Thursday, January 24, 2019

Standing Unapologetically Black: Disrupting with Dance & Words at the Boston Women’s March

Greetings family,

I thought it was important to share my words from the Boston Women’s March. One, because so many of you joined me in spirit on that stage.

Thank you, Gracias, to my sister Queen Chioma, my sister hermana Vanessa and my HER project leader Rocio for joining me, standing with me, dancing with me and raising your voices with me. Your energy and love will make this an unforgettable moment.

I have received wonderful messages since the march from many I know and others that were present for our ‘disruption.’The common comment has been, ‘I saw you on the news jumping up and down.’

The second reason I wanted to share my words and the video is because that vibration was not planned. I am calling that moment on the stage an ancestral driven moment. I heard the introduction, we saw the crowd and we went about it in the most African, African American and Afro Panamanian way.

Yes, we were jumping up and down in the spirit of disruption. We pulled the crowd in without planning any of it because we were moving with our ancestral light. The moment was right. The only thing missing was a drum or our warrior stick but the words did that and our deep loving vibration added a taste of honey. We fisted up in our revolutionary way, truly combining what it is or looks like for African women of the Diaspora.

A big shout out to Brother Cisco for capturing this moment on video. Gracias!

Thank you to March Forward Massachusetts for a strong step towards inclusion. Thank you to Janet Santos and the Boston Women’s Fund for inviting me to speak at the Women’s March Breakfast.

Thank you all who supported me leading up to this light filled moment. Thank you all for your ongoing support.

Peace and light,
Yvette Lepolata Aduke Modestin

‘Me gritaron Negra’
Y yo respondí,
Si, Orgullosamente Negra

I rise up in the spirit of Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, my mother, Audre Lorde, Victoria Santa Cruz de Peru. Sonia Pierre de Santo Domingo, Berta Cáceres de Honduras and Mirielle Franco of Brazil.
I stand here in the spirit of Black women, African American women, low income women, black women activist and gentle warriors who are at the center of this movement who wear their crown fearlessly

I send light to our African sisters and mothers who have died fighting for liberation

I stand her in the spirit with my young women of the HER Project

Digo Presente con la luz de mujeres negras, mujeres afro, afro latinas

I stand here with the light of all the soulful men, black men, brothers, hermanos who join us on this call

I stand here in the spirit of my sister hermanas who are here to disrupt for real change to happen

And most importantly, I stand here Unapologetically Black

Mi reinas!
Stand strong in your space
Know your worth
Dance in it
Shine in it
Break down walls in it
I’m a black woman in this world
Black Latina immigrant Presente!

I will not bow my head for you
The crown they gave me is heavy and filled with pride
Hear me
Hear my truth
If you play any part of oppressing those who look like me,
Then we cannot sit at the same table

It is Time to disrupt with love, clarity and purpose
If we are not at the table then you are not having the real conversation

It is time!
It is time for us to figure this out
Racism has been a part of this women’s movement
It is time to be intentional so that it doesn’t repeat itself
It is time to listen.
We can speak for ourselves for we are at the front line of this struggle
We have always led the way
We are here to stay

We are at a crucial crossroad, women, all women, women of color, allies to sit at the table and hear each other and build together
build together while making sure that no one is left behind
No one is above anyone
No one is seen less than
And specifically that black women, African women, Black Latinas are seen in their human light in the righteous light in their magical light.

I believe that those that look like me, that come from that same fabric, that same root should have the best of the best wherever we are standing and whatever language we speak
We will continue to fight for that and speak truth to that because that is love, that is what love looks like.

Asi es!
No voy a parar de hablar nuestra verdad
Porque esto es amor
Esto es vida
Esto es Negrura!

I love this skin, I love the story that comes with this root,
My tree has been shaken hard but not broken
We are Under attack and still rising with love, pain and resiliency

To heal is to speak this truth
To grow is to speak this truth

May we meet at the crossroad and build an inclusive agenda
May we rise fearlessly
May we continue speaking a truth that changes these harsh times
May we stand in light and love

‘Me gritaron negra’
Y yo respondí
Si orgullosamente negra
Nacida y criada en Colon, Panama


News Coverage -

Monday, December 24, 2018

Negra! Y Yo Respondi….

Negra! Y Yo Respondi….

The piece, Negra! Y Yo Respondi, speaks for itself but I thought I would share how it came about. 

I was invited to speak at the Amplify Latina Conference. Prior to completely agreeing to present, we had a conference call to determine order of speakers and theme. In the call, I shared that I would only be comfortable presenting if the conference itself addressed the internal racism/colorism in the Latino community and that I would not be the only one naming it when I knew I would be in a room of Afro descendants and Afro Latinos.
The request was well received by conference planner Betty Francisco. I was then able to share the stage with a group of Latinos that spoke truth, one very dear to me, Maria Elena Letona. Maria Elena in her presentation spoke of it and identified herself as an Afro descendant woman.

This was a very emotional moment for me. For years I have been saying the same thing and finally this space of Latino leaders were ready to listen and take it in.

I was moved to tears as I combined a presentation with poetic moments. I received a standing ovation. That is not what I was looking for but to have this space Rise Up in such a way meant, I see you and you see me. Gracias Betty for this grounding and healing moment. A special thank you to Nurys Camargo for being a true hermana en la lucha.

Ana Masacote was at the Amplify Conference. While planning Yo Soy LOLA she approached me about presenting the piece as part of the performance. She shared her vision and message of the evening. During our second conversation she decided to name Act 2 – Africa Lives in Latin America. She was ready in a way that I have not seen in many years in Boston.
Act 2 opened with me performing an Egungun chant. Everything about the show spoke of an inclusion of all voices centering our Africanness in this celebration. I performed Negra and also closed out the play with a call for us to see each other.

This was a special night on many levels. My dear friend Anne joined me on the piece responding, Negra! When I put out the call. I also had my dear friends Marta and Michelle there with me. It was glorious. Ana Masacote will be unforgettable to me for she dared to put this truth front and center.

Following the success of Yo Soy LOLA I was then approached by Rosario Ubiera who was putting together El Bembe. Rosario saw me perform at Yo Soy LOLA and also wanted to include the piece. El Bembe was held at the Peabody Essex Museum. I was joined by fellow Yo Soy LOLA performers Sasi and Queen. El Bembe was special in its own way and once again the piece was well received.

So here it is. The piece that made 2018 a groundbreaking year in many ways.

in light and love,
Yvette 'Lepolata Aduke' Modestin

Learn more about Amplify Latina Circle and Yo Soy LOLA 

El tambor
La salsa
El Bembe
El Reggaeton.
Hector Lavoe y Willie Colon cantaron,
“Lo bailan en Venezuela
Lo bailan en Panamá
Este ritmo es africano
Y donde quiera va' acabar
Che che colé,”
That is Africa in Latin America and the Caribbean
The trans-Atlantic slave trade is OUR STORY
It is our HISTORY
We were dropped off everywhere
We are 150 plus in our region
Santo Domingo
Are the most populated places of African Warriors who continue to speak their truth and fight for their Freedom
It is time to embrace it
It is time to see ourselves in Black Lives Matter
Michael Brown, Treyvon Martin, Sandra Bland could be Latinos
Let us not get caught up with what the name is supposed to sound like
If you know the colonial history of the region, you can see that truth
I see a room full of African descendants
I see a room of Afro Latinos
I see a room of Afro descendientes
In all shades who speak Spanish, the imposed language of those who colonized us
Racism within our community is palpitating
It is ugly and it is sad
It is ugly and it is sad
The white supremacy
The colorism that exist amongst us needs to be addressed
Me Gritaron Negra!
Y yo respondi, si, Orgullosamente Negra.
If we want to build and move onward and forward then race has to be a part of the conversation.
Africa resides in US.
I was only invisible in Boston when I came here from Panama more so than anything when I stood before someone from Latin America and the Caribbean who would say, yo pensaba que tu eras Negra
Y yo respondia, Yo soy Negra y soy Panamena
I saw them but they did not see me
I questioned being here today
My years here I have walked into too many spaces like these.
Walked in a Latina came out as the only Black woman
Spoke to people in Spanish they spoke to me in English
Pero esta conferencia es para Latinos
Y porque me estas hablando en Ingles?
We are having black experiences.
Young people are living schizophrenic lives. They are told to not bring home a “black” girlfriend when they are also Black.
Latino is not a race folks. It is our ethnicity, it is our culture
Today I challenge you to ask this question, how I identify myself, and how do others identify and see me
What does solidarity truly look like?
The discomfort you are feeling is necessary for Change
When we embrace the truth then we can align ourselves with other people of African descent
It is time claim it, embrace it and rise up in love with it
Afro Latino power WOKE
Me Gritaron Negra!! Y yo respondi, si, Orgullosamente Negra nacida y criada en Colon,Panama pa que tu lo sepas
My name is Yvette Modestin Lepolata Aduke and this is how I RISE UP,  in my African Black light.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Jesus was Black in my Church

Peace familia,

I have been sitting on this Blog for a few weeks. I pause to write everyday but I have not been putting out a lot of my writing for a variety of reasons, one being what blogging has become today. 
I have three pieces that you will be seeing in the upcoming weeks that I think are important to share. This one specifically was very revealing even to me while I was doing the presentation with Baba Tony. Looking back at my upbringing and speaking of this space with so much joy stood out in a new way. The title and the piece, speak to how we address the contradictions in our daily lives as people of African descent who seek liberation. It highlights how we face those contradictions while moving forward and growing. The title came from saying it out loud for the first time. Enjoy!

In light and love,

Jesus was Black in my Church

I recently did a presentation with Baba Tony Menelik on Yoruba Spiritual Practice and Restorative Justice at the Rise Up! Spirituality, Faith & Social Justice conference at William James College. We spoke about the connection that activist gain in seeking something deeper on their journey of internal and external liberation and how Ifa/Yoruba Philosophy allows that connection to deepen. We did not do the typical presentation format. Instead, we had a dialogue as we do daily, on making sense of these times of struggle and how to remain grounded through our spiritual practice.  

While presenting, I shared my catholic upbringing and how comforting it was. That changed when I am came to the US were Catholicism is race based which meant white. It moved from a white perspective that made me feel excluded and lost when I stepped into the church on campus and in the community. In sharing out loud, I spoke of how deeply rooted in Blackness my community, my church, St. Joseph in Colon, Panama was and still is today.

Colon was and still is identified from a place of Blackness in the overall narrative of the country. It was cool with us growing up. There was a sense of pride that I moved with and still do, as a Colonense. Why? One, because Panama is rich in many ways because of what Colon brings to the table. Two, because many of the Black Panamanians who reached a high level of success had and have roots in Colon. We are the shit! 

In the center of this uplifting, righteous Blackness is St. Joseph Church. The best choir, the coolest folks and the Soulful priest that I grew up with, Father Ingram. What!!!! The man could preach and sing. In this church the statue of Jesus at the altar was Black or to be specific a brown wooded, cool looking guy. 

Imagine that and then imagine a church full of men and women whose crowns touched the ceiling. So, yes, Jesus was Black in my Church!

I could go deeper in this blog but for now I am staying at the joy of this revelation. I am also choosing to celebrate how images of Black Love runs deep within. 

In speaking on this at the presentation with Baba Tony an aha moment showed up from this deep soul place. I now have the words and the visual to understand why in knowing so much truth about the role of church in the oppression of people of African descent, I am still able to go home in my child like joy and have spirit lifted every time I enter St. Joseph Church. Why? Because everything about that space was Black Spiritual Love. Everything said, you are blessed and you are Black. 

Giving thanks for the gift of this space and the continued clarity that shows up on this journey. Much love and admiration for all the people of St. Joseph Church.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Know Thyself – Descubrete! Dedicated to the Young Women of the Hermanas Exchanging Roots (HER) Project of 2017-2018

Happy New Year Beautiful People!

There is a lot of noise in the world. It is almost impossible to not get pulled into the daily racist, white supremacists statements. When my Sistren Chioma shared that there was a slot left in the ‘BBnB’ Women of Color Writing retreat I said, YES, immediately. Not only to write but to pause and get away from the noise.

The day before the retreat, I was one of the storytellers for the WGBH/PBS show; Stories from the Stage. It was an unforgettable experience on many levels. The story I shared was my first time venturing off campus and facing the ‘I thought you were Black, you don’t look Panamanian’ exchange. I realized in preparing to stand on that stage, that the pain and sadness from that moment is still a part of my movement. It is a daily trauma, a constant kick in the stomach that makes you rise up ready to fight for your space and your full voice.

This same incident happened a week before preparing for the show. This has been the ongoing narrative since I have been in Boston. As I reflect on the experience of the show, 2017 and our current affairs, I arrived at this place that it is not enough to talk about it; we need to go back and fetch it, Sankofa, to truly find ourselves and see our commonality. Once we arrive at this place, we need to tell our stories in our own way, using our own words that might not make sense to many who pretend to understand our journey including those who look like us.  

I dedicate this to the young women of the HER project of 2017-2018. In discussing black history, I realized that they only know about Malcolm X, MLK Jr. and Rosa Parks. They only know the accepted white washed narrative that makes them safe as black leaders and activists. This is a major step for these girls. They have been moving through life as White Latinas with Black experiences. They don’t have the words or the history to validate these experiences.

When I showed the film ‘Scattered Africa’ by my mentor Dr. Sheila Walker, I saw the amazement in their faces when they heard the numbers of Africans brought to the Americas. I saw them sit up when they heard their country mentioned. I then shared the process of the program which strives to create a space for identity formation and leadership development. Two of my young women asked me, Can we learn more about Africa? Can we learn more about the trans-Atlantic slave trade? I was moved by this ask and their willingness to challenge what they have been taught and what they hear on a daily basis in their homes and in their community.

Their ask led me to these questions; do we understand that we were dropped off everywhere? Do we understand that the language we speak is based on who colonized us? Do we understand that our stories were told by those who do not see our humanity? They did not know this and many adults, teachers; community leaders do not know this in the way that places them and their ancestors in this truth. My young women made me realize that for them to truly identify as Afro Latinas then they need to know Africa, they need to see Africa in Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Haiti and the US.

Together we are going back to fetch it so that we can know thyself on a deeper level.
Moving in this direction with this group of young warriors, led one of them to say to me, ‘Ms. Yvette I feel bad about the way we speak of Haitians.’ She then shared that she got into a disagreement with her family about the push for deportation of Dominicans of Haitian descent and how this is the same as them fighting as Americans of Dominican descent.

In my own reflection of these conversations with my girls, I realized that I failed my baby, Encuentro Diaspora Afro. I failed it because as I was growing deeper into my identity, my light as an African, I did not bring it fully along with me. I wanted it to fit into this Afro Latino identity that still over emphasized this need to be invited to the colonizers table. That is no longer a priority of mine. Nina Simone said, “You have to learn to get up from the table when love is no longer being served.”  If your love for my blackness, my Africaness is not present, then I do not need to share space with you. Afro Latinos stand loud saying, Soy Afro Latina, but do you see Africa in that? It is time to ask, what is most important to you?

My experience filming ‘Cimarronaje en Panama’ allows me to stand with complete confidence saying, Colon is Africa.  It is in the movement of the people, the voices, the smell and the love. Yes, the region is mixed but how many of us speak of our ancestors as enslaved Africans and not something outside of ourselves.

One of the many gifts of 2017 was the founding of Regional Council of Africans in the Americas (RCAA/ARAAC). As one of the co-founders with Jesus ‘Chucho’ Garcia and Damani Aaquil this space mirrored my movement by placing Africa in the center of the Latin American and Caribbean experience. Encuentro Diaspora Afro has joined this drum beat.

The drum beat was extended in such spaces as National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC), #40 Acres and More (Reparations Strategy Group), the Boston Coalition for Freedom and the ongoing work of the Red de Mujeres Afro (RMAAD).

I give thanks to the young women who are daring to join me. I say ‘daring’ because when your eyes, your heart and mind are open to this truth, you will react to anything being said about any person of African descent that could mean a level of sacrifice that no one prepares you for.   

It is important to also give a shootout to the young men of the Hermanos in Solidarity (HIS) Project. After seeing the film I shared something Mr. Richards, my mentor in Panama shared with me. He said, ‘we were not dropped off as a family. Your father was dropped off in Jamaica, your sister in Haiti, your brother in Panama and your cousin in Ecuador. One of the young men out loud said, ‘that’s deep.’ He then said, so that means I could be related to you Ms. Yvette and I said, Yes, he then said, that is really cool.’ If you pause, like the young women and young men of project did to truly understand that statement then you can feel the need to know thyself, to go back and fetch it.

I closed out 2017 standing with Black women/ African women from NAARC, #40 Acres & More and community organizations that stood together reading the statement that highlighted 350+ years of being viciously raped during the enslavement era and beyond. It was powerful. We followed that up with a ‘Sistahs Statement’ following the elections in Alabama that spoke to us always having to ‘show up’ not to save others but to take care of ourselves. All of this fed the warrior/Ogun in me.

I fell in love, deeper in love with the spaces I entered and with the men and women that gave me room to exhale. I also began sharing my Yoruba name, Lepolata Aduke. This was important to me. It was another expression of being unapologetically African.

My ‘loc’ journey which I started on my mother’s birthday is also about embracing this African light. The reactions have been interesting. Even those who say they are ‘Woke’ carry a European standard of beauty that says this is not attractive; this is not clean and professional. It has been revealing of my own sense of beauty.  I love the way it sticks up one day, I love the way it feels when it’s fed water and gets kissed by the sun. I love the way it is doing its own thing. It is an extension of me. Doing my own thing, my spirit keeps rising with a grounding smile.

My identity has led my purpose and my purpose has filled me with a love that at times I am not able to really express to you. To be honest and vulnerable in this reflection, it has not been easy. It is exhausting yet; I am willing to commit to these young people so that in some shape or form they will be better prepared to respond to this racist, white supremacist noise both externally and internally.

As Encuentro Diaspora Afro, the young women and young men of the HER and HIS Project join me to a deeper journey of Knowing thyself, I ask you to join us on this journey. Our campaign, our song for 2018 will be Know Thyself, Descubrete! We will go back and fetch it and hopefully land in a place that will have all of us rising to this synchronized song, I am an African in the Americas.

Ifa teaches us that our Ori (spiritual head) leads our journey and opens the roads for all good things. May 2018 bring us clarity and ground us in our African light. May we tune out this racist, white supremacist noise. May we continue building together and sitting at the table with love. May we find each other, see each other and embrace each other in this New Year. Ase!

In light and love,
Yvette ( Lepolata Aduke)