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) 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Women of African Descent/African Latina Day in Boston

Women of African Descent/African Latina Day Boston

(These are the words I delivered in July at the City Council meeting presenting the Resolution proclaiming the 25th of July as Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean Diaspora Women's Day in the City of Boston.)

Giving thanks to the ancestors and those whose shoulders I stand on. Thank you to City Councilor Tito Jackson for always including the voice of the African Latina. Thank you to the City Council for supporting this important resolution.

Thanks to my family, my mother for her guiding light, my father for his love and my sister and brother for their ongoing support. To the Founders of the Red de Mujeres Afro, Dorotea, Ann Marie, Maricruz, Paola, Ana Irma, Lidice, Ms. Phyllis, Dona Berta and so many other inspiring hermanas, Felicidades! Gracias por su inspiracion! 

To the Queens, Reinas of Encuentro Diaspora Afro who stand with me today, Gracias, Thank you. Love you! To those who have guided me and supported me here in Boston, much love and admiration. To the guerreros of RCAA/ARAAC and all the African/ Black men who walk this journey with me, Thank you, Gracias.

Mujeres Afro, Afro Latinas, Africanas, digan Presente!

Black Queens, African Queens, Diaspora Queens, Rise Up!

Today we celebrate Our Truth, our light. The Red de Mujeres Afro was founded in 1992 to demand our space and raise our voice. Encuentro Diaspora Afro was founded in Boston in 2004 to speak our truth and Rise and Shine in our Africaness, our Blackness. RCAA/ARAAC was founded in 2016 to place Africa at the center of the Latin American and Caribbean experience. Today we are 200 million + in the Region. We are still demanding our space and speaking our truth. 

Let us continue demanding and speaking as Women of African decent, Black women in the Americas. Let us Rise today and everyday proud of our roots, proud of our melanin.
May we continue to walk together on this journey. May we see and embrace the light in each other. Ase! Gracias! Thank you! 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Sistahs Statement from #40

This is an attempt to keep the conversation going in our own voices and not allowing others to speak for us.

“As attention is called to the ugly reality of present-day sexual harassment, there must also be attention to the historical sexual violations of Black women during the enslavement era and beyond. For well over 350 years Black women were viciously raped, savagely beaten and tortured, and had fetuses cut out of their bellies, oft times by the perpetrator of sexual assault upon them. Women who resisted were terrorized, continuously defiled and disrespected, and lynching’s were commonplace. Oft-times White women were complicit in condoning the sexual crimes of White men against Black women, and oft-times falsely accused Black men of rape, leading to their murder and dismemberment. Just as we do not condone or take lightly present-day disclosures and accusations of sexual harassment, the unfettered crimes against Women of African Descent during the enslavement era and beyond that to date still await remedy must never be forgotten.” * In the aftermath of the Alabama election Black women are in the spotlight for organizing and spearheading the decisive defeat of known sexual offender Roy Moore.  These efforts were not done for Doug Jones but for the protection of the women and their families from further draconian policies. Alabama has a legacy of Black women who have taken a major stand such as Rosa Parks; however, we don’t want to forget Celia who in 1855 killed her white master after being sexually assaulted by him for over five years and was convicted by a slaveholding jury and lynched.**  Many are startled by the fierce determination of Black women in this election and unfortunately resurrect the stereotype of the strong Jezebel woman who can withstand abuse, retort with a sharp tongue and move on to the next challenge.  This however is not the reality for most, the torture, denigration and marginalization of Black woman is as evident now as it was when Celia attacked her “Master”.  Black women make up over 30% of those incarcerated and are likely to be imprisoned four times the rate of white women (; 67% of Black women are sexually abused before they reach the age of 18, unfortunately by Black men who have inculcated the societal ideas that view Black women as worthless, not deeming protection, care and respect (Bureau of Justice Statistics).  One out of every four Black girls will be victimized by sexual abuse in their lifetimes often leading to alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide.  More Black women are killed in America than any other race (, between 2011 and 2013 Black women in the US died at a rate of 40.0 deaths per 100,000 live births compared to 12.1 for white women ( 6-27-17).  Gruesome statistics such as these do not materialize from the sky but for a society that has historically denied respect, justice and protection to Black women that is directly connected to their former enslavement. Our bodies, our humanity has been historically under attack. We did not show up for the candidate, we showed up for ourselves as we have been doing so for centuries. Reparations must be made to those who continue to bare the badges of slavery, our status should not be tied to our historical caretaking and engendering success for whites, but our own merit as rightful citizens of this country.

*Statement by a group of women of African descent involved in the reparations movement, Institute of Black World Reparations Conference, New Orleans, December 8, 2017.
**DeNeen L. Brown, “Missouri v. Celia, a Slave: She killed the white master raping her, then claimed self-defense”, Retropolis, October 19, 2017.

Ife Williams and Yvette Modestin (Lepolata Aduke) and Members of #40