Monday, June 1, 2009

Reflections- Our Words- A Salute to Mr. Claral Richards

Reflections- Our Words- A Salute to Mr. Claral Richards

Hope everyone is well. We have been extremely busy at Encuentro Diaspora Afro. Our year began with a message from the family about change and new direction. I revisit those words to give me the energy to keep moving forward.

Our recent events, workshops, training have led me to think a lot about the importance of our words as we offer guidance to our youth and we support each to other as human beings and as Afro descendents. In reflecting on the work we have been doing in the schools and community programs, we honor the importance of such spaces such interactions and in doing so, I would like to Salute on Panama’s Dia de la Etnia Negra May 30th, Mr. Claral Richards whose words and guidance have a lasting effect on our work.

I need to take you back a few months and why I sit with this today.
I participated in a wonderful event in Philadelphia that highlighted Afro Latina activism. The people and the staff where all fully engaged in the dialogue. After each presentation, I felt this great sense of gratitude for those who have helped to get me here. We spoke about a diversity of things but one of the highlighted themes was our acceptance of who we are as Afro descendent women. The second part of the event had some local women. In a short space of time, one statement took the air out of the space. It was related to our bodies and our hair. Yes, hair!!! Hair as we all know is truly a delicate conversation among Black and Latina women but natural hair can go from being attractive to sloppy and ugly, in our community. Whatever the intention, it spoke to our internal struggle of how beauty is defined.

I with my “Fro” felt offended by the words but mostly in that moment I was also concerned about the amount of youth with bright eyes that were present and what kind of message this would send to them. The youth came running to us asking if we also felt uncomfortable with the Presenters words. They wanted to talk at length about it. They were filled with such hope of doing work that would highlight the Afro Latino experience. I myself began to reflect very deeply on words and how it impacts our youth and each other.

The following event was a National Latino Symposium Meeting in Detroit. I was more excited that a fellow Panamanian had put my name out than I was about the Foundation actually inviting me. I read all the information they sent and was concerned that the racial issues would not get its deserved time. I felt prepared for whatever would come my way when I was in the meeting. What I was not prepared for was that I would feel the “whiteness” in the space before even entering it. While on my last connection flight, I realized most of the people were also attending the meeting. I noticed them but no one made an effort to even look at me. I have learned to deal with these moments a little better. This time, I sat down pulled out my notebook and wrote the following words.

Do you see me?

Do you see me?
The Me that embraces her full self.
You have no idea that I understand your words, Quien es ella?
I acknowledge you yet, I am invisible in your eyes and mind.
You turn away to not be reminded of your roots.
What roots, you say?
The roots that challenge your white privilege mind.
The roots that built the country that you stand and say, Latino Presente!
The Day you see me, is the day the chains of colonialism will be removed from your mind.
On that day, you will embrace the Tio that the family disowned,
On that day, I will sit with you and say,
You hurt me but I forgive you, and maybe,
Hopefully on that day, You will SEE ME!

On the day of the meeting, the set up of the room spoke to who had the floor. We were spread out and out of 150 participants, only four were identified as Afro-Latinos. If you ask me, the room was full with Black folks!!The race issue was addressed as a Diversity issue only to Latinos and African Americans. My seat was burning. In a very calm way, I stood up and shared, how can we plan on sitting with African American, when we Latinos, will not have our own internal conversation of how we do not even acknowledge the Afro descendent history or community in this space. I then got the, Oh, you where so clear and articulate when you spoke. Yes, again, we all know what that means. Needless to say, once again the words did not match the intent of creating an open dialogue that was truly inclusive.

A few other spaces stand out as I share these Reflections. We participated in writing workshop sponsored by the Bread Loaf Program. I was asked to share some of my poetry and the students and teachers share their words based on the theme chosen. The theme was DREAM. Roberto and I shared a piece and to my delight, 8-10 year olds and some older, Came up and responded to our pieces with their own poems. How fun was that, to hear what the words meant to them.

I always have fun doing workshops and presentations with youth. I do not get many opportunities to share the work and my love for sports. I was invited to do a workshop at the Tenacity Program which is a Tennis and literacy Program. One of the Counselors read the article in the BANNER and contacted me. The youth in the after school program read the article and prepared some questions. I did an opening activity to get a sense of who was in the room as it relates to race and identity. When doing the walk across the room activity, I ask a diversity of questions. This helps them see each other in a different light. One of the questions is, walk across if you are of African descent. One young girl did not. At the end of the workshop, she came up to me and shared that she enjoyed the presentation and that she was not upset with me because she does not like it when people,” tell me I am Black. I am Dominican.” Our time together opened something for her because when I went back to play tennis with them, she was so excited to see me. She began to share what she was thinking since she saw me and that she sees things differently.

This brings me to a space that I am most concerned about, our Public School system. I commend those who walk into this space on a daily basis who take very seriously the impact of their words on the development of our youth. I then need to say, the system itself is damaging our youth. How are we defining success? We are there to create a space for critical thinkers by offering them a variety of ways to look at the world. The racial tensions that exist within the schools, is because of the lack of racial and cultural equity in the schools. We cannot leave it up to the youth to have the answers if we are not even giving them to tools to find the questions. Our words, our guidance to have them find themselves, know themselves is crucial today. We have many youth who are getting to college and have yet to engage in a dialogue about self and identity.
Why is this all important? It is because the words of those who shaped us and continue to shape us, allow us to find new words to navigate our daily life.

We thank our parents and those who we come in contact with on a daily basis. If I have not said thanks in some time, Thank you. I have a very long list of the many men and women, yes men, who continue to inspire me. A recent radio interview made me realize how much I love Black men. Our relationship is intense and complicated but I have not given up. I am enjoying our daily visual of our relationship through the eyes of the President and the First Lady. It is a reminder to us and to all, how we love each other and how we touch each other. Yes, touch!
Today I salute one of the Beautiful Black men on my list. It is said very lightly that he is the Nelson Mandela of Panama. For me he is much more. He has taken his valuable time to share stories with me to give me guidance and pep talks. In my eyes, Mr. Richards, is humble in his presence but walks with a giant heart. His words have substance and wisdom. What I most enjoy about our Sunday conversations is how much hope he has in our generation and the ones to come. He has shared numerous times how we need to spend time with our youth and give them the tools to continue doing the work. I once asked him to share a moment that began all his work. He remembered a friend bringing back an Ebony Magazine. He was moved by the beautiful faces of all the brothers and sisters.

Mr. Richards’s words speak to our connection to each other. He said to me once, when I see a Black man and a Black woman, I treat them as a sister or a brother because we were separated and we never know who is before us.

Today on Dia de la Etnia Negra in Panama, I give thanks to him for his dedication and determination to have this day become a reality. Today with all of you, I say thanks for taking the time to See Me. Your words are an inspiration to rise up and face the challenges for the full inclusion of the Afro descendent voice.

I am product of many things and many people but I can now say I am a product of the words of Mr. Claral Richards. Our youth, our children, my niece, my nephews are us. How we interact with them does help them to be open and prepared to face the world. It’s funny, in pausing about what I have shared I can remember my mother’s words with such clarity because of the love in her voice.

Make your words land easy on the ears and last long on the heart. Thank you, Mr. Richards.


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