As Baron Hilliard’s 39th birthday loomed, he vowed to make the last year before he turned 40 unforgettable.

The New Jersey executive decided to embark on a spiritual journey, merging his two loves of Black-owned businesses and Black history.

“When I was growing up, we read about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks…but there are so many great stories in our communities that we don’t know about—that I don’t even know about,” Hilliard said.

So, on his birthday, Feb. 4, he set off on his bicycle with $400 and a laptop to commence what he called the “Journey Through Black America.” For one year, he’ll cycle around the country, making stops in major cities with large Black populations to uncover historical sites and visit Black-owned businesses, universities and museums.

The self-proclaimed “social entrepreneur” will document the people and places he encounters on Facebook, Twitter and his “Journey through Black America” Web site.

“If we can get the word out…why not bring exposure to these places?” he told the AFRO in a recent phone interview. He had just spent his 39th day on the road exploring Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Hilliard is the co-founder of Together AsOne, a marketing company that supports black-owned enterprises, and is also on a mission to raise $1 million in college scholarships for Black children.

The community is beginning to take notice of his ambitious trip. “They love it,” he proclaimed.

As of March 25, his voyage had 338 “likes” on Facebook and 115 followers on Twitter. He updates the social networking sites daily with videos, links and schedules, and often generates dialogue around ways to eradicate issues that plague the Black race.

“If I can get people on Facebook talking about issues in our community, whether it’s HIV/AIDS, education, a lack of education, incarceration, poverty…one of the goals is for us to find some solutions so we can do for ourselves,” he said.

His original $400 has long since run out, and continued funding of his quest has required creativity. Hilliard sleeps on friends’ couches and lives off donations from warm-spirited people who believe in his voyage.
“Each day is a challenge but usually something comes through,” he said, adding that while in Baltimore, the publisher of the church-based Power Magazine helped put him in a downtown hotel for two nights.

At the time of the interview, Hilliard had traveled to several cities up and down the East Coast beginning with his hometown of Plainfield, N.J. He will travel as far down the coast as Orlando, Fla., hit southern cities including New Orleans and Atlanta, swing up to Chicago and Detroit and finish up in L.A. on his 40th birthday.

His best experience so far, he said, came while in Lawnside, N.J. where he stumbled upon the Benson History Museum, an historical treasure that one man had opened on the side of a church.

“He has phenomenal information in there… over 25, 000 books,” Hilliard said.

“If nothing else, I want people to follow the business I highlight and support those businesses,” he said. “We need to help our people and if we keep money in our community, we can solve some of these problems we are facing.”

Hilliard says the most difficult part of the journey has been mastering his bicycle. He purchased his first bike for the trip.

“My butt is hurting on these little seats,” he said with a laugh. “That’s been the toughest part, but I’m getting used to it.”

To follow Hilliard on his journey, visit http://www.journeythrublackamerica.com/