“We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience and patience creates unity.” Malcolm X
Encuentro Diaspora Afro began this year with a message of hope and love. We heard from many in our family who shared these thoughts with you:
Happy New Year to all from the Encuentro Diaspora Afro family. We entered the New Year with change in the air. This change is asking us to look inward, to be more open and to challenge ourselves to grow and expand. In working towards that goal, we would like to share the words of the Encuentro Diaspora Afro family. These are heroes like Mr. Claral Richards, the Nelson Mandela of Panama, my father, my 16 year old niece, our spiritual community, my cousin in Martinique, dear childhood friends, my sister and staff/advisors to the organization.
Our energy is strong from our new elected President and our thoughts are filled with possibilities.
We hope to continue to share and grow with you in 2009.
This is a very important and historic year. The election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States is a hugh psychological boost for people of African descent around the world. It is inspiring to people who are still relegated to the bottom of humanity. Obama's election is an inspiration to become active politically and to fight for our god given rights as human beings. This year we must let our work be inspirational in helping those who are globally impacted by the social, political and economic policies of the greedy economic elites around the world. We must let our Ori (spiritual head of destiny) guide us and remember that Black is beautiful and Africa is still the center of the world.
-Tony van der Meer
We the African Panamanians are deeply satisfied and very happy for the great victory of our Brother Barack Obama. We cherish the opportunity to remind you that we are the same people; we were all brought in slave ships from different parts of West Africa by Europeans from Spain, England, France Portugal, The Netherlands who imposed upon African men, women and children their own languages. This fact doesn't make us different, It is time for us to unite in soul and mind in this Continent which we helped to build up for many centuries.
Mr. Claral Richards
Afro Panamanian Leader
I pause today to look back at our Reflections for the year and ask, Did we have the movement that we hoped for? Was there love in our message? Was there an opportunity to love each other and our individual self without shame and did it bring us closer together?
My year began with a very spiritual trip to Belize where I wrote;
When the meeting began, I reached over to Dorotea the Netwok/Red General Coordinator to say, we may need to do an ice breaker. I then caught myself and said I am among Caribbean women the love comes out of our pores. There was never discomfort in the air. Once we shared our work the connection was made deeper than any ice breaker. Dorotea then said the energy around us is doing the work. We all looked over to the elegant movement of the waters.
As I do in any place I travel, I went for a run. This makes others nervous but I always feel safe, at times, safer than I do running in Boston Streets. Everyone greeted me with “good morning maam”. How loving, how comforting to know that there is still genuine love and respect among our people. These gestures reminded me of my own upbringing. I was not allowed to call anyone outside of my immediate friends, by their first name, it was either auntie or Ms or Mr.
After my run, I found some of the women in the waters for a morning dip. We did not worry about fancy bathing suits, or anything that would get in the way. It was about the pure pleasure of soaking in this warm refreshing water. What better cleansing of the spirit and the soul than this. I found myself going in fully clothed. We sat for an hour sharing stories about home and our Caribbean upbringing. This would then become our morning ritual. Our rooms were no more than 20 feet from the ocean. So with no hesitation, I fell asleep and woke up daily to the sounds and depth of Olokun.
We held onto this sense of community, of purpose as the year moved on. When I look back at the hope in my heart and in the eyes of the many youth that I came in touch with, I feel that the conversation that did need to happen on a larger scale did not. The level of racism that I saw, felt was like no other. It was not hidden. It was blunt. The question was and is, are we naming it? That theme led me through my next few Reflections.
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!
This was a defining moment for me. It validated that there is still so much work to do. It spoke to the need for the internal conversation going side by side with the external. But it is moments like these that I hold onto the words of the many people who inspire me and one in this reflection was Mr. Claral Richards.
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.
This year brought a great sense of clarity of my childhood and the role, the depth it has played in what I do on a daily basis. We mourned and celebrated Michael Jackson and my teacher, Mr. Phillip Henry. I began to see things differently and memories came to light.
As the year moved, we went further away from love, self-love and unity. My sadness came out during some major incidents. The response to this reflection was overwhelming because so many were impacted by the incidents. The part that stood out for most was,
We should not let this time pass us by without acknowledging the deep divide that exists in the Americas.
How do we mend our broken communities? How do we heal the deeply rooted history that lies within us? How do we build a community that cares for our youth and defends the humanity of our people? How do we create a space that speaks Truth?
We need to begin answering these questions if we hope to move as a people in the 21st Century. By beginning this dialogue, we give hope to those who are coming behind us and justice to those whose shoulders we stand on.
As we began to evaluate our direction, create new questions, in our following Reflection we wrote;
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, go home sit with your family and engage in these questions. Cry, laugh and hopefully begin the healing process within, then when you come out, Encuentro Diaspora Afro will be there to move, walk, hold you, in the process as a community. Embrace your Afro descent identity. Honor your family, your ancestors in all their shades.
This also applies to African Americans, Africans and our allies. This is a time for all to return home to reflect on our past to know how we can be a part of the healing process of our society.
By embracing your full self, you can then embrace your African American, Caribbean, African, brothers and sisters. We will then be a community that heals itself and removes the shackles from our mind and our feet.
I pause here to share one of my, aha moment, quote from Assata Shakur: “Our desire to be free has got to manifest itself in everything we are and do.”
We did not give up! Encuentro Diaspora Afro had the honor of hosting and participating in events and entering spaces that had fruitful, spiritual and moving dialogue. It gave hope and energy to keep moving forward.
I have always loved this quote by Che Guevarra:
Dejeme decirle, a riesgo de parecer ridiculo,
que el revolucionario verdadero esta guiado
por grandes sentimientos de amor.
Let me say, at the risk of sounding ridiculous,
that the true revolutionary is guided by feelings of love.
I began to understand it better this year on a many levels both professionally and personally. Love, Self-Love, Unity: you can choose your order. What I continue to learn is that if you have early examples of love, then some obstacles are less intense, holding each other is less difficult and seeing it when it is right in front of you becomes easier.
Such spaces as the Red de Mujeres Afro is built on this quote. No matter how strong our individual position in a discussion, the ultimate goal is the advancement of Afro descendent women.
The Ifa study group, were we learned the verses and discussed them as they related to our everyday life created a spiritual love. The constant message was the building of good character as individuals and as a community and gaining wisdom and knowledge from those who have come before us.
Other spaces include our Hispanic Heritage Month event where Artist/Activist Marcos Bellamy moved the crowd with his music and his strong presence. Marco said something in a presentation that has stayed with me. He said, “We should feel betrayed because the system has failed to tell our truth”.
This statement fits with the space that we see growth yet there is a stillness that does not allow us to truly love, self-love and create unity. The H.E.R. Project is a space that teaches us what our youth is really thinking. They are open and raw. At the end of each session we all walk out saying, they are loving a little more today because they are feeling a little safer and comfortable in their own skin.
They are still conversations to have. The Hair issue is an important one for many. The movie “Hair” caused strong reactions based on how much money women spend on weaves. What lacked in the dialogue was the deep damage that has been done to Black women to act and look a certain way. Our hair issues are not just OURS but of a society that is not ready to view us in our most natural form. At times, my natural hair, my Fro, makes me feel naked because I cannot hide behind anything.
Facilitating/guiding the Reflection writing workshop combined all these spaces. We spoke openly, wrote without fear and as one of the women shared, sat at the edge of our bed and had the most important conversation with ourselves. The energy in the room is something I will treasure for life. It was an affirmation that the pen can do wonders for our social and personal transformation.
With all these wonderful moments of the year, one that speaks very close to my heart, the one where there is love, self-love and unity has been reconnecting with dear childhood friends from Rainbow City and high school classmates.
As I shared earlier, I have gained a new sense of clarity of my childhood since reflecting without discomfort and sitting with them. I realize even more that my story is their story. We still have so much in common and by reconnecting we began to love each other as adults.
This space gave me LOVE, taught me SELF-LOVE and because of that, there is a UNITY among us that is indescribable. I know that no matter how far away we are from each other, all we have to say is, Rainbow City, Colon, CHS and we are there.
So as we close out 2009, I Reflect on that Love that I hold dear for my people, my community, all of you, that gives me the energy to still believe that we can make a difference.
May the light shine on you, to create the Unity that will lead us into 2010.