People: Kenji Summers

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

Here at A&H, traveling is something that we hold dear to our hearts. We believe travel is a key componet in living a fullfilled life. While most have a want to travel many do not know where to begin. Thats when we came across Passport Life a project created to inspire young people, starting with Americans, to get passports, travel, and participate in global culture. We sit with the man behind this project—Mr. Kenji Summers.

Give us a little of your background and what it is you do.

I come from Brooklyn, NY, the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood to be exact. I spent a lot of time in my younger years thinking about how to get people to buy things. I sold pogs in elementary school, baseball cards in junior high school, and mixtapes in high school. I think this hustle primed me for a career in advertising. I started my advertising career as a strategist in 2007 and worked my way up continuing to get people to buy things, but also getting people to believe things. In my opinion advertising is the craft of getting people to buy things they don’t need and believe things they don’t understand. I knew that if I learned the basics of advertising I would be better equipped to get people to buy things they needed and believe things they need to understand. Today I work as a social entrepreneur at the intersection of technology, advertising, and entertainment.

How did Passport life come to be and why?

In 2008, I listened to a song called Paris, Tokyo Remix by Lupe Fiasco featuring Pharrell, Q-Tip, and Sarah Green. The song inspired me to get my passport and see what this whole international thing was really about. Once overseas my life changed. I wanted more of my peers to see this for themselves so when I came back to the U.S. I did research on passport ownership for two years. A glaring statistic from the research is that nearly 70% of Americans DO NOT have passports, in comparison to Canada’s 40% and the UK’s 25%. I thought this needed to be addressed in public. In 2011, Passport Project became a company and I began to build a coalition around the issue. I asked my friend Rob Lewis of Wieden+Kennedy, Portland to help with some creative ideas. He came back with “Passport Life” and I made it a hash tag. I started @ messaging people on Twitter and it began to spread. It spread so far in fact that a few weeks later I found myself talking about Passport Project at the Harvard Club in New York. That was the first time I spoke about Passport Project outside of my close friends and the Internet. Fast forward to today, Passport Project has issued its first Passport Project Grant to Bryan Blue, whom we took to West Africa this summer. We filmed his transformational experience and have created a web-series that is like How To Make It In America meets Maestro Knows. All of this fulfills our mission of inspiring young people, starting with Americans, to get passports, travel, and participate in global culture.

Why are you such an advocate for traveling?

I think my passion for traveling comes from experiencing its effects first hand. Traveling is the most transformational experience you can have. I went from being an arrogant New Yorker to a humbled global citizen. Traveling expands your map of the world and gives you empathy to better understand the maps of others. My personal belief is that we should count moments, not things and that in the near future experiences will be the new assets that people will be collecting. Traveling is the only experience that makes you richer.

How has traveling made an effect on your life?

A specific example of traveling’s effect on my life is when I went backpacking last year throughout Europe. I had just left my job in advertising and took a month to gain more clarity on what I wanted to do with the next phase of my life. It became crystal clear that helping people could be cool and sexy when done right. I made it a point to figure out how to make social entrepreneurship a career after experiencing my moment of clarity on the road.

I want to leave the country to take a trip abroad. What are the first 5 things I need to do?

Once you have a passport the steps vary depending on what you want to get from the experience. Some people desire to travel with a crystal clear purpose and others like to travel lost and find themselves in the process. I agree with both. However, I do suggest using a site like to see where you might want to go. Wanderapp for iOS gives you local guides in cities around the world (kind of like a modern pen pal system). I like to use and to find cheap flight options.

Most people say they can’t afford traveling. What do you have to say to them?

I say that travel is the only experience that makes you richer. You might not have the money today. That is ok. Tomorrow might be different. Passport Project answered Pharrell’s call to action on Paris, Tokyo Remix (“Fly to Paris and end up in Tokyo, Let’s start a coalition so even the broke can go”). We know how tough finding the money for travel can be. Trust me, Passport Project will be helping you travel sooner than you think.

Top 3 tips when traveling or preparing to travel?

  • Make copies of all your identification and cards, especially your passport
  • Stay at hostels
  • Drink bottled water

Whats next for Passport Life?

The Passport Life web-series featuring Bryan Blue is taking off. We will be bringing you exciting content. Also as I mentioned earlier, helping you travel sooner than you think is of major importance to me. Passport Project is in the lab everyday working. 2013 is the year of cultural participation. I hope you get involved when we announce the big news.

Photo courtesy of Rob Lewis



Corey Knight

Founder of A&H Group.