Postponed Fantastic Voyage sailed to help raise money for HBCU studentsPassengers enjoying an evening concert on the pool deck of the Tom Joyner Foundation's Fantastic Voyage cruise. Credit: Allison Joyner
The rescheduled fundraiser was due to change from its original date in 2020.
The Tom Joyner Foundation’s Fantastic Voyage cruise sailed once again after postponing the “party with a purpose” due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Earlier this month, passengers boarded the Carnival Freedom for eight days of fun, sun and partying till the wee hours of the morning.
Since 2000, The Tom Joyner Foundation, founded by retired syndicated radio host, Chairman of the Foundation and my uncle, Tom Joyner, has sailed the Caribbean to raise funds for students to remain enrolled at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including all ten Georgia institutions like Paine College, Savannah State University, Albany State University, and the schools located in the Atlanta University Center.
This year’s Fantastic Voyage 20 in 21 featured live entertainment, an art gallery filled with pieces from Black artists and cooking demonstrations and tastings from celebrity chefs throughout the journey.
Vaccinated passengers who joined the party experienced over 40 live acts like rapper LL Cool J, R&B singer/songwriter Alicia Keys, Atlanta native Usher and a Kings of Crunk concert featuring local artists The Eastside Boyz, Young Bloodz, the Ying Yang Twins and D4L.
Johnny “Koolout” Starks, who has been part of the events team since 2004, said, “the Tom Joyner Fantastic Voyage is everything you want our culture to be. The education, the community, the fundraising, the entrepreneurship, the camaraderie and of course the partying.”
Rescheduling the party
“I’ve been able to pull this off for so many years,” Joyner said. “This year is extra special because we had to go through the pandemic and be postponed.”
The Tom Joyner Foundation supports HBCUs with scholarships, endowments and capacity-building enhancements to keep students enrolled in school and preserve the piece of American history that HBCUs represent.
As a result of fundraising efforts, the Foundation has raised over $69 million, supporting more than 32,000 students attending HBCUs.
As Covid continued to spread throughout the country and the world at the beginning of 2020, the Foundation, along with media conglomerate Reach Media and Carnival Cruise Line decided to delay the voyage until it was deemed safe to sail again.
Joyner, who suffered a mild stroke in his South Florida home shortly after the original date, said that the cruise produces over 95 percent of annual funds to keep its mission alive.
“This has been a challenge more than other cruises because of the pandemic,” said Joyner, who distributed refunds to passengers who opted out of going on the rescheduled cruise.
“The Foundation strives much more to not just help HBCUs to survive, but also to keep students in college who may not have been able to stay in otherwise; that’s a bigger part of it,” said David Kantor is the President and CEO of Radio One and Reach Media, and Tom’s business partner.
“I think a lot of people probably were disappointed and then we just had to make adjustments.” Starks said, “I knew that once we got past [the pandemic] that this would pick back up.”
Immigration officer with the Department of Homeland Security, Veronica Clay, has attended or paid to attend all 21 cruises.
“I’ve been rocking with Tom since day one,” she told SaportaReport. “I wasn’t disappointed because I thought of the safety of everybody else as well as myself. So I knew that it was for the safety of everybody and to do it in 2021 when we’re a little bit safer after the vaccines have come out.”
Keeping the party safe
With the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) providing strict recommendations for traveling while on cruise ships, the safety of the passengers and crew was a significant concern and focused point when preparing for the Fantastic Voyage.
“Like everywhere in the world and many businesses, every piece of our operations had to be reviewed,” said Division Vice President of Charter, Corporate and Incentive Sales for Carnival Cruise Line Ann Sedgwick. “It allowed our teams the time to plan and adapt to the ever-changing protocols as set forth by the CDC.”
When Kantor began renegotiations for planning this year’s cruise, he knew Carnival’s new policy of only sailing with 50 percent capacity onboard to keep people safe. Still, both parties agreed on keeping the chartered cruise at 70 percent instead.
“The way we did that was some people we voluntarily let out of the cruise. Some people had reasons they couldn’t get vaccinated so that they couldn’t go on the cruise,” said Kantor.“We always wanted [all of the passengers] to be vaccinated. We felt the passengers, especially a lot of them who are older with health issues, would feel better about being on the ship if we did that.”
Sedgwick said the crew of the Carnival Freedom “are fully vaccinated and required to wear masks at all times and are tested regularly.” She also said that passengers must have a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours of departure and were also requested to wear masks indoors, including elevators and dining areas until seated.
“I take my hat off to Carnival,” said Starks. “They have around the clock people cleaning, you’re walking in dining rooms ‘hey put your mask on,’ and people are being responsible and putting their masks on.”
He continued, “I think they’re doing exactly what they have to do to protect you. This virus has a mind of its own and even though we are doing the necessary things, it doesn’t care.”
Sponsoring the party
In addition to revenue from cabins sold, sponsorship was more important this year than in the years before. Primary sponsorship from companies like Carnival and Denny’s were instrumental in raising funds for students.
Denny’s Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, April Kelly-Drummond, said that the quick-service restaurant is happy with the more than 20-year relationship they have with the Foundation and loves being a major sponsor of the cruise.
“Denny’s has been proud of the Fantastic Voyage since 2019 and we know the cruise’s purpose is to raise money to help students at HBCUs,” Kelly-Drummond said.
Sedgwick said Carnival has also been a sponsor of the cruise for almost 10 years and “the Foundation’s focus on ensuring the future of Historically Black Colleges and Universities to support diverse academic opportunities to students wanting and/or attending HBCUs regardless of socioeconomic status and means.”
“We’ve partnered with the Foundation,” said Kelly-Drummond, “because we share the values of investing in education,” and has even partnered with the Foundation on Denny’s Hungry for Education scholarship program which helps students complete the pursuit of their dreams through financial assistance.
HBCUs benefiting from the party
Although the Foundation has raised millions of dollars for HBCUs, they know that the need is greater than ever.
“Tom Joyner is the only person that I know that actually supports HBCUs,” said Clay. “This is such a great fundraiser to keep our kids in Historically Black Colleges.”
Kantor recognizes the large donations given to Black institutions from philanthropists Makenzie Scott and Michael Bloomberg but knows the need for more is ongoing.
“That puts them in a better situation, but up to that they were losing funding every day, every year, and more and more are at risk,” Kantor said.
“We know these scholarships make a difference in each of these students’ lives, which is more the reason we reward them financially,” Kelly-Drummond said.
She added that Denny’s support for HBCUs starts at the top. The family restaurant’s CEO John Miller serves on the board of trustees at Wilberforce University in Ohio and would be the first to tell you that Denny’s loves feeding the mind, body and soul.
Drummond says Denny’s endeavor to hire over 20,000 future employees by leveraging the relationships with HBCUs, the National Urban League, the National Society of Hispanic MBAs and the Tom Joyner Foundation.
Starks agrees that these institutions need more funding to sustain and added, “HBCUs are important. They are like yeast to cake. The cake cannot rise without yeast.”
Keeping the party going
Now that the Fantastic Voyage 20 in 21 has docked back on solid ground, people are ready to enjoy the next fundraiser in a covid-free world. They are also nervous that the same appeal for the cruise will maintain now that Joyner is off the air from his Tom Joyner Morning Show.
Both Kantor and Joyner confirmed the cruise will set sail once again and that the planning process will soon begin to make that happen.
“If we did it would be late in the year  or whether we’ll wait and do it in spring 2023, Kantor said.
Sedgwick said that Carnival has not heard of an announcement from Reach Media or the Foundation yet but says “Carnival certainly hopes to have the opportunity to host the cruise again.”
Until then, the Tom Joyner Foundation continues to accept donations.
They give donors the opportunity to give to their favorite HBCU for end-of-year giving.
To make a contribution log onto its website.
Editor’s note: Allison Joyner is Tom Joyner’s niece