Chattanoogan: Travis Upton – Breaking Molds

Saturday, January 4, 2014 - by Jen Jeffrey

While growing up, Travis Upton just wanted to fit in and to be like everybody else. As he followed his journey he would find instead that he was unique - and that was okay.

It seemed from the start, Travis was thrown into molds to fit in the way others did. Having been born in Sweetwater, Travis’ father John wanted his son to be born there too. Though he and his wife Janice were living in Chattanooga, John drove Janice an hour and a half away to have their son in Sweetwater. Travis followed the lead as a child, but eventually would break all the molds and become his own man.

John Upton was in the ministry and spent several years in New Guinea. “Living with my dad was like living with Indiana Jones,” Travis said.

“He grew up hunting and when he went to New Guinea he lived with cannibals for five years. He took a plane ride to a dirt air strip to board a helicopter that would take him to the highlands and from there it was a three-day hike in the mountains to get to the actual village. Living in the jungle did something to him over that period of time so my dad handled things a little differently,” Travis admits.

When just eight years old, Travis fell and gashed his leg. The wound was so deep you could see the bone, but John Upton did not take his son to the emergency room as people suggested.

“Dad was a medic-trained missionary and could stitch us up himself, so we didn’t go to the hospital for things like that. He just said, ‘You’ll be alright’ and he would always reference things with a jungle story,” Travis laughs.

Younger than his two sisters Tabi and Rowena, Travis would often find himself alone as the two sisters paired together.

“Being the only boy was like being an only child. They were always doing sister stuff and if we went to the amusement park, they rode together and I always had to ride with a stranger,” Travis chuckles. “I developed a lot of hermetic tendencies and now I have to have a certain amount of solitude.”

While his father was in the jungles of New Guinea, Travis’ mother was at school in Canada. The couple had known each other as youth, but began writing during that time and had fallen in love through letters. With his parents’ adventures and travels, Travis and his sisters were raised to be global-minded. “Dad became a pastor, a school teacher and a college professor. My parents are educators. They went to Covenant College, UTC and UTK and my mom worked in the school system here. We were a middle class family, but my upbringing was different than most and we had a multi-cultural upbringing that my parents were very intentional about,” Travis says.

Though his parents were educated and did their best to give that same opportunity to their children, Travis’ learning abilities were different and he knew it.

“When the teacher wanted me to do a math problem ‘2+2=4’ I came up with the same answer but a different way, ‘3+1=4’ and I didn’t understand why teachers forced me to learn a certain way if I always came up with the right answers. Creative people are generally that percentage that falls through the gap more than the traditional learners,” Travis insists.

When attending church it was expected for the young men to wear suits and young ladies to wear dresses. Travis wore his jeans and tennis shoes and a few people had given his parents grief about his attire. “My Dad wasn’t worried, he was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I am just glad he is in church!’ so I wore what I felt comfortable in – what was me,” Travis expresses.

Travis knew he was not like everybody else and he began embracing the fact. He heard a story about how Martin Luther King went to his grandmother crying because he wanted to be like everybody else. Dr. King’s wise grandmother gently told him, “Martin, you are not like everybody else – you are one of a kind. Embrace the fact that you are who you are.” This story resonated with Travis and he knew that whatever made him a little bit odd or different - it was a good thing.

With the school system's learning methods trying to fit him in a certain mold that didn’t fit, Travis took his GED and, before he had thoughts of college, he took a job that ended up paying more than expected.

“As a teenager, I needed a car and I answered a blind ad. It turned out to be selling Kirby vacuum cleaners. Over the course of the first weekend, I made $1,150 out of sheer luck. I could just sell anything so I thought I would stick with it for a while,” Travis says.

After a few months, Travis was promoted and after a year he was promoted again to regional sales manager with salespeople under him. “School was out the door at that time. I was 19 years old and making more money than my parents who both had degrees,” Travis asserts.

At one point, Travis was encouraged to interview for a job with Huffaker Insurance. When he walked in – a 19-year-old black kid seeking a job at a successful insurance firm, Travis admits he had gotten a few stares.

“I have so much respect for Mr. Huffaker. He was wonderful to my family for years, but when I walked in there everyone was looking at me like, ‘Can I help you?’ There wasn’t a black face there except for one man that was old enough to be my dad. He was walking around getting everyone’s trash. He was someone I would have definitely called ‘Mr.’ and everyone was calling this man by his first name. That was significant to me because he was old enough to be their grandparent and they were calling him by his first name,” Travis remembers.

Travis was taken back to Mr. Huffaker's office where he was offered a job as an agent. “Mr. Huffaker said he had heard a lot about me and my sales. I didn’t realize how significant that was then and I passed on it and stayed with Kirby. Kirby wasn’t a longtime career so I wondered what would have happened if I had taken the job with the insurance agency and how different would my life have been?” Travis reflects.

“At that time though, it was not me and I would have had to give up who I thought I was and become a person who I really wasn’t in order to succeed. I was making large amounts of money and I was drinking and partying - life was about money,” Travis admits.

After eight years with Kirby and learning that life was about more than money and partying, Travis married and began a family having son Tristian and daughter Hannah Ruth. Travis had gone back to school and took a new career as a body guard.

“In 1996 I went to school to become a certified protection specialist, trained by Secret Service, CIA, and Naval Intelligence. I did body guard work and eventually owned  Mr. Chattanooga Events. People started asking me to do security and then I started throwing my own parties and started ChattanoogaNightout.com. We changed the way Chattanoogans go out. We are an online web directory for people who want to find something to do in the evening. They can search everything from our website in one place, restaurants, entertainment and everything that is happening around town,” Travis says.

After staying single for the last seven years, Travis remarried. His wife Bernadette is nearly half his age. At first Travis faced the age stigma that could either place him once again in a mold which he didn’t fit or he could continue to embrace what is right for him. “Something just happened - we both just felt that God spoke to us in different ways and at different times,” Travis says.

Bernadette is a choreographer and dance instructor. Together she and Travis launched the dance company WEAVE in June of 2013 and have already produced multiple videos. WEAVE is a conceptual dance company and offers classes enriching to foundational training in movement. Classes in hip hop and contemporary funk are offered throughout the week as well as weekend classes that alternate weekly.

“It is for placement. We don’t turn anybody away. If someone comes in wanting to dance and can’t afford it, we believe dancing is accessible and affordable to everyone. We are trying to make it more affordable to all people of all levels of dance,” Travis says.

Partnering with Barking Legs Theater and Scenic City Dance Center, Travis says they are not competitive with other dance companies, but work as a team. WEAVE is currently holding a dance camp partnering with Highlands Youth Center for a program that will be held at Brainerd Jr. High.

“With WEAVE, my passion is the arts and for people to be able to access the arts and develop an appreciation. I want to see the art of dance come out and, ‘twerking’ is not dance. We want to teach dance in a positive way. It is teaching you the art of dance in expression and movement and how you can benefit from that,” Travis explains.

“What makes us unique is being outside of the box and being conceptual. We did a Christmas video with all different shades of people. After only six months we are already the most racially-mixed dance company in Chattanooga. WEAVE is a weaving of people and different dance disciplines,” Travis says.

WEAVE incorporates foundational roots in multiple styles of hip hop as well as Bernadette’s signature style of contemporary funk which encompasses ballet, hip hop, jazz and lyrical.

Travis says, “Chattanooganightout.com and Weave fit my passions because I like community things that bring people together.”

Visit the websites at:

http://www.chattanooganightout.com/ 

http://www.weavedancecompany.com/ 

jen@jenjeffrey.com


Dalton Police Department Fundraising Kicks Off For Law Enforcement Torch Run

Following its best Special Olympics fundraising effort ever in 2016, the Dalton Police Department is once again joining police departments from across Georgia in the Law Enforcement Torch Run fundraiser. The DPD is taking part to help send Special Olympics Georgia (SOGA) athletes to the state games and fund other important parts of SOGA’s operation. Anyone can help by purchasing ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Native Becomes A Professional Drag Racer

Dewayne Hill, a Chattanooga native, is the driver for the Valspar and Matrix Automotive Finishes jet car.   At just over 5,000 horse power, Mr. Hill can can speed down the quarter-mile drag racetrack at over 260 miles per hour.   In 2017 Mr. Hill will be at nine tracks all around the country including two in Atlanta. Mr. Hill was born and raised in Chattanooga ... (click for more)

First Chattanooga Parking Study Since 2004 Gets Underway

The first comprehensive study of parking in downtown Chattanooga since 2004 is getting underway. The project  Is being led by the River City Company and CARTA in partnership with the city of Chattanooga. It is funded by the Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations along with several downtown stakeholders including Erlanger Health System, UTC and Siskin Hospital. The study ... (click for more)

Cleveland To Get Bus Service To Chattanooga Under Federal Grant

Cleveland, Tn., will be getting bus service to Chattanooga under a federal grant. The city was notified recently that the Tennessee Department of Transportation selected its proposal for funding under the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program. Tanisha J. Hall, state long range planning division director, said, "The Cleveland-Chattanooga Commute ... (click for more)

Beyond Freedom Of Speech - And Response

Yes, most people know about the First Amendment to our Constitution, "The right, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to express beliefs and ideas without unwarranted government restriction."  I being a "deplorable" draw the line when people block traffic, try to disrupt, and even stop an activity through malice and disregard for others. Case being ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Where Is Central’s Auditorium?

I am surely one of the biggest proponents of high school athletics there is, especially after half a decade of being an eye witness to the vast array of lessons that are learned every day by anyone associated with sports. That said, I have watched the Hamilton County Commission waffle on a $500,000 track at Central High School with a certain curiosity because the same high school ... (click for more)