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.”
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