Several minutes into her speech at the 2019 Los Angeles Travel and Adventure Show, Kellee Edwards, the host of Travel Channel’s Mysterious Islands (and the first black woman to lead a show on the network), has encountered a small issue: she’s the sole black woman scheduled to speak at the two-day conference, and her presentation about what it means to connect with communities while traveling isn’t working the way it should — but much like every other aspect of her life, she’s prepared to take control of the situation with authority, fearlessness, and a smile.

Born on Chicago’s South Side, Edwards is used to succeeding in environments that would be a challenge for others. A licensed pilot, certified scuba diver, and seasoned mountain climber, calling Edwards the future of adventure travel would be an understatement. Her journey is a significant accomplishment given the overwhelmingly white male industry she has been called to pursue, but her success — which has been nearly a decade in the making — is by no means an accident. Edwards’s love for exploration began the first time she saw mountains on a Greyhound bus trip from Chicago to California. Her mother Leonetta had just gotten married and they were moving to San Bernardino, a city east of Los Angeles. An only child, Edwards was just 8 years old when her new stepfather, Donald, introduced her to the great outdoors, teaching her how to surf and taking her on camping trips.

“For me, coming from the South Side of Chicago and living in San Bernardino, those things were not normal in my African-American community,” Edwards said of those early days, when she spent hours collecting rocks and falling in love with nature while also participating in sports like track and basketball. “I never let it make me feel like I was any less cool because I liked those things. Growing up as an only child, you have to play alone and entertain yourself. That translated into adulthood and I took it to a new level.”

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