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


Orange Grove Chorus, Featured Entertainment At The 2015 Partners In Education Luncheon In Nashville

Orange Grove Center Chorus is the featured entertainment at the Partners in Education Conference Luncheon on Jan. 28 at 11:30 a.m.  The conference will be held at the Music City Center in Nashville.  This conference serves over 2,500 educators from across the State of Tennessee.   The Orange Grove Center Chorus, under the direction of Carolyn Brown serves as ... (click for more)

Partnership’s RSVP Program Seeks New Volunteers

Established in 1971 and now one of the largest senior volunteer organizations in the nation, Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) engages more than 296,000 people age 55 and older in a diverse range of volunteer activities. Volunteers deliver meals, visit the homebound and dying, pack food boxes, drive clients to appointments, provide independent living services, recruit and ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Gets Bursts Of Snow, But Little Accumulation Expected

Chattanooga got some bursts of snow on Monday night, but little accumulation was expected. However, the Marion County Schools were called off for Tuesday due to the weather. Here is the latest forecast: A DUSTING OF LIGHT SNOW ACCUMULATION POSSIBLE OVERNIGHT... TEMPERATURES CONTINUE TO TUMBLE AS COLD AIR MOVED INTO THE REGION THIS AFTERNOON. AN UPPER LEVEL DISTURBANCE WILL ... (click for more)

Body Found On South Highland Park Avenue

The Chattanooga Police Department is investigating the death of a white woman, found at 2106 S.   Highland Park Ave.  The person’s identity and cause of death are unknown at this time. Chattanooga Police ask anyone with information regarding this crime to call  423 698-2525. The investigation is ongoing and more information will be released when available. (click for more)

We Need The Chattanooga History Center

Having been on several of Dr. Daryl Black's walking tours, I can say that they weren't just informative, but a treat. The downtown, Fort Wood and Ninth Street of yesteryear were brought dramatically to life. We stood on the ground where Sherman had his headquarters (near the Ice Cream Show) and the corner where Bessie Smith sang as a young girl. And we also stood beneath the ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Big (Un)Easy: Mardi Gras

Not since Hurricane Katrina has New Orleans had a bigger problem. When over a million visitors flood the city for the annual Mardi Gras bash over the next three weeks, there will be signs all around town and into the French Quarter that blare, “CAUTION: Walk In Large Groups. We (heart symbol) love NOPD. We Just Need More Of Them.” In other words, it appears things are quite unsettled ... (click for more)