journey with a lofty goal: get passports into the hands of young Americans.
Through the Passport Project, Summers has set out to get at least 51 percent of young American age 18-29 passports. In many ways, the Summers is the perfect ambassador for the Passport Project cause. He’s a Brooklyn kid at heart but as he hands me one of the Project’s trademark buttons wrapped in cloth, he unwraps it noting, “I feel like this is all very Mark Twain.”
With a spirit of a traveler, a big city swag and a name given to him by relatives who spent time in Japan, Summers hopes to give young people from low resource and underserved communities access to transformational experiences.
It’s an uphill battle for sure. According to CNN, less than one-third of the 308 million-plus American have passports. And while 30 percent may not seem too bad off the bat- the number of US citizens with passports pails in comparison to the Canada and the United Kingdom, who passport circulation rates are 60 percent and 75 percent respectively.
While many have cited cost as a main factor for why so few American’s have passports, with the Passport Project, Summers says he hopes to show young people that being a global citizen doesn’t have to mean being loaded as well.
“I think travel has always been a part of our culture but it was this lavish, high life image. For a lot of people seeing that it made the association that you couldn’t travel if you couldn’t afford to pop bottles of Cristal. I think now people understand you don’t have to be rich to travel and that what you learn from seeing different places can be the most valuable thing in the long run.”
In February, the Passport Project helped issue its first passport grant through the generous donations of its supporters. Summers hopes to keep the momentum going, by raising awareness and funds for the Project.
When I ask him where he sees the Project in ten years, Summers says he hopes to see every young person in America with a passport, able to expand their horizons and grow.
“Little by little, we’re helping to make the world a little smaller while allowing people to experience bigger things.”