Monday, December 20, 2010

Report Back-Mobilizing, Empowering and Action- US Launching of the African Women Decade

Report Back- Mobilizing, Empowering and Action- US Launching of the African Women Decade

The Decade is off!!! What better way to share this experience with you than to share the words of the day that will bring you into the space and allow you to feel the energy that embraced us all.

We thought it was important that all participants leave with the information that was shared throughout the day so I gathered points made by all the presenters.

I share with you some of my closing and words from the strong, passionate and energizing presenters of the day.
The energy in the room is that of true Sisterhood and Community.
It is with the guidance and the whispers of my ancestors that I stand here with you. What an amazing day!!!

Today we kickoff the African Woman’s Decade yet, it is more than that, today we stand to say, We are here!!! Estamos Presente!!! We remove “I” to say “We”.

Today we say we will create our own agenda, moving from our own reality.

The reality of our health, our community, our family and our future.

We are tired of being ignored. We will not wait for others to arrive. We will take care of our self and of each other.

It has been a wonderful personal experience to be at the table with these amazing women. I have to share that I now know I have a sister in Chioma. Thank you for inviting me to the table. To the Women of the Soil, Thanks.

The flyer spoke to how important this is to all of us. You could not tell who was from where. Our faces, the grace, the kindness, the depth spoke to oneness as women of African descent.

This is our journey of discovery it is our time to heal all that has made us say” You are a different kind of black.” Today we ask all of you present to stand with us, join us as we move towards a better future of a stronger unified black community.

My international work with the Red de Mujeres Afro has showed me that success in Senegal is success in Ecuador, success in Haiti, success in New Orleans.

The Beijing conference marked an international women’s movement. It brought women together and allowed them to share and create a clear gender rights agenda.

The principal themes were the advancement and empowerment of women in relation to women’s rights, women and poverty, women and decision making, the girl-child, violence against women and other areas of concern. This theme continued into the Durban conference on Racism and Beijing +5.

The conference signaled a clear commitment to international norms and standards of equality between men and women that protects and promotes our human rights.

Launching this decade also falls into the UN declaring 2011 as the year of people of African descent.

It is time to rename our priorities to community and self and reclaim self meeting at our root.

Let’s MOBILIZE and build a strong community that includes all aspects of our life. WE ask that our men join us, bring your children along and honor your grandmothers. The Decade highlights the following;

To create awareness and mobilize continental support and
political will in implementing the agreed international, regional
and sub regional decisions and gender commitments.

• To re-invigorate commitment to accelerate implementation on
agreed global and regional commitments on the human rights
perspective focusing on priorities such as education, health,
agriculture, women’s economic and political empowerment,
gender based violence etc

In preparing for today I looked back at some of my presentations throughout the years asking the following question. What has brought me to this place? What words do I carry with me? What words can you leave with today.


I see you!!! I see you Trina, Chuck, Jemadari and Ester. That sounds simple yet when you arrive at that point in your life, the light within shines brighter.

I walk with the words of Assata Shakur as I learn more about myself and my role in the mending of our community. She wrote in her autobiography,” Our desire to be free has got to manifest itself in everything we are and do.”

Today we feel a unity and a love, yes love, for each other. That cannot change when you walk out this space. When someone says something negative about Haiti, Nigeria, stop and say, you are speaking about my sister, you are speaking about me.

As Audre Lorde said, divide and conquer, in our world, must become define and empower.

Let us love each other in the light. Empowerment for this decade should mean a cleansing of self denial and self hatred. Audre lorde wrote in Eye to Eye Sister Outsider- “We have to consciously study how to be tender with each other until it becomes a habit because what was native has been stolen from us, the love of black women for each other.”

Be tender with self. Take the time for your spiritual and physical health.

It is our right to determine our future, we will do so empowered today walking with our heads held high never looking down for anyone.

Today we heard from a group of wonderful women and men.

The MC for the day was Elizabeth Siwo-Okundi. She was amazing. Elizabeth kept everything flowing and did it with such grace.

The Chancellor of UMASS Boston, Keith Motley welcomed all to campus and to the event. He shared that women are agents of change and that he knew that this group of women will be leading this movement, making the world save for women and children. His voice was filled with pride, joy and true partnership.

We also heard from our highest ranking official in the space, State Representative Gloria Fox who in her soul sister, elder grace spoke of the importance of Massachusetts launching this decade. Rep. Fox was followed by the President of the Shalupe Foundation, Jeanne Kasango l. Ngondo and the President of the African Student Union at UMASS, Wlede Stemn.

Our opening Keynote speaker was Ms. Liz Walker. She would answer the question, Why are we here? Why now? Ms. Walker is an award winning television journalist who is currently working in war torn Sudan. She is also an ordained minister. All that said, Ms Walker took it to the pulpit, she truly set the tone for the day.

Ms. Walker spoke of lessons learned from her trip to Sudan. She heard stories about rape and torture. She got there and in addition to addressing those issues, her job became more important. As she said, she had to “walk across the lot”.

She realized that you cannot “Save a people who have been here longer than us.” This was a time to go into the world and learn something from the world. In Sudan she saw relationships, tribalism, clanship and sisterhood. It was time to look beyond material wealth and felt that the world was “Saving her”.

There was a spirit of reciprocity a power shift in this experience for her. Ms. Walker was moving around, lifting her hands with such believe and peace.

She closed by sharing this reflection, which brought on a chorus of Amen, Ase, speak Sister, in the space. “This problem will be solved, heart to heart. We will move on heart. The balance of the world is off. This is a time of great opportunity. We are not here to save each other but to learn from each other. We are caught in a single garment of destiny and we cannot disconnect.”

Ambassador Amina Salum Ali shared the importance of our role in politics and owning our own business. Ms. Ali is the first women to be the Permanent Representative of the African Union in the US.

We then had a powerful performance, Voices of Women of African Descent. that was directed by our own Women of soil Sisters, Akiba and U-Meleni. This group of young women shared their first painful experience with racism. Many cried while listening to these stories.

They closed the performance by saying out loud, “If we speak it, it will become a Decade for African Women.” Everyone joined in, clapping, signing, dancing, to the rhythm of our soul.

The Talk Back was just as powerful as participants spoke openly about the issue of rape and the need to support each other.

After lunch we had the panel, Women of the African Diaspora in the 21st Century. Many felt it was refreshing to see us, women from the Continent, Latin America, the Caribbean and the US engaging in a dialogue on identity, commonality, resiliency, conflict and strategies.

I then came back to my presentation, Mobilizing, Empowering and Action. After listening to what has been shared in this space today, how will you join us? What does it mean to join us? If you want to focus on one area, what will it be?

I went into the crowd and they shared the following;

-Acceptance of all
-Inclusion of young women. Holding hands with young women a treasure/learn process.
-Learning more about the issues that are affecting us in our individual Regions
What will be our testament to each other to our community?
I pointed out two that I feel are very important for our true unity.
-Afro descendents Immigrants- We need to acknowledge, not dismiss the struggle of African Americans that allows us to march down the street today.
-Black men- We love you, we welcome you. We need to change the tone in our exchange.
Hold each other with a bit more care.

What are some of our challenges and what are our hopes for this decade? These are the 10 areas of focus.

1. Fighting Poverty and Promoting Economic Empowerment of
Women and Entrepreneurship,
2. Agriculture and Food Security
3. Health Maternal Mortality and HIV/AIDS
4. Education, Science and Technology
5. Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development
6. Peace and Security and Violence against Women
7. Governance and Legal Protection
8. Finance and Gender Budgeting
9. Women in Decision Making
10. Young Women Movement

We handed out commitment cards. Many took the time to make a commitment to the African Woman’s Decade.

I went into the crowd and many shared some Action Steps.

-Generate money
-Black enterprise
-Promoting Africa
-Shifting language
-Development of a loving dialogue between black men and women
-Story telling
-Protect what we make
-Making our own media

Say I see you, I am here, Presente, Venceremos!!!

As we leave here today, move with the words, My AFRICAN is,

My African is,

The gentleness in your eyes as you see my real beauty.
The kindness in your voice as you call me Queen.
My African is
I will keep my head up high and fight for my right to be free.
We will not be silent.
We will speak out against the system that fails us, excludes us and minimizes us.
My African will extend my hand out, we will walk together for this decade saying I am you, you are me.

What is your African?

Thank you all for coming, thank you for your support. Thank you, Gracias Merci.
Celebrate you, celebrate your Africanness.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Beaming Light-Celebrating Coach Henry Jones

A Beaming Light-Celebrating Coach Henry Jones

As we get older, we gain the ability to reflect on our childhood and those aha moments that shaped us and the people that have had a lasting impact on us.

I recently wrote in my journal, “This journey has made me see Panama in a different light, love everything about being from Colon, celebrate being a product of Rainbow City, know with purpose that my Black is Beautiful and has deepened my Love for those I call Friends.”

It has also deepened my love for those I call mentors and teachers.

Many say, once an athlete always an athlete. The discipline, teamwork, focus that you develop will carry you through life. What I learned from Coach Jones has stayed with me off the track.

With my young women, I always highlight the talent I see in them and hope that they hold it close through good and bad times.

Coach saw me run at the age of 10 and saw something I did not know I had. He worked hard with so many of us. My parents trusted him and allowed me to gain more than good track skills from this amazing man.Coach was an Olympian, teacher, mentor father and confidant to many.

On my recent birthday, I heard that Coach was in the US with his children. I was so excited and on the spot decided I would give myself the gift of going and sitting with him and saying Thank you. I have seen him throughout the years but I was not able to sit and have a long conversation. I was always overcome with tears.

I wanted to ask him so many questions. I wanted to understand why he meant so much to me and to so many others.

I got to see Panama with him as a member of the Colon track team. I learned to push pass class differences with my teammates who are still today some of my closest friends. My love for running comes from this time period of being trained by him.

When I arrived to visit him I was overwhelmed with love for this man. I laughed with him, cried, held his hand, read to him and got to know him all over again on a deeper level.

One of my friends and teammates gave me a joke to share with him. As I told him I saw his face light up. I had shared my plans with others and many took the time to send him a message. They were many wonderful stories, jokes yet I will only share a few.

-He was always about simply doing your best.

-He really helped me…Please tell him, he is often thought about and some things he said to me, I’m passing to my son and daughter.

-Coach Jones was the best track coach ever at Cristobal.!! Striving for excellence with every stride, regardless of the outcome. He was always an encouraging Coach.

-Please tell Coach Jones hello. He taught me a lot about life. He is the man!!!

-Please give him my best and remind him of all those he had a great impact on.

He was moved by the messages and his face was filled with such pride. I was able to read some of my work to him. I would ask him if he was tired and he said he wanted to hear more. I asked about the challenges he faced at home during segregation and what he did to overcome them. One of the things he did was to keep studying. I found out that coach received his Masters in Education from NYU.

The more he shared, the more I realized that this man shaped many of my views on life,moving pass class differences and pride.

On the last day of my visit I woke up early and wrote this to him.

A Beaming Light

Faster than a speeding bullet,
Charming and Gracious as an African King.

Believe in self was part of your DNA.

You walked with pride that was passed on to each
and every one of us.

Doing your best was your song,
Being our best was our chorus,

I am you Coach Jones
because I am disciplined.

An Olympian, a star in our eyes,
Education was your key to success.

You were more than just a man who showed
us to pick up our legs and move our hands.

Father to many, Mentor to all.

I am you Coach Jones
because I am strong.

Preaching Unity from your starting block pulpit,
we were all Colonenses, Beep Beep Colon!!!

We hold your love for running as we find clarity and peace
on a long run through the streets.

I am you Coach Jones because I see love
and give love.

Many ask, who taught you this, I say, this beaming light
on the track field.

Then they ask, what did he say and I share a line that
I will forever hold, “not to worry about them, let them
worry about us."

I see you in me, running past the given line standing
straight and tall.

This is not an accident. I was "saved" in you hands.

Thank you Dario and Kimaura for sharing him with us.

I am you Coach Jones because I am family.

The sun rises and sets on my love for you.

You gave me long life friendships that allows me to sit and
laugh about the cow milk in Coclé, the bunk beds in Bocas,
and the loud music on the bus after another victory.

I am you Coach Jones because you are you,

The runner, the coach, the mentor, the star, the king,
The light that I will always be reaching for.

When I finished reading it, I asked what I should name the piece. I then looked up and saw the light in his eyes and the name came to me, A Beaming Light. I now speak to him weekly and get to share my life as an adult with him.

So today, I ask you all to stand and shout out, Happy 80th Birthday Coach Jones. Thank you, thank you thank you for having a lasting impact on who I am as a woman, a friend and an activist. May the ancestors continue to fill your life with joy and surround you with love.

Love you!!!


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Reflection- Footsteps to Unity

Footsteps to Unity

I am often reminded of why the word Encuentro is important to me and to this journey. It is defined as, meeting and encounter yet, when the name of the organization came to me it meant more.

The meaning of the word as we see it becomes, the gathering, meeting, seeing, acknowledging, accepting and knowing of the African Diaspora. Our collaborative event, Healing from the Roots: Africa in Hispaniola, with the Dominican student association, M.A.N.G.U. and the Haitian student association, Haitian American Society at UMASS Boston allowed all in the space to move with our expanded definition.

We spend a lot of time wanting others to see us, to understand our complexities as people of African descent. Today our focus needs to be how we see each other and accept each other while building towards a better understanding of the complexities of our individual regions.

Looking deeper into understanding that what is happening in Haiti has an impact on Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo has an impact on Puerto Rico. Nicaragua impacts Costa Rica. Colombia impacts Panama. Venezuela impacts Ecuador. Adding to this understanding, our experience in this country and our relationship with Africa Americans, we should see the advantage to building a unified message.

In preparing my opening for the dialogue, I kept saying, Afro descendents of Latin America and the Caribbean need to rename and reclaim history that would speak to our truth.

I shared in my opening a quote by Audre Lorde, “divide and conquer in our world, must become define and empower.”

It is time to redefine Latin America and the Caribbean by placing our African ancestry at the root.

By empowering ourselves to move past all the misunderstanding, address the racism and some might even say the hate, we can then take footsteps to unity.
I commend the students for taking this brave step to engage in this difficult dialogue moving from pain to hope.

Posing the following questions helped us move in that direction. Who has benefited from the struggle of the working class and the poor? Do you think you have African roots? How do we deal with the presence in each country?

Zenaida Mendez was our Dominican speaker. Folks remember that name!! She is a true feminist leader. Zenaida spoke of the similarities between Haitians and Dominicans. She shared the fluid exchange of Dominicans and Haitians in her upbringing, highlighting food, music and spirituality. It was also necessary and important to speak of the painful history which many would say, feeds the existing tension between these communities that share an island.

Other points to highlight: Dominicans helped their neighbors during the earthquake crisis. The other many would say, speak to the internal struggle in Santo Domingo. Dominicans do not have “Black” as an option on their passport. What does it mean that you do not have the option to self identify? She then, in Zenaida fluid style, shared a famous phrase, “todos tenemos negro, detras de las orejas.”

Alix Cantave was our Haitian speaker. Prof. Cantave also began by sharing a personal perspective of the connection of Haiti and Santo Domingo. His tone was of hope and development. He shared that something to recognize is that our legacy is rooted in a hierarchy of class and race.

Visuals can always take your thought process to another level, especially when numbers are presented. Prof. Cantave shared a power point that highlighted the disparities that exist such as economic inequality, poverty and education. Of the 10 million Dominicans, 1 million are of Haitian origin. The poverty level in Santo Domingo is 40% while in Haiti it is 80%.

When I travel to Santo Domingo I see Haiti and vice versa. One of the many blessings of this journey is that I see myself in the faces of all people of African descent. There is something wonderful and special when they also see you.

Haiti and Santo Domingo are two nations trapped by historical circumstances. It is time to dismiss the anti-propaganda, this ideology that has benefited the dominant class.

It is time to open our hearts and minds, to listen, to really see our neighbor.

Zenaida and Prof. Cantave shared a profound willingness to support the students by using the momentum of the event to create a project that will continue the exchange.
Prof. Cantave pointed out some specifics to keep in mind.

-Understanding the disparities
-Economic development
-Collaborative approach
-Inter-Country planning and strategies

The Dominican and Haitian students at UMASS Boston have begun taking their footsteps to unity. The Professors present pledged their support. The Encuentro family will walk closely with them as they seek truth and wellness for their communities.

We should all move with the students as a Region and as a people who continue to be invisible and excluded from the larger dialogue in our perspective countries.

Success for one is success for all!!!

Join us by putting on your best shoes and begin taking your Footsteps to Unity.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Reflection- Guerrera Spirit

Guerrera Spirit

“It is days like these when I stand with and before these amazing women, with the spirit of the ancestors, that my journey/purpose makes absolute sense.” 9/10/10

I shared that statement with friends at the end of the first day of the IV ONECA/CABO (Central American Black Organizations) Conference of Afro Central American Women. Our call for this conference was, “ La lucha con identidad de Mujer.”

Part of our work at this conference was to look closely at the UN documents such as CEDAW, CEPAL, Beijing, Durban and Belem do Para by posing some of the following question; do they speak to our reality? Are the governments responding to our needs as Women of African Descent?

Women of African descent in Latin America and the Caribbean are faced on a daily basis with issues of gender, race and poverty. We are constantly addressing how it affects us as individuals and how it relates to our communities.

HIV/AIDS, Prostitution, Trafficking, Immigration and Education were a few of the topics on our agenda. Violence against us and towards our communities was a topic that brought about many emotions.

How many of us are faced with racial violence in our work place or as we walk down the street? Many times we think it is random so we leave one job to go to a “saver” environment. We then realize that there is a stigma, a label that is placed on us as Black women that dismisses our performance.

Afro descendent women need to begin naming Racial Violence which would lead us to have deeper conversation of the long term effect. Moving in that direction, we can then challenge these documents to truly represent what we face by speaking on the internal pain and impact on our self esteem.

I spoke at the conference as a Panamanian woman and a woman of the Diaspora. It was my first time speaking publicly of an incident that filled my family with sadness. I felt a heavy wave of tears coming and in that moment, I felt her spirit, the spirit of my young cousin Gisela Crawford, holding my hand telling me it was time to tell her story.

Gisela was raped and killed in my home town of Colon. I speak of her because the system victimized her all over again. One, by posting the picture of her naked body in the newspaper, two, by not doing a proper rape test because there was no one available during Fiestas Patrias and three, by not wanting to touch her because she could be HIV positive. The lack of process, of outrage and education, led to not having an investigation on this brutal incident.

We ask that our governments develop a process that would better respond to human rights violations. As women in our perspective regions, we need to stand with all women who are faced with any level of violence that affects her well being.

As we prepare for 2011 which has been named, the year of people of African descent, Afro Central American women will continue to speak our truth.

When we come together we work hard, hold each other with care as we carry the weight of our communities on our shoulders and the spirit of our ancestors in our hearts.

The last evening of the conference, we celebrated the spirit of the Garifuna Guerrera Barauda. Barauda was the wife of the great Garifuna leader Satuye. They are stories that speak to her courage while standing next to Satuye during Hondura’s time of war against the British.

That Guererra spirit lives deep in the women who fight for the visibility, recognition and empowerment of the Afro Central American community. You hear it in their voices, see it as they stand and speak their truth, when they walk with pride and hold you with love. I commend one of our guererras, Mirtha Colon, who leads the women’s division of ONECA/CABO for moving with that energy.

We, women of African descent, move to the beat of our ancestral drum. It does not matter how tired we are at these conferences, we always leave celebrating and dancing. When we dance you see grace, joy and an ability to get down low like no bodies business.

Guerrera Spirit moves with those women who fight hard, love hard and see the light that leads to justice for our communities.

La lucha continua,


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reflection-Grounded in Blackness

Reflection- Grounded in Blackness

Honoring my Mother

In continuing to share my internal dialogue out loud, I share my Reflection, Grounded in Blackness. In writing on this week, I celebrate my mother on her birthday and honor her on the anniversary of her passing. Thanks Mama for grounding me in my Blackness.

I write this with a Malcolm X phrase in mind. Malcolm X stated many times, “Being Pro Black does not mean I am anti-white, it just means I am Pro Black.”

I ask myself and you, what does that mean for people of African descent today?

What does it mean to the community we live in? What does it mean to you?

What led me to ask these questions and continue repeating Malcolm X’s words were a few incidents and moments that have left a lasting impact.

In telling one of the stories, I hope I bring you along to the realness of the pain I felt at that moment and since.

I was on a bus in the community. A Latina, visually to me, of African descent, was sitting in the front with her two children. The little girl was so charming that we had already chatted while waiting. Soon after an African American woman came in with a baby carriage.

She looked at the Latina woman and said, get up. She did not say please or excuse me just, get up. The Latina woman looked at her and would not move. The stand off prohibited others to enter the bus.

Finally another Latina woman said, “sientate aqui,” sit here. The woman with her two children seemed to be struggling deeply with moving but she finally did.

Everyone began to enter. An elder West Indian woman was one of the first to
enter. One thing I have learned with my West Indian elders is that they will speak their mind and she was no different.

With her strong presence and accent she said, “cho, that child fresh, I would not move, me move with that rudeness, cho.” I kept saying to myself, this is getting uglier.

My luck, the West Indian woman sits next to me. Now I feel that I am fully engaged in the situation. She keeps going on about how rude the woman was. The African American woman then directs her words to the West Indian woman. She yells, “shut up, go back on the boat that you came from with your stupid accent.”

Ouch, I thought. There was no need to go there, this is getting really bad. I then look at the West Indian woman and in my own Caribbean accent said, “Maam, please let go, this is not good and you should not be spoken to that way.” She looks at me and says, “Sweetie, you West Indian” I say yes, Maam, my grandparents are. That was her introduction to share her disgust with what she was seeing and hearing.

I am thinking this is done then, the African American woman directs another statement to her and says, “you don’t belong here, go back to where you came from.”

This situation becomes deeply painful to me. Why? All these women are connected, connected in their Blackness, connected in their history as people of African descent.

My spirits is on fire as I sit with this pain. I know I will need to say something. I have already calmed down the woman next to me. The Latina woman’s daughter was looking at me for comfort through the entire incident. I then feel the need to connect with the sister at the front.

My stop is coming up so, I stand and move closely to the front, I slowly step next to her and say, “Sister, the next time you tell anyone to go back on the boat to where they came from and that they do not belong here, ask yourself, how did you get here, peace.” I slowly walked off and have not been able to shake off the visual pain of the incident.

I ask again, what does it means to be grounded in Blackness or Pro Black? Why did I see the connection?

First, Being Pro Black means loving self and loving my Black brother and sister unconditionally.

Pausing for a moment, I know that putting this out is thought provoking and may mean some isolation but there is a sense of freedom that hugs you when you are speaking truth to your own reality. This is not the time for easy conversations if we really want to transform our world.

I made a list of a few things that answer the question for me at this moment in my life.

Being Grounded in Blackness means;

-Feeling the pain of all who face the inequality and racism that exist in our society.

-Feeling responsible for the city that shaped me. Acknowledging the obstacles it faces and looking at those who say, “I cannot go there” that I can because that is who I am and what I come from.

-Naming the Health Care disparities that exist that places my family in the position to fight for the best treatment for my nephew who is battling cancer.

-Loving a Black man and all he brings to the table.

-Hugging my nine year old nephew and letting him know that he is bright and can think outside the box.

-Telling my niece everyday that she is FABULOUS.

-Feeling the hurt of any Black woman who is rejected by any Black man for the stereotypes that have been placed on us, such as, too aggressive, confrontational and not those that speak to our depth as, survivors, loyal and loving.

-Acknowledging the deeply rooted Institutional racism that exists in the Americas and naming those who benefit from the division in our communities.

-Telling my girls from the H.E.R. Project and every young girl of color, that they are strong and intelligent.

-Embracing, learning and acknowledging a spiritual philosophy that has been labeled as devil worshiping.

-Standing strong while you sit with your discomfort as we continue to face the inconsistencies in health care, education and economics.

-Feeling responsible for not being home to push back at those who think Colon is what it is only because of the people. Colon is not in the state that it is only because what many say, the people are lazy, the crime, which I acknowledge is really bad, but also because the government has forgotten about the people specifically those who make up the majority of the community.

-Loving the texture of my hair, the curve in my hips and the rhythm of my soul.
Grounded in Blackness is not being taken off the path that people of African descent will be loved, held, acknowledged for the work and the depth that we awake to everyday.

These are many questions and thoughts as we transform and grow. Once your eyes are open you see so much and feel so much that there is no going back.

Some others;

-Walking in Chota, Ecuador and crying from the deep sense that we were and are here.

-Continue to learn about my family and sharing the real story.

-Defining myself, my identity.

-Walking away from your insult because nothing you can say, including, “ I have a Black friend” can change the fact that you crossed the line.

-Knowing that those who walk close to me and have had a lasting impact on me who are not Black find our similarities, our humanness, but in opening my eyes to the reality of my childhood and my experiences as an adult, that our roads take different destinations when my Blackness come into play.

-Not loosing focus to the discomfort of others who refuse to hear our reality.

-Believing in my power to change and give to my community.

I give thanks to my mother for leaving a legacy of being proud and not allowing anyone to shake that, for showing me the connection between every Black Panamanian, leading me on a deeper search of that unity. Thanks, for the gift of seeing myself in Nicaragua, Belize, Ecuador and the women of Nigeria.

Thanks Mama for supporting my need to break down the barriers that I saw as a child, for reminding me to take my shoes off to be one with my teammates on the track team and for sitting us down as a family to watch Sounder.

I will continue to build a list and walk with the spirit that keeps me Grounded in my Blackness. Build your list and allow yourself to be free.

Peace and love,

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reflection-We Believe!!!-Introducing the Young Women of Tomorrow

The H.E.R. Hermanas Exchanging Roots cycle at Community Academy has been simply, Priceless. We have all learned from each other and know that this space will have a lasting impact on all. These young women have realness about life that most adults do not and they brought it to the space.

The curriculum covers such topics as racism, roots, light skin/dark skin, good hair/bad hair?,women who inspire and violence. We also discuss currents events as shopping while black, music lyrics and it representation of women of color, the NY city mural and Howard Stern’s comments about the Precious actress.

I introduce to you, Ms. Justine Grace. Ms. Grace is the Counselor at Community Academy. Her presence and commitment in the school and group made it a success.

In their own words, raw and honest, are the Reflections of these amazing young women. With Pride and joy, I introduce to you a few of The Young Women of Tomorrow whose words will move you, bring you closer to the reality of our community and make you believe that the message of Self-Love lives in them and we will have the next Maya, Alice, Ana Irma and Michele’s of tomorrow.

When you see this girl

When you look in the eyes of this girl
Tell me what you see

Do you see a girl who has been hurt or a girl full of success?
Do you see a girl who gives up on life and sometimes the people around her?

Do you see a girl who has witnessed deaths?
Do you see this girl who wants to be a lawyer?
Do you see a girl with attitude and an excellent personality?

When you look at this girl and you have her look in the mirror and she
sees her reflection,
She tells you she sees a ugly girl who won’t amount to anything in life,
Then she turns around and shouts out, I am nothing but a ugly girl,

You see, she has low self esteem, no matter how much her family is by
her side.
You look at this girl and see a young African American girl who can be
someone in life.

You tell her your life story, she tells you hers
Then you realize that this girl does believe in herself after letting
everything out.

She looks back in the mirror and whispers, this girl I see is the new me,
This girl is Myshelle Bey.

Looking back at the year has brought back lots of memories for me. Seeing the change in each of you is the reason I do this work. We touched upon so many different topics this year, all discussed for a reason. The goal with every group is that you listen to each other, learn something about yourself; about your peers and that you develop into responsible and successful young women.

Wednesday’s are something I’ve been looking forward to all year. The relationships I have built with each of you are priceless. Each and every week, the goal was always that you took something away from the topics we discuss. From Coping with Stress Anger Management and Zumba to “Shopping while black,” sharing about your families and the latest topic Dating Relationships, you have all been open and honest. Thank you for your contributions to the group.

One thing I would like to acknowledge is the RESPECT you have shown each other. I know all of you have not always gotten along, but for whatever reason, none of that has come out in-group. You have also taken the most important group rule of confidentiality very seriously and I commend you for that. Another important aspect of being in this group is that you have learned how to: listen to others, respect other’s opinions, share and open up about yourself, dedicate your time, be part of a positive activity, function as part of a group which prepares you for college and adulthood and hopefully you learned something about yourself. The connections you have made in the group are extremely important because every time you shared your personal stories, someone else could probably relate and your sharing made them more comfortable. These experiences you will remember for years to come.

Community Academy is a unique school because of the make-up of students. Each of you has come from another school after a mistake you made in your original school. Others may have chosen to be here. Regardless, each of you has tried to make the best of the situation and the limited resources in this building. I know it hasn’t been easy and although you complained sometimes, you still hung in there.

Memories and lessons I’ve learned from the year: field trips, Pine Manor, our lunchtime “chats”, talking sports with my girls especially the Celtics, eating lots of pizza, sharing with each other, opening the bathroom and clearing out the bathroom, medications, crying, hallway duty, millions of cell phones and headphones, “Can you charge my phone Ms.”, I’ve seen you grow, you have tested my patience but this has helped me grow as person dedicated to helping students, but most importantly I will remember your beautiful smiles and the sound of your infectious laughter.

I thank you beautiful, strong and resilient young women for this invaluable experience. Remember, study hard and dream BIG!!! Never give up on your goals and never be afraid to ask for help.

LOVE, Ms. Grace

Sheneka”... When I think about my name and what it means, the following characteristics come to mine; strong, intelligent, independent, hardworking, determined, and successful person. These qualities will guarantee my success. Outside factors like not having much of a family and other things I’ve been through in my childhood are what make me who I am. My mother is a strong person and that part I got from her. She had a rough childhood and she has taught me to be tough and strong because she got through life doing that and it has worked out in her favor. I see myself graduating, giving birth to a healthy child, and then attending college.
The things I value are my unborn daughter, life, and helping people that are in need. I value my daughter because she will be a big part of my life and she’ll be my motivation. I value my life because there aren’t many people who have an opportunity to be in my shoes or even have the chance to go to college. My child will depend on my guidance. I value giving others help because this quality will be beneficial for my social work career.
In six years I will be living somewhere in Massachusetts with a husband and children. I will have a master’s degree in psychology and early childhood education. I will have a job in that field and will make enough money to live comfortably. Right now my first goal is graduating from high school.
I know that I will live a life that I am satisfied with due to my eagerness to succeed. Dedication is another good quality I have and I think people should have that too. When I set a specific goal for myself and I know it’s something I’m highly interested in, then I will dedicate myself to it and finish until the end. Social work is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a younger child.

Sheneka- Community Academy 2010 Valedictorian

My first thought about group was all these girls from different places coming together as one is not going to be good. I told myself to go with open ears and try to understand everyone’s point of view.

I was very surprised seeing all the girls getting along so well and talking about their personal problems with others. I was shocked but happy because now a days girl’s do not get along.

To me, group is a place for me to get away and just be myself no matter what. I trust and look forward to these girls. They are always here to listen and give good advice to anything.

Ms. Grace and Ms. Yvette are my mentors. You are both classy and well respected women and I look up to the both of you for everything you have done for us. You time out of your days to come and spend time with us teens, to hear what we have to say. That means a lot to me because a lot of adults don’t give us the time to express or explain ourselves.

To the public we are troubled kids but you both see us as young women that need to be heard. I looked forward to group because I felt understood.

I wasn’t just a young lady that made bad choices but I was now someone being heard. I am happy to be a member of Community Academy’s girls group.

I am truly going to miss the girls and Ms. Grace and Ms. Yvette. You are a group of beautiful, powerful and inspiring women who have helped me learn to respect myself and others more. I also accept nothing but the best and know that I will receive that I give out.

Thank you ladies so much. I will miss you all.


Started as an invitation,

Fully unaware of what I was getting into.
But as I met up with the girls, I realized that I was becoming part of a girls group.

A group that does not discriminate against race, religion, or appearance,

A place where your secrets and opinions are safe and will not be judged,

An experience that not many girls have the opportunity to witness,

Coming together, having fun and receiving knowledge on multiple topics that we all could relate to.

With the guidance of two beautiful successful women,

Kind hearted enough to be concerned about our inner feelings.

Because of this, I will continue to be part of the group even as, a high school graduate.

I honestly enjoyed myself and can validate that if you take a chance, you won’t regret it!!


An experience from the group that I will remember and consider my favorite was going to the Wang Theater to see the Alvin Alley Dancers.

We had a good time at Margianos. This happens to be one of my favorite experiences because of how entertaining the show was. It was my first time seeing a show of this nature. Then we took pictures to remember this special night.

After this experience, I went to group a week later and enjoyed that we spoke about our problems and the conversation about shopping while black.

I remember Ms. Grace telling me almost every day, come to group, you will like it.

That one day made a difference, I had fun.


My time in group was fun and interesting. I mean in a lot of ways, I never knew I had thing in common with Rayana. I know I started this program late but still to me it feels like I can connect with some of the girls in the group, no matter how many of them go or not.

When we went to go see the Alvin Ailey performance, my first thought was, uh oh, for the simple fact that we all know who we like and we don’t like.

The overall day was good. As we all sat at the dinner table, no one had any animosity or anger towards each other. We just all sat around and had conversations, laughed, joked around and made agreements. This was a plus.

The field trip was my first time hearing about Alvin Ailey. When I saw them dance, my thought was Wow. I mean their dancing was incredible and fun. So the trip was a good way to enjoy yourself with a bunch of females from different places, cultures and ethnicities.

A girls group was really not my “thing” in my old school. To me it seemed a like counseling and I don’t really like counseling that much. Yet, me coming to this group made a difference.

I feel comfortable with myself, confident and I respect myself and the people around me. Being around others who have been through a lot and keep their heads high is a big inspiration to me.

The group has helped me a lot and brought me to a point where I would convince other girls to do it. So I thank you all for this experience.

Myshelle Bey

Sisters, the word sister represents a bond between females. I never really became close to females because of the drama. I’ve never changes my circle of friends because that is what I am use to.

But after coming to group, I realized that they are other females that are going through if not the same thing, almost the same thing that I go through.

We have learned to open up and share with each other which I really do not do. I also made some good friends. These girls were there for me on days when I was down and didn’t really know it. Just being able to have someone listen to me and everything I had to say made a big difference.

I just want to say thanks to the girls, Ms. Grace and Ms. Yvette for being there.


I hope that the words of these talented, beautiful, resilient young women will have you believing in a brighter future for our communities.

We are showered with a sense of pride as we share these words. We believe that they will succeed because as simple as it may be to some, it was important to them that we stopped and listened.



Monday, June 7, 2010

Reflection-PRIDE- Black History Month in Panama 2010

Reflection- PRIDE- Black History in Month in Panama 2010

My reflections are usually longer because I can find the words. This one is short because my heart does not want to let go of the time I just spent at home.
I think this time the pictures will speak for me and the word PRIDE will jump off the page at you.

Pride after this trip means,

P anamanian
R esiliency
I nclusion
D etermination
E nthusiasm

My cup runeth over for everything that it means to be Black Panamanian, to be from a people that continue to get back up as things keep coming at them, to see our ability to be inclusive as we move forward, to be determined to change the image of our dear city Colon and to dance and sign as we celebrate our full self.

Proud to be a part of such a special project-I was home to film my part in the documentary film, Cimanoraje en Panama by Toshi Sakai. After meeting with Toshi for the first time I felt his love for the people of Portobelo and the Congo community. That love alone made me say, yes.

Filming in Portobelo and Isla Grande was simply special. Sandra Eleta, our host is a Portobelo treasure. She has dedicated her life to this community. You see it in her eyes and feel it in her presence.

Coming together with Toshi, Sandra, Sheila, Arturo, Janina and Ali, was a celebration, a validation, of my deep connection to this community. The people show and express nothing but love and all you can do is give it back.

Proud to be Felix Modestin’s daughter- Not many of us get to share our work, our passion with our parents. My Dad has joined me on this journey to seek truth, justice and celebrate our blackness. There is nothing better than to see the pride in his face. It brings out the Frenchman in him, the Zonian in him and the Modestin in him. This has rubbed off on his wife, Melsa, who finds such joy in dressing like an African Queen and that she is.

My work has given me the opportunity to see my father on another level. Painful stories of the impact of segregation on our family keep pouring out. Joyous stories of his childhood in Gatun speak to why when they get together, there is nothing but love in their faces. The pride in our family history allows him to take me on a ride to see the location of the Port in Calle 5 where my grandfather and many other Caribbean workers arrived to Panama.

Moments with my father are a realization that this is bigger than me, bigger than us. We are telling a story of a people that had no voice.

Proud to be from Colon- On the official day of Etnia Negra en Panama May 30th, Colon shines. As I shared before I left, it is a day that we stand taller on the shoulders of our ancestors and for that one day, all the bad that is said about Colon gets put aside for us to celebrate our blackness.

We do it in style as you will see. The women are gorgeous and the men are handsome. We dance a lot. Boy do we dance!!!! One of the parade songs by the Banda Municipal was “Brown Girl in the Ring.” You could not help but high step with the beat.

Planning this parade and all the events takes the entire year. We have a wonderful group of people in the Fundacion Etnia Negra de Colon. One of the members is a childhood friend, Selvia Miller. Selvia was always determined to do something good and she has. I am so proud of her and the other members. Selvia’s leadership has expanded the celebrations into the schools where there is a deeper conversation and community events which is inclusive of all the black communities in Colon.

All this pride is seen and felt all over Panama. Being home to share with my people, the people that have shaped me, builds nothing but a heavy heart of love.
So I stand proud and share with you, the Black Panamanian community. Enjoy!!


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Reflection-Now is the time, Ahora!!

"Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don't, then you are wasting your time on Earth. " Roberto Clemente

Now is the time, Ahora!!

Now is the time for the Black community to heal the internal divide that does not allow us to see each other as Brothers and Sisters.

It would be much easier to sit and let things go by but that is not who I chose to be.

I have been reading and reflecting on the comment made by baseball player Torii Hunter. Before I get to the comment itself, I want to share why I think this is an opportune time for us to move as a community.

To many this may sound like I am minimizing history but we need to break things down a little to get it moving. Our ancestors were forced on a ship and dropped off in different places. We may speak a different language, cook our rice different but at the root of our being, we are all people of African descent.

Almost two years ago, I participated in a panel at the Schoomburg Center called Black, Latino, Both. This event was hosted by the Afrolatin@ Forum.

During the presentation, I made a statement that Afro- Latino players are in the position to bridge the understanding between Latinos and African Americans yet, many do not identify themselves as Black. I was concerned then as I am now because these players are admired by many Latino youth, who struggle with their racial identity. A fellow panelist and I went back and forth as to the level of their responsibility to engage in this dialogue.

I immediately thought about Roberto Clemente as I began writing this reflection.

Please let me get something out of the way. I feel very comfortable speaking about sports as a college athlete in track and tennis and about baseball because of my father and brother’s love of the game.

Everyone knows about Rod Carew, Ben Oglivie, Omar Moreno and my personal favorite, Manny Sanguillen. Yet, I have always said that I grew up with some of the most talented baseball players. Yes, before there was Mariano Rivera, there was Tonio Ortiz, Mauricio Chin, Omar Massiah, Marco Pady, Ricardo Ortiz and Fernando Ramsey to name a few. So yes, I know baseball and now you know a little more about Panamanian baseball players.

Roberto Clemente is the first Latino player to make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I have always loved his story of commitment to the poor and underserved with a focus on Puerto Rico and his work in Nicaragua.

What has moved me the most is his courage to face the racism before him. Mr. Clemente transcended baseball. I sat and watched, Roberto Clemente an American Experience. I was left with the words, humanitarian, pride and loyalty.

He played during the Jim Crow era which was a shock coming from Carolina, Puerto Rico. He learned through painful experiences, that to the white community in Pittsburgh, he was just Black. To his fellow African American players, he was someone they did not understand and struggled to find commonality.

Mr. Clemente was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. who he met face to face at his farm in Puerto Rico. He became involved and spoke out on the injustice that he saw and experienced in this country.

Encuentro Diaspora Afro participated in a national Black Brown focus group. In preparing for the dialogue, we shared with the facilitators that this space would be a Black –Black dialogue, African American and Afro-Latino, a Black –Brown dialogue using their definition, Afro-Latino and Latino and a Black –Brown dialogue, African American , Latino dialogue. We addressed the tension, the mistrust, the historical divide, the pain that was and still is present in our community.

One of the things highlighted in the dialogue was that our experience, the Afro-Latino experience in this country, is an African American experience. It is not until I open my mouth and they hear an accent, I learned that I am seen as a different kind of Black. It is at this moment that I step up to say,” Speaking bad about those Black people, ”African Americans” is speaking bad about me.”

We all agree that they are different cultural experiences in Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo and the U.S. but the Black experience, lack of inclusion, inequality, access, exist everywhere.

Why all of this? Torii Hunter’s comments places us in a position once again to talk, really talk to each other.

The use of the word “impostor” is strong yet, he hits a note. The note, that African American and Afro-Latino players do not truly see themselves as brothers. His words highlight that both sides need to learn more about each other, moving pass language.

Now is the time, Ahora!! Let us not get stuck on the word and take, grab, this opportunity to talk. Let us, people of African descent, transcend the stigma, perceptions that have plagued us.

Baseball is not just a game. During the time of Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente, it was the platform for visible change, a platform to challenge the status quo and now it can be the platform to confront a divide that exist between us, BLACK people.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Reflection- HUMANITY-Words We Should Stand By-Honoring Ann Marie Coriolan

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bare. MLK

As we pause on the birthday of Martin Luther King, his words could not be more meaningful as we continue to mourn with the people of Haiti.

Last year I was asked to do a presentation of the impact of MLK on President Obama. I took it one step further to speak of a leader who had an impact on MLK and those who used the same theme of non-violence and love. Here is some of what I shared with the students.

Martin Luther King Jr. studied the words of Gandhi. In his teachings Gandhi said, “Where there is love, there is life.” As MLK began to gain a larger understanding of what was happening around him he found himself holding strong to this saying, “Non-violence became more than a method to which I gave intellectual assent; it became a commitment to a way of life.”

Other world leaders developed an equal message in their fight for justice and the humanity. Nelson Mandela wrote in a Long Walk to Freedom, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than the opposite.”

In doing the research for the presentation, I found a telegram that MLK wrote to Cesar Chavez. This speaks to the commonality of their struggle. ”Our separate struggles are really one, a struggle for freedom, for dignity, and for humanity.”

I share this with you to highlight the common theme of love for humanity. Why do I think this is so important at this time? Like MLK, once our eyes are open to the suffering of the world, you could not but feel the pain of the people of Katrina, Colombia and Haiti, to name a few.

Through my awareness, I have always felt this strong connection to the people of Haiti because if we know history, then we know that what they did has impacted all people of African descent. We should always salute them for fighting, FOR US!! The people of Haiti have been recovering from many disasters over the years. If you have spent any time there, then you know that this devastation will require years of recovery.

Beyond our connection to the country is the connection to the human beings we see on the news and in the papers and the family members of friends we hear about.

This week has been difficult on many levels. Death makes you get on your knees and pray to those who guide you and reach for those who you carry close to your heart.
With the passing of my dear friend ‘s mother, Mrs. Mayani, I was reminded that if we care for someone then anything that causes them pain, will affect you as well.

We have been receiving direct information from our sisters in the DR who have traveled to Haiti since the earthquake. Their accounts are real and depict a great sense of loss, pain and chaos amongst the people.

My time with the women of the Red de Mujeres Afro, teaches me more than any book could. I have been moved by the dedication and the passion of our Haitian sisters. Today in thinking of the words of MLK, I salute them. We mourn the loss of sisters who were pioneers in the justice of the people of Haiti.

I write this reflection with a heavy heart as we wait for confirming news of our sister, Ann Marie Coriolan. Ann Marie is one of the founding members of the Red. She was filled with love, her smile was contagious. She is a legend in my eyes because her unwavering commitment was a lesson to all.

From the first time we met, I felt like she was family. She always made me practice my French with her because as she would say, “my name was too French to not be able to speak it.” She claimed me as one of her honorary Haitian women. When she spoke, we all listened because we knew that the wisdom she shared would help each and every one of us. I will cherish every minute I spent with her, her laugh and he joy for life.

Many of us continue to wait to hear from friends and family. Our prayers go out to you. We know that many of you are doing as much as you can. We would like to share this information from the Colectiva Mujer y Salud that also needs our help to reach the smaller areas and some of the poorest. This group has one of our founding members Sergia Galvan working to get the items to Haiti.

So as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., let us pause and send out a message of love to the people of Haiti. Let us use our collective energy and send these words out into the universe, hope, peace, love, community, prosperity. Let love and humanity be your guide. Let these words be the words we stand by.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” MLK
Encuentro Diaspora Afro and the Red de Mujeres Afro Diaspora Region, will be indirect contact with Colectiva Mujer y Salud in Santo Domingo. We will also be sending out information on local work with our Haitian comrades.The account information for you to make your donations for the women and children of Haiti, is the following;

Colectiva Mujer y Salud
Banco de Reservas
Cta Corriente No. 010-251497-6
Swift code o ABA No. BRRDDOSD
C/ Isabel La Catolica No. 201
Zona Colonial
Santo Domingo, Rep. Dom.

Principales Necesidades de la Comision de Salud:
Unidades moviles de atención medica
• Ambulancias-Ambulance
• Carpas-Tents
• Muletas-crutches
• Sillas de Ruedas-wheel chairs
• Medicamentos-medicine
• Unidades Sanitarias móviles-sanitary stations
• Refrigeradores de medicamentos-refrigerators for the medicine
• Camillas-beds

Peace and love,
Yvette Marie

Wednesday, January 13, 2010



Here we are in a new decade…a time for reflections and realignment…a need to understand our role in the grand scheme of things. 2010 is a time to pull it together for ourselves, our family, the important people in our lives and our people as a whole.

Before yesterday that would have been the banter of an armchair revolutionary - something that is said at the beginning of the year, repeated during Black History Month, and quickly forgotten in March.

Today we are looking in the face of disaster. There is an undetermined number of casualties and injured in Haiti. Buildings in the capital have been leveled and the airport has sustained extensive damage preventing access in to the country. People are trying to reach loved ones and communication channels have been shut down.

We are familiar with disaster – 9/11, the 2004 tsunami, and hurricane Katrina in 2005. There is one shameful distinction in this tragedy – Haitian brothers and sisters can not take in their relatives and offer refuge while the country is stabilized. It’s no secret that darker people face unfair challenges relating to access to this country. It can take months and years to be able to visit loved ones, go to school or to embark on the “American dream.”

I have personally known some heroic folk that have gone into the trenches to help people in need. I am proud of them but don’t expect everyone to be willing or able to take such extraordinary measures. So I am asking all brothers and sisters of all walks of life to do four things in the short term:

1 - Visit and bookmark Wyclef Jean’s website - for updates from the front line. He has boarded a plane to the Dominican Republic so that he can make his way to his homeland. He’s been tirelessly working for Haiti and needs support now!

2 - Donate money through the Yele Earthquake Relief Fund or by texting Yele to 501501. A text will charge $5 to your monthly phone bill. You can also donate through the Red Cross

3 - Contact your United States senator by phone or e-mail and demand an emergency amnesty program that will enable Haitian Americans to provide temporary refuge to family members

4 - Wait before you begin assembling clothing donations until the Red Cross and the Haitian government have determined the appropriate transportation and logistics for such an effort. It’s all about the money right now and every dollar will help

Pray AND take action.

With that, I wish you all the best today and always.