Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Protecting Our Young Men of Color: In the Spirit of MLK

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” Martin Luther King Jr.

Peace my Peoples. This is truly a moment of thinking out loud and releasing it on paper. I move in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I thought my next Reflection for 2012 would be light and uplifting. The fact that I am already writing one means we will have a very interactive year.

I find the timing of this reflection necessary as I think MLK Day should be about how far have we come and where are we going.

This incident has stayed with me and the only way I know to release it, is to share it with you.

On Tuesdays I am at the high school for our HER Project. I try to leave sooner than when all the youth are at the train station. We can all say it, it gets loud and at times there is a tone of disrespect.

A few years back there was a report that youth of color feel harassed and profiled by the Transit Police. I brought this issue to the girls and I found that all agreed with the report. They even acknowledged that sometimes they are not at their best and the exchange gets intense.

In knowing this, on Tuesday as I entered the station, I smiled as I saw a group of young men of color just having fun. They were laughing and their spirits seemed so light. They were “jiving” and making fun of one of their friends.

Immediately after seeing this joyful visual, I saw a Transit Police officer walk closer to them and yell, “Get down to the platform”. The young men began to move right away. I thought, Oh good, nothing is going to happen.

I then look around and the officer follows them to the platform. We all arrive at the platform at the same time and the young men keep talking and laughing. The officer then begins harassing them, “Yeah, I’m watching you. I’m waiting for you to make the wrong move.” I am saying to myself, this is not ok.

One of the young men turns around and makes eye contact with the officer. The officer then begins to embarrass him, “I’m going to pull you by your ponytail and drag you out on your tippy toes.”

Why is he doing this? Why is he trying to create a bad situation? I then make eye contact with the young man and say, “please turn around, mira hacia el frente, no lo mires.” He listens to me. I then move closer and ask that they all please turn around.

I then walk closer to the officer and say, “This is not necessary. Whatever they have done in the past, whatever you think they have done at all or deserve, they are not doing it in this moment. There is no need to harass them or embarrass them.”

He gives me the deadliest look. His partner who has been standing next to him all along says, “Let’s go before this gets ugly.” I am thinking it is already ugly, he crossed the line.

I know some of you are probably saying, “Yvette has gone crazy.” You are also saying, “Yvette does not know these boys to be defending them.” True, I don’t know their past but it still does not justify such a behavior and No, I am not going crazy. All I was thinking about was the lightness in the spirit of these young men. Witnessing that level of injustice, it was impossible for me to turn the other cheek.

I then get on the train and all the young men, about six of them, sit around me and go onto to share that this happens every day. They share that they don’t respond because they know they would get arrested.

Too many of our young men are incarcerated because of this kind of injustice. If we want them to grow, learn right from wrong, then we as adults cannot behave in the way the officer did. He was misusing his power at the risk of ruining the life of a young man. The sad part also is that I don’t think he knew how to stop himself.

We all get off at the same stop and one of them says to me, “Ms. Thanks for standing up for us.” My heart was heavy and my eyes filled up with tears. It was at that moment that I realized why I wasn’t afraid to say anything or to “protect them.” This could have been my nephews Christiaan and Nicholas having fun with their friends.

My peoples, as we move in the spirit of MLK, let us think about our young men of color who need our support, guidance, wisdom and love. Let us all be a part of the solution. We want to see them graduate from high school and attend college. We want to see them standing strong and speaking their truth.

They are our future and on Tuesday, this special group of beautiful young men made me believe, that their future will be bright.

“Faith is taking the first step when you don’t see the whole staircase." MLK

In the light of justice,

Friday, January 6, 2012

Moving from Our Center, Our Rock: Hope in My "Peoples"

Since I began writing these Reflections I use the first one of the year to share a message from members of our family or I take the time and look back on what I wrote and pull areas that were highlighted by others.

This year I will move with voices that moved me to tears and filled my heart with love and hope.

I will begin by sharing why I chose this title and why I ask that this be our mantra for 2012, Hope in my Peoples.

I use the word my “Peoples” because it makes me think, Love. One of my friends always says, Is that your peoples? I love the sound of that! It makes me feel like we are all connected. So that is my new favorite word for the new year, my “People’s “. You are my “Peoples” wherever you are standing. It makes me feel grounded and tribal every time I say.

2011 was The Year of People of African descent. It was a year to celebrate, gain clarity, see movement and build unity. I saw this a few times but I cannot help but say, not enough. I feel we are closer but still not unified. We are still not “seeing” each other.

Many are rejected for speaking truth. Our community, our organizations, our “peoples” are still struggling to stay afloat. This economy has had a direct impact on all of our spaces.

As one of my mentors said, It is time for a “shift” What kind of shift” That is the question I move with into this New Year.

My “peoples”, how do we really take care of ourselves and our community during these challenging times? How do we honor all that we come from without fear?

I feel we can answer these questions together. I met so many wonderful people in 2011.They are the kind of “peoples” that I will stand close to and cherish for a long time.

I also enter 2012 feeling closer to those that are in my life and I will continue to honor the care and wisdom they share with me. Death, pain and struggle does that, it really lets you know who is there.

What have we learned this year or what do we know for sure? I learned that racism still exists. I saw more moments of racism, felt confusion amongst us and a lack of understanding that was painful to watch.

I found myself in many exchanges with friends who thought the visual representation of my Africanness was too much and it was, at times to them, a rejection of me being Panamanian.

If there is one thing I am entering this New Year knowing for sure is “Africa is in Panama.”! It’s in the history, the structure, the water, and the people.

Familia, every year is the year of People of African descent. We do not need to wait for the United Nations or the OAS to tell us. How do we move forward when every day we are reminded that being Black is a struggle.

One my answers came in a message from General Ishola Williams from NIgeria. After the sudden death of my hermana Sonia Pierre, I became concerned about the future of Women of African descent and our overall health and well being. I wrote a Reflection about Sonia as I felt it was important that those who knew her, share her.
The General, as I like to call him, sent me the most touching message that I then went on to read at the gathering celebrating her life.

He wrote, “The African Gods take back those who have completed their task assigned to them in this world so that those who know and worked with them continue where they left off. It is appropriate that those she left behind continue. However, how do these tragic events energize us or do they weaken us? Do they strengthen our solidarity and spirit? If they do then they did not die in vain like Marcus Garvey etc. Therefore, your blog has put forward more challenges. But where do we start? We can start from a group of Descendants who are proud to be known as “non-resident Africans” in our color, dress and hairstyle etc. Have respect for African religions; build a philosophical and pragmatic framework for solidarity amongst resident and non-resident Africans. To be energized for greater action is to honor Sonia. She has done much within her short life to be an ancestor.”

This message gives me hope and I hope that it does the same for you as you read it. I believe in our “peoples” if it comes with the depth and gentleness, of a voice like the General.

My other moving moment that I want to share with you in this New Year, is the words of a woman who in her presence, is a visual representation of why I love Black women. Ms. Phyllis, as I like to call her, is from Belize. We met through our work with the Red de Mujeres Afro. I have been blessed to spend quality time with her, visit her home and gain a friendship that will stand for a long time.

I saw Belize through her eyes, so I could only love Belize because of my friendship, my love and admiration for Ms. Phyllis. Whenever she writes me, I cry and reflect on her words for days. I am moved that she knows me so well and that she speaks directly to my heart.

After writing my reflection, An African Glow, she wrote me this message. “I am honored that you mentioned my name and comment in the article. Though I know many “Afro descendents” in Central America and South America, none of them really seem to embrace their “African Roots” as much as you do. You have been on a quest to learn, absorb all that you can about our people who brought so much on this journey and who are fighting not to lose those things. By doing so, and sharing with me, we have both grown. Thanks for allowing me to walk on this journey with you and I hope that we will reach our destination together.”

Those words can fill your heart with all the love and energy it needs to keep moving forward. I will carry them close as I move through 2012.

I would also like to leave you with a visual for the New Year. As a Community Services Trauma Responder we used the visual of dropping a rock in a puddle of water and the amount of circles it would form. That is how we explained the impact of any trauma on a family and a community. No matter how close you are to the rock, you can be impacted in some form.

For 2012, I would like to use that same visual. The rock will represent, love, respect, spirituality, truth and humility. As I drop this rock, I would like the meaning of this rock to reach you in Roxbury, Haiti, Santo Domingo, Panama, DC, and Nicaragua, Nigeria and Martinique. I would like it to land on all my “PEOPLES”.

If we can move with the understanding that the impact is felt everywhere, then we can move from the same center. This center, this rock, builds on the best that we have, it gathers light from the wisdom and knowledge of our ancestors and celebrates us as a unified community.

In moving from our center, we will build stronger relationships with each other, we will cherish each other and highlight the gifts we bring. Since I took a step on this road, every person I have met has taught me something.

I will close with the words from a New Year’s message sent to me by the General, “Remember that the beginning of tomorrow is today.”

I am a seeker full of hope. Today, I move from our Center, our Rock, with the faith and hope in my “PEOPLES”.

May you be well, May you be loved, May you be lifted in this New Year.

Happy New Year familia!!

Peace and blessings,

This picture was taken at home in Panama during the filming of the documentary. I felt safe and protected in this beautiful landscape that is why I say with great certainty, Africa is in Panama.