Monday, December 31, 2012

KWANZAA- KUUMBA-CREATIVITY- Guerreras y Poetas/Warriors and Poets

KWANZAA- KUUMBA-CREATIVITY- Guerreras y Poetas/Warriors and Poets


Greetings familia on the last day of 2012,

Today we reflect and celebrate on KUUMBA- CREATIVITY. This principle presents itself in our community with a big smile. It shows in everyone I have shared with you in the last six days. We are a creative bunchJ

I love how we express ourselves through music, clothes, poetry and our facial expressions. I enjoy our facial expressions. They always tell the story before the words come out.

Self-expression is something I cheer on in a society that forces us to look and talk the same to be accepted. It is up to us to tell it the way we need to and want to.

As I reflect on this principle I want to share an experience at a conference I attended this year. I attended a Human Rights conference and after speaking someone asked if I could find another word to use other than “racism” and “exclusion” that would make others listen. I responded saying, those words speak to my reality and I was not willing to change it to make others comfortable and I was not willing to give up my truth. The person went on throughout the conference trying to explain to me what she was trying to say. They were so many “wrongs” in her approach. Finally when she did get me alone, she said she needed to explain what she was saying. I heard her out and at the end I shared that I heard her but there was nothing she could possibly say that would change my position or the words I used to tell MY story. My spirit knows no other way.

Telling OUR story in our way, the way that it will be heard and most importantly in a way that it would honor our ancestors and heal our community is a MUST familia, as we move into a New Year. I have learned to practice KUUMBA-CREATIVITY on an ongoing basis because what Encuentro Diaspora Afro moves to do is not always received with open arms. We have had to tell the story through film, music and dialogue. People need to hear the truth in many forms for them to reach their truth, their transformation.

Writing has become my KUUMBA-CREATIVE way to get closer to you. This year we celebrated the words of Afrodescendent Women of Latin America and the Caribbean in the labor of love book “Women Warriors of the Afro Latina Diaspora” by Marta Moreno Vega, Marinieves Alba and I. We are so proud of the book because it brought you closer to the reality of women in Puerto Rico, Brazil, Venezuela to name a few. This was our way to celebrate us by doing it the way we know best by telling our own story and elevating these amazing Guerreras.

If you have not picked up a copy, please do so. We need to celebrate US as much we can.

The other moment of great joy and KUUMBA- CREATIVITY was the release of the “Antologia de Poesia Colonense.” By now you know how in love I am with my Colon so when I was asked to be a part of this book, I was beside myself. It has been a wonderful gift to work with Sr. Luis and Mr. Winston. Their support has fueled a natural comfort with my own words. Colon has had a tough year so this book brings us closer to what we inherited as a creative group of people. When you read the words of these poets we move closer to our natural beauty. I am PROUD to be a member of Grupo Poesia Colonense Contemporanea.   Please visit our website and learn more about the poets and Colon.

Each of you makes our community beautiful. Continue to share your story, your truth. It is through our KUUMBA-CREATIVITY that we raise the spirit of those who see themselves in your words, your actions.
We will continue to restore our light together familia. Giving thanks to you for a year filled with your love and support.

Be safe and see you in the New Year!!


In light,


Sunday, December 30, 2012

KWANZAA- NIA-PURPOSE- Sacrifice- Disciplina, Honor y Abnegacion

KWANZAA- NIA-PURPOSE- Sacrifice- Disciplina, Honor y Abnegacion


 Greetings familia,

Have I told you all how much I love Sundays.  I love Sundays! I love the silence of it and  the gathering of thoughts. So it is with that energy that I sat and wrote today’s Kwanzaa blog with the principle of NIA-PURPOSE. 

Familia, I also have to share how surprised I have been with how the words have just moved on the paper with such ease. We were meant to celebrate/reflect on Kwanzaa togetherJ

“Sacrifice is the order of the day” that is the Ifa line that came to me as soon as I began writing. Purpose brings about sacrifice. Sacrifice brings clarity and grounding movement.

Once we have made that connection then we are fueled by NIA-PURPOSE.  This principle fuels my every movement. It fuels my ability to share with you, to remain on this journey that was handed to me and to LOVE.

I can’t help but think of one of my favorite quotes by Che, that you read at the end of all my emails, “Let me say, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by feelings of LOVE.”

It is from that LOVE that I truly believe we can build our community and continue to be the great people that WE are.

Many have asked where it comes from. I cannot name a moment but I can say that it takes over in a way that does not make sense to most.

Today I want to highlight one of my most treasured examples of NIA-PURPOSE in my life and it comes from my father.

My father has been a volunteer firefighter and member of the Banda de Corneta y Tambores de Colon for 50+ years. I need to add that the Banda is the best Band in the country. I don’t think anyone who has heard “Los Bomberos de Colon” can argue against that statement.

My father recently became Mayor Modestin. We were so excited and moved by this recognition. Not only because of his dedication to this familia but also because of his love for this familia. He believes in their greatness and it has impacted all of us or anyone who has spent anytime seeing him march or heard him talk about “Los Bomberos.”

As my father gets older we love the things that fill up his cup and these three words do it, Disciplina, Honor y Abnegacion. Discipline, Honor and Abnegation or I would like to say, dedication and sacrifice. He is dedicated to this family, community that has spilled over and allows my sister, brother and I to see them as such.

My father’s NIA-PURPOSE to be a member of this community unconditionally feeds my commitment to each and every one of you in the best way that I can.

I believe in you, I believe in our greatness as a people and as a community. It is unbreakable because it is built on my LOVE for you, NIA-PURPOSE.  There is that saying that you can’t chose your family but you can chose your friends, as we move through the day, maybe we can all say, I chose US, our community through thick and thin.

The sacrifices to remain on this journey have been many yet there is no stopping it. I hope, no I want to say, Pray, that today’s words land on you in a peaceful way. I hope that my father’s dedication teaches us all something as it continues to do that for me. I hope that when you look at yourself in the mirror today that you see the grown that we carry naturally and that you hold onto to it as you move through your day.

Peace and Blessings my Kings and Queens!


In light,


Saturday, December 29, 2012




Discipline that is word that came to me as I sat staring at the flame reflecting on, UJIMA-COOPERATIVE ECONOMICS. This principle requires a level of discipline that we do not hold on to long enough.

Every year I buy a Black/African theme calendar for my niece and nephew at A Nubian Notion Inc. Nubian Notion is a family owned Black business in the heart of Roxbury. I love this time of the year in the store. I get my Christmas cards and lovely African centered gifts. I bought my first Kwanzaa book and stand at A Nubian Notion Inc.

The store has a story. It is a community story a family story. They should be bigger but economic times and we as a community not spending enough time or money there, they have had to downsize.

That happens to our stores and businesses a lot. Other cultures go out of their way to buy from each other. We on the other hand are critical and not trusting with our own people.

When we have events I always think, this is a good one, it will be packed. But most dismiss cultural events/gatherings as too heavy. As the principle says, the stronger our community organizations, stores and businesses, the more we profit together as a community. Profit monetary yes,  but profit with a mindset that we can take care of each other, even better.

Today I want to highlight two people very dear to me who wear many hats in my life and I feel have shared Ujima-Cooperative Economics in a loving, natural way with the community.

Gwendolyn McCoy or “Gigi” is a dear friend. She is a strong voice in the development of Encuentro Diaspora Afro. Gigi has known me since undergrad. When we reconnected, she shared that she had a flower arrangement  business. Since then, in keeping with the Encuentro Diaspora Afro tradition, she does a flower arrangement for our altar. They are beautiful familia because she does it with love and care for the community. Please visit Gigi’s site and next year on Valentine’s Day when you are thinking about buying a unique, lovely arrangement, remember her name. You can visit this website, Makes Scents Floral Design, to see some of her work.

The next person to highlight is my Baba, friend, mentor, Tony Van der Meer. Tony had an idea to make Black/African centered spiritual candles. We heard about it, next minute we saw him buy all the tools etc. he needed to make this happen. Then finally we saw the final product. Each candle carries a spiritual meaning with a scent. When you burn them, the flame, the scent and the meaning behind them take over your space and your thoughts. That is exactly what Baba intended to happen. This is a way for us to ground ourselves while we profit as a community. Visit Soul Vibe Candles at

These two members of the Encuentro Diaspora Afro family inspire us to follow through with our passion and talent. I know so many people who do so much at home that should be shared in the community but worry if there will be support.

We need to get to a place that as long as it is in the community and owned by us, we should automatically support it. If we can get to that place, then we will have more spaces that not only speak to our hearts but also our minds and we can help those who create these spaces to profit and build.

As you go about your day today, stop and visit Gigi’s and Tony’s sight and begin planning your order. Then when you go about your Saturday errands, stop at a community store and buy something, anything and introduce yourself to the person at the store. It is a wonderful feeling to enter your community store and they call you by your name or recognize you, it feels like home and home is where I would rather put my money.

In light,


Friday, December 28, 2012



As I lit my candle and sat before my stand keeping today’s Principle, UJIMA-COLLECTIVE WORK & RESPONSIBILITY at the center, a childhood story came to me. Stay with me familia as I will bring it or hope to bring it all together for you.

I joined the Colon Track Team in the fourth grade. I was so excited that my parents said yes to Coach Jones. I remember my first day at the stadium with my cute shortsJ and sneakers. As we got closer, I realized some of my teammates and now dearest friends were running barefoot.  I was not happy about it. I had a look on my face and my mother got very upset.
My mother then had a “Mama” moment and pulled me by my ears to the back of the stadium. She then firmly looked at me and said, you will take off your sneakers and join your teammates and you will never make them feel bad or less than. She ended her moment with these words; you are them now and forever.

Familia, I did become one of them and still am. My teammates where from all parts of Colon and we became a family, a community with a capital “T”.
We traveled together all over Panama, slept in great spaces and not so great. When I had my first adult exchange with Coach, I realized his intent was to bring young kids from all over Colon regardless of class, together as runners but the bigger purpose was as brothers and sisters. As I sit and share with you, I now know that my parents and Coach Jones left a lasting example of UJIMA.

Every single one of them is still that to me that is why I see myself in every Black face and feel all our joy and pain. From that young girl and through my travels my eyes are open and willing to receive which has brought me to a place that I know I don’t need much to survive.
As we continue to grow and gain clarity on who we are as an organization then the name makes more sense, the coming together of the African Diaspora. Every Black/African problem is our problem. When we heard what was happening to the Garifuna community in Honduras we shared the story, When Dr. Camargo faced that racist moment in the supermarket in Panama, we shared the information and joined her in her fight for justice. When we had our “Dia de Trenzas” I had my trenzas.

When Francia spoke about the displacement in Cauca, Colombia, I thought of Curundu, Panama, Bocas del Toro, Panama, Belize, Costa Rica even the South End and Roxbury. Some call it gentrification or “Progreso” but for many it is displacement from family and community.
In thinking of UJIMA- COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY, if one of us doesn’t win then none of us wins.

No moment was stronger this year as the shooting of TREVON MARTIN. We felt every teen’s pain, every Black man’s struggle and our communities search for justice and equality. The young women of the HER Project reminded me that it was also every young woman’s problem as they also feel profiled.
My heart feels heavy thinking of other moments this year when I did not see this happen but today I want us to reflect on putting the “T” back in Team. I am staying on the side of good today because my mother is guiding my words.

If you played any sport, been a part of any group then you understand the phrase, “ I got your Back.” I ask each of you to use that phrase with each other. I got your back, my brother, my sister and the “T” in Team will show its glorious face in our communities.
A cheerleading moment is creeping up but I will spare you or I should say, save myself from the embarrassment of a bad cheer. J

Our Global African TEAM will have the colors of our home country while we hold up, BLACK, RED AND GREEN. UJIMA – COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY will be an amazing home run. Yes, I am a daughter and sister of men who love baseball so that came natural.
I kneel to the ancestors a lot on this one. I ask that we become more humble with one another, to lean on the side of TEAM more. That we come together in good times and bad times and work as a TEAM. That we use the energy, the Ase, to build us UP.

The “T” in team is alive and present to receive and hug you. Peace and blessings my People.

 In light,

Thursday, December 27, 2012




Caring and loving each other is what we will strive for in practicing this second principle of Kwanzaa.

In 2012 I felt showered, protected and guided by family members, mentors, friends, staff, Advisors, colleagues who moved with the energy of Kujichagulia-Self- Determination. As a community, as a people, I move with the thought that it is not about anti anything or anyone; it is about Pro US, Pro Black, unconditionally.

From creating healthy spiritual spaces, new institutions, expanding and growing, Kujichagulia-Self- Determination was alive in our community. The list of those who inspire me, support me and guide me is long and dear to me.  To each of you, thank you.

The example of this principle I would like to share highlights someone dear to me, my sister Michele. My sister exhibits Kujichagulia-Self-Determination in a way that makes you join in. She is determined to keep our family traditions and is amazing in making sure my niece and nephew know who they are and what they come from. My niece moves with a clarity that is unshakeable. My nephew validates that Black boys can succeed.

That fire showed up when my nephew was called the N-word at school.  His response was what I would expect from him and what we would hope from all of us. It was his way of defining himself and not letting his classmate do so for him.

When Christiaan’s classmate crossed the line, my nephew told him that he could not use that word to define him and that he came from a line of strong black people. He then walked to the Asst. Principal and told her what happened and that she needed to do something about it because it was not ok. When my sister received the call from school, they shared that Christiaan was visibly upset and he let them know that it was wrong.

When I got the call, I was so proud of him and my sister. Familia, my nephew is only 11 years old. I ask of us, Can we take on the energy that my nephew carried in 2013? My nephews act reminds me of the famous Fredrick Douglass quote, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

I do believe that we can repair if we move with the same Kujichagulia-Self-Determination that Christiaan expressed. The N-word is used more than people’s birth given name. I have heard full conversations where no name is called to identify a person. I walk away asking, what is his name?

Another hope for the New Year as it relates to Kujichagulia is that we begin greeting each other as the King and Queens that we are. I grew up where I could not call an elder by his first name. It was seen as disrespectful. I have so many aunts and uncles because of this practice. Here is another one, Can we say good Morning and Hello to each other without fear. It should not be a shock to say Thank you. I then get, “You are not from here.”
In celebrating and reflecting on Kujichagulia-Self-Determination I would like to share a few lines that we can all repeat, sing, and chant as we move through the day.
We are determined to tell our a ancestors story
We are determined to honor the people who have shaped us.
We are determined to love each other unconditionally and find ways to heal as a community.
We are determined to protect our legacy
We are determined to be inclusive of all our voices
We are determined to move as Global Africans
We are determined to uplift our NAME
Ase O!

By embracing this Kwanzaa principle I will continue to meet you at the Root. I am determined to love you no matter what, no matter where you were dropped off, no matter what language you speak.  May Kujichagulia-Self-Determination, guide us as we hope and pray for the betterment of our people in this New Year.


In light,



Wednesday, December 26, 2012



Umoja-Unity- I AM- YO SOY

To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race

When I reflected on the meaning of today’s principle, my first thought was as a people, as human beings, we did not practice this too well in 2012. Yet, we did have some impacting Umoja moments.

What made them stand out? What can we take from these moments and carry them into 2013? I want to begin with the good. Good makes me smile and fills up my cup. The world today has bombarded us with a lot of bad.

As it relates to the Encuentro Diaspora Afro family, we gained a sense of clarity in defining who we are and what we are doing. With the guidance of one of our Advisors, we placed one word in our Mission/Vision statement that made a significant shift, “misinformation”. We are addressing the misinformation that has been written about us and by doing so we create, UMOJA-UNITY in our community.

We saw this happen in other spaces without extra effort because we met at a common place, a place of pain and need to speak the truth and make the deeper connection. That came when we facilitated two Wellness Forums. One of the forums, a Youth Forum, came soon after the shootings of four young women which brought to the surface the violence in the community. The others came during our book events, the TAK Ladies Radio Show, the release of the “Antologia de Poesia Colonense” and our most recent event with Francia Marquez.

Only the Encuentro Diaspora Afro staff saw when UMOJA presented itself on our Facebook posting. In choosing themes like celebrating Women’s History Month, Music Month, Hispanic Heritage Month from an Afro descendent perspective and Black History Month, we saw our page receive over 1,000 visits.  

Yet as wonderful as all these moments where, they are two moments this year that I came to believe that UMOJA-UNITY does exist and that it is easy to see and attain when moving from a place of LOVE. That is why I feel that as simple as it may seem, I AM- YO SOY became the unifying words of 2012.

I think both stories can be seen as personal and professional yet they landed on so many people.

One of the special UMOJA-UNITY moments came after a terrible accident of a dear childhood friend. Marc Owens and I have been friends since the fourth grade. Marc was always the classmate who made the effort to keep us all in touch with each other, to make sure we got together when we could. Even while in Afghanistan, he would send me emails asking me how I was doing. He did this across race and class and all you would say is, only Marc.

Marc suffered a terrible accident. On that same week I had heard from him as he wanted to know how the radio show was going. When I heard of Marc’s parachuting accident my heart felt heavy. Not him I said, He loved life and did everything he could to make you love life with him. Marc survived the accident and then came UMOJA-UNITY that made so many stand and say, I AM CHS- I AM MARC OWENS.

All our classmates, folks that went to our high school, even folks that went to our competing high schools poured out their well wishes for Marc. It was amazing to see. He brought out a sense of community, he is one of us, as we all awaited news about his recovery. We had another classmate take the lead, Hunter Tiblier. Hunter would update us and would share pictures. All these acts although simple brought us together from Hawaii, California, Florida, Panama, you name it. If you knew Marc, if you went to Cristobal High School, if you were a Zonian, Marc was on your mind. This one man brought a group of people spread all over the world together as we all cheered him on and were reminded how much we love each other.

While in DC at the State of the Black World Conference, while I was experiencing that Soulful Love, I took the time to visit Marc. I was excited and emotional but I knew this was right not only for me but for our immediate circle who wanted to know how he was doing. I did and my friend greeted me as he always did with appreciation and love. I took the time to call other friends so he could hear their voices. Once again I was reminded that our connection to each other runs deep.

So as I reflect on UMOJA-UNITY I give thanks to my dear friend, Marc Owens, for making so many of us pause and focus on him the way he did on us and for teaching us the meaning of UNITY that carries no borders. Thanks Marc!

My other very special UMOJA-UNITY moment came with the words, YO SOY which in English is I AM. After a painful reporting by Juan Williams of my home town of Colon, I came together with my friend, Mauro Martinez to write a Statement in Response to this report. Mauro and I have been sharing our love for Colon and hope for our people for months prior to this letter. We moved with the same passion and determination to help our people and to speak the truth, no matter the consequences. My admiration for Mauro, this fellow Colonense runs deep because we acknowledged the good and the bad but we were not willing to have someone who has no context, no history of our people to do it for us.

Familia, this letter landed before many Panamanians and many Colonenses all over the world. We received emails from people who just wanted to say, thank you, to us. Mauro is home in Colon so he would get stopped in the streets by folks saying, thank you. YO SOY COLON brought us together. It brought a community that has been beaten down and ignored for years together in a way that was so profound and moving and yes, filled with love.

Mauro and I decided to keep up this momentum and founded, Proyecto Yo Soy Colon. We have collective members who helped shape the mission, vision and purpose. One of the most important things about the project is that we are here to Uplift our Legacy. Our message that our people need to see each other in a new light is a leading force. This is not just about changing the external of our dear Colon, it is about the mindset and taking the time to look deeper into what needs to be done to make the shift that we so desperately need.

The words Yo Soy Colon had an impact while we faced the sale of land in Colon that was against the law. Colonenses took to the streets and all over we heard people saying, Yo Soy Colon, Y Tu. It came up again during the flooding’s that destroyed many homes. We then found comfort in those words.

One of my most treasured gifts of 2012 is my friendship/ collaboration with Mauro. It speaks to my love for my community in a way that words could not even explain. In 2013, we hope to continue sharing and uplifting our people. May UMOJA-UNITY continue to be our guiding force.

Now here it goes, it is about reflection and in reflecting one of the areas where I felt we lacked UMOJA-UNITY was amongst Black women. Our lack of UNITY was painful my sisters. The way we came after Gabby Douglas about her hair after this amazing young woman won an Olympic Gold was just wrong. It was distracting and gave others reason to look at us and shake their heads. We keep singing like India Arie, I am not my hair, but we are. My hair was a political and personal decision, we need to name it then move beyond it.

I am still thinking about my Queens. How can we be so upset about Gabby’s hair and not be furious at the way we are represented on most of these reality shows. We should be outraged that although it is not me or you on the screen, someone, somewhere, thinks that is how we all behave. In 2013 we need to figure this out.

As people of African descent we need to move past language or borders. A question pops up for me, has the plan to keep us against each other as said in the Willie Lynch letter really worked? We spend a lot of time beating each other up my people. Let us move into 2013 knowing that pain was everywhere and we can use that common pain to build UMOJA-UNITY.

There was also lack of human unity. A loss is a loss yet racism was screaming when it wasn’t a loss of someone who didn’t look like you.

UMOJA-UNITY is 2013 has to come from within. We have to do our internal work to make peace with our biases, racism, etc. If and when we do, then your eyes will be open and you will feel the pain of the young Black boy or girl, or of that teacher.

If the hope and love is there, then UMOJA-UNITY will arrive without the extra effort. Can we do it? Yes, we can. I believe in you. For 2013 can we name when those non UMOJA moments come up and work to make the shift in the moment?

Familia, I ask that you hold close those special moments I shared with you and allow them to define your movement.

We all carry Ache, a special internal fire, a gift, as I like to see it. It is how we decide to use it that will bring us closer together. On this day of Kwanzaa, allow UMOJA-UNITY to guide you and extend your hand to every brother and sister, each human being that stands before you. Let love be a guiding force.

In light,






Saturday, December 22, 2012



We have all been placed before many beautiful human beings in our life but they are a few who I have walked away knowing with certainty that they are a messenger for our people, that they are protected and own a special light that makes you think, grow and love as you stand with them.

I stood for six days in the special light the ancestors have passed on to Francia Marquez. When she shared at the Lecture and Discussion, “no other option but to fight for my people” you believed her. She is a fighter that carries Africa deep within, nourishes the sounds of Afro Colombians and makes all Afro descendants stand up and say, we see you, we hear you, we support you.

Francia shared how gold mining has been in the family for centuries and how they have lived off this land. When she speaks of this land in Cauca, you find yourself wanting to reconnect with the earth, with the soil that feeds us. You want to jump in and swim in this river that feeds her community and cleanses the soul.

She connected all our stories, all our realities. She made us want to go back and read how decisions in this country are affecting our brothers and sisters in Cauca.

Francia made every Afro descendent that met her on her visit to Boston, think and reflect on how far we have come but how much we have to do. She shared how surprised she has been at the lack of knowing our own history, the lack of Black Consciousness. “We should never forget” she said, ‘what MLK, Malcolm X did to get us all in this space.” She makes the connection with these great men and the women warriors in history because the bodily harm, threats to her are her reality but it has not slowed her down because she knows that this is bigger than her.

As we moved from space to space she would say things that would make me stop and go, that’s it, you just put it out with such clarity. Francia is clear on who she is and what role she plays in the betterment of her people, her community. When she speaks of falling in love with Malcolm X’s words you find new fire in them. “The chains on our minds are still present” she said “and it is an individual process that we each need to go through.”

We realized that we were both impacted very deeply by the words of one Afro Colombian leader Carlos Rosero. Francia shared her own transformation and how Carlos’s mentoring guided her. I met Carlos early in my journey in the movement and his words still ring in my ears. His voice and words are those of a man grounded in his Africanness.

Her ancestors speak to her through the stories that have been passed down for centuries and she holds them close and shares them with a passion that takes you back to being that young child sitting at the foot of your grandfather as he told his story.

At the event, a young student asked Francia why she would stay more in the country and not in the city. Francia shared an exercise she has done with the youth in Cauca and those who move to the city, Cali.  In the city we may have the movie theater, we may have the paved roads, modern things, but in the country we have a river we can jump into when we want to swim, we have our plantains and yucca that we grow on our land, we have community, we have family. That gets lost on many levels when we move away from home.

The most impacting moment for me and I would dare to say for Francia was her exchange with the young women of the HER Project. We are in the early stages of formation identity with the young women. Francia’s words at the event and her presence at group the following day got the girls closer to making the connection of who they are here in Boston, the history of their country and the connection to Francia’s story. My young women found their internal light in Francia’s words and walked away with a name of a new woman who inspires them. I saw the young women transform into the leaders we will continue to develop in this space. Francia congratulated them, shared her story with them that goes deeper than the activist we see. The ancestors were present in that room and felt great pride that their message was delivered to the future of our community.

In each space we entered, Francia made us take a look at our pettiness. She made me and many stop to think what we really need to build community to be self-empowered. She shared how the women make these beautiful bags to sustain themselves. They don’t wait to get funding to survive, they finds ways to survive that move past who gives you money because this is about life and death of the people and the community and once again her line, “there is no other option” enters your thoughts.

The reality of racism, the impact of the world and our people sounds off in Francia. We reach to call it other things and she brings you back to name it for what it is. When she attended a community meeting with me, she supported a position I have stated for years. Latinos need to stop naming the problem as only an Immigration problem and name the racism that is deep within it. If we did, then we would do less of the statement, “African Americans are about race and Latinos is about Immigration.” The root is the same my people.

The other position that was validated with Francia and through her words is how we use the word “Latino” in this country. She was so surprised at how the word gets thrown around. I shared how it is the term used to describe the community. She, like me, struggled with how when the word is used it is not just about culture but it creates a hierarchy and a separation from our African roots. It is in thinking more deeply about this that as we move into the New Year, we hope to lean more on the term Afro descendent or Afro Colombian, Afro Panamanian in speaking of our communities.

Francia touched the core of those in NY at the PANAFSTRAG meeting. If there was any doubt that the Durban Declaration has not had a real impact on our communities, Francia’s words about the pain and struggle of her community and the government decisions that continue to disregard a constitution that states that these lands are ancestral lands, then we have a lot of work to do. We both felt pain when we spoke of the fact that many of us when we travel and want to visit the Black communities are told not to go. I was left with this sadness as this is said about my own community in Colon. I then ask, how do we get to know each other, make the connections in our struggle if we are told to stay away from each other. My Nigerian family as I refer to the General and his family received her with open arms. She felt at home in this special African space.

My favorite moments with Francia were our private moments that will be mine to hold on to for life but I will bring you closer to one moment that speaks to the depth of love of this amazing woman.

When we would sit in silence I sensed a great calmness come over her and I would stare wanting to know, “donde estas mi amiga.” Our moments were also girlie moments of talking about our hopes and dreams and our loves. But the moments I will cherish with a smile and hope you can visualize it through my words, is when she would begin singing a song by Mercedes Sosa or from what is now my new favorite group, Herencia de Timbiqui.

As I sit and share this with you, my love for this woman, what she stands for fuels my movement. It is a love that we can have for each other when we know that our ancestors struggle is not in vain.

Francia’s light is special, it is real. Her light is filled with love and pain yet it is the combination of all of it that when she speaks you know she is on this earth for a reason.  Francia’s footsteps on this soil are guided and protected by that light of our ancestors who know the meaning of JUSTICE and LOVE. Esa luz de los ancestros que le da fuerza y la llena de mucho amor.

May she continue to deliver that beautiful message. May she be safe and may they continue to shed that light of courage and hope on her. Blessings to you, mi Hermana.






Sunday, December 2, 2012

Soulful Love- State of the Black World Conference

Soulful Love- State of the Black World Conference

Is it real or does it only exists in that space? That is the question my sister friend Chioma posed when I shared that I wanted to do one of our TAK radio shows about Soulful Love/ Unity.

Soulful Love is that kind of love that your spirit recognizes when you are greeted with Hello my Queen or when words and opinions are embraced by those who inspire you and have mentored you. That Soulful Love energy is fed when you enter a space that has seen you grow, held your hands and wiped away your tears.

You are probably saying, where is Yvette going with this? This blog is coming from a place of me wondering and asking, if we as Black people can truly create such an ongoing space where we care for each other and See each other. I am talking about seeing beyond class, gender, location where we dropped off, language, education and truly meeting at the Root. The question comes from a soulful experience that filled my cup and left me with more questions.

I was invited to participate and present at the State of the Black World conference in DC. I participated four years ago and it was just as powerful and long lasting then as it was this time around.

When I checked into the hotel I was handed my shuttle service schedule. I was assigned to the Marcus Garvey Group. Ase o, I said to myself, that is a sign that this is going to be good. His words were a strong part of the presentation I prepared.

What did you do this week to free Black People! That was one of the statements made by one of the scholars in the Research Consortium- Special Affinity Session. It carried the energy of an Africana Studies- Black Power class.  It was clear that all in the room wanted to address what we are seeing and feeling in our community and our need to heal. The comments were strong and thought provoking. I share some that stood out for me.

Dr. Joyce King spoke of us, “reweaving that tapestry so that we can understand what is happening to us.”

Another scholar went on to say, “The time has come for us to have a better analysis of our history. We are facing a psychological and spiritual demise of our people.”

At this point I agreed soulfully with what one of the Queens in the space shared, “Different parts of my brain are excited.”

I was sitting next to Dr. James Turner who was very graceful and thoughtful in his greeting. When he began to speak, I found myself holding onto his every word. He shared, “What keeps us in the mix? What is the demographic nature of the Black community? Liberation for all of us has not come.”

Dr. Howard Dobson shared the journey of the IBW and the next steps of the Consortium.  Can I say it out loud, that man is brilliant! He makes me want to go back and read more books.

I spent the rest of the day walking around with the question, really reflecting on the spaces I am in and how this Soulful Love gets manifested. I decided to share this experience in the moment with the Encuentro Diaspora Afro family on facebook. I wanted to extend this energy to all.

The shackles are off but the question still stands, How free are we? We walk with such anger that at times is justified but we don’t know to let the love shine through when we stand before each other in good moments.

One thing the conference space did was remind me of two things, we were stripped of everything, Lets we not forget. In understanding that, then as I shared on the radio show, the words of Mr. Richards come to mind, “We don’t know who is standing before us because we were stripped from our families, our communities.”

My people, if we truly understand that, then we need to lean more on this reminder and allow the love for each other to come out.

My next stop was the Pan African Policy Forum dedicated to Ambassador Dudley Thompson and Congressman Donald Payne. The forum was facilitated by my mentor who is instrumental in my participation at the conference, Dr. Jemadari Kamara.

This one was so good I ran out of paper. Here are some of the words that stood out for me.

Ambassador Amina Ali shared, “we want a greater Africa.” She said it with such conviction that you wanted to jump up and say, Amen!

Mel Foote shared, “we need to learn more about each other. We need to prepare ourselves for the long term with short term tactics.”

James Early has been a strong voice of support for the Afro Latino movement. You felt his words from a deep sense of unity. He shared, “we need to learn to struggle for one another before we struggle against each other.” He then posed the question to all, “Where are we on the road to Freedom?” The day ended on a reflective high note.

On the day of my presentation, I was a bit nervous. I traveled to the conference that morning with Dr. Kamara and his students from UMASS Boston. The trip was filled with lots of laughter which made for a light morning.

The panel I participated in was, “Mobilizing the Diaspora to Impact U.S. Policy toward Africa and the Caribbean.” I share part of it, the parts that stood out for others and look to you reading the entire piece with other conference documents.

I opened with words from Marcus Garvey and his definition of what it is to be a Global African. One of the ideas in the definition was to, “encourage African people around the world to be proud of their race and to see beauty in their own kind.”

I went in knowing that some of the points I would raise would be controversial but if I could not speak on it in this space, then where. I went onto to share, “The conversation cannot always be centered in the US and can carry weight coming from someone in the Caribbean or Latin America. The question is are WE, those here in the US willing to truly open it up. Currently the largest black populations are Nigeria, Brazil, US, Colombia and Ecuador. Most of the international offices for the UN are currently in Panama yet we skip over Central America.”

I posed this question, “What is the nature of our collective articulated understanding of who is the Diaspora”. The name of the organization in Boston is Encuentro Diaspora Afro. We not only get asked, “What is the Diaspora?”  By non Afro descendent but also by Afro descendent’s who do not acknowledge the Middle Passage and its effect on the Americas.”

I then spoke of specific areas that require immediate attention.

-“What is our relationship?” how do we enter into a deeper conversation that will address the following;

-How do we base the legitimacy and credibility of the effort beginning with the intra collective interest and the totality and complexity that needs to be reflected in the 6th Region

-Critical dialogue of the Immigration issue and a healing exchange with African Americans

-Create a space that our Afro descendents youth exchange in history and cultural dialogues that would better prepare them to see each other as brothers and sisters. That they themselves do not fall for the negative stigmas placed on each community.

-Address the Census and begin preparing our community for a deeper understanding of who they are and the role they have played and continue to play in the development of the countries.

-A dialogue that speaks to the difference in adapting the terms Hispanic and Latino

The root of my presentation and it speaks to the root of Encuentro’s work is IDENTITY.

I closed with these words, “I look to the day when I can say, hello my sister and she says, where are you from and I say I am African Panamanian and the response would be hello my sister, not oh, you are one of those, one of who, those Spanish speaking people. Can we arrive at a place where we truly understand that we were dropped off everywhere and I mean everywhere even in Bolivia and once we have the depth of that understanding, then we can mobilize, truly mobilize as a people.”

During the questions and comments, my words where validated by one of the scholars in the space, Dr. Mtangulizi Sanyika. “This is about identity politics, identity transformation.”

After all of this intense exchange, I was exhausted. I felt the weight on my shoulders and needed to leave the space. I did that and came back to support and participate in the other two panels and begin pulling together all the recommendations.

It was time to relax and we did just that. We attended the Reception Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Independence of Republic of Trinidad/Tobago and Jamaica. Light and Fun those are the two words that stand out. Anything with steel drums will do that to you.

We were then escorted to the larger space for the Legacy Awards Celebration and Cultural Extravaganza.

Nana Malaya opened with a wonderful dance that had everyone tapping their feet. The room was filled with joy and admiration, as we celebrated those who have paved the way for so many. It was lovely to see the faces of those who received an award, they were genuinely moved. Soulful Love was in full effect. All of this was summarized and sent into full Soul by Queen Sonia Sanchez with a poem she wrote just for the award recipients. All you heard was, hmmm, say it, that’s right. I love those moments.

I want to share one of my favorite moments of the evening and the conference. When I say, the Panamanian connection is everywhere, believe me. Dr. Conrad Worill had shared that his wife was from Panama. While at the celebration he came to me to say that his wife knew my family. I then spoke to his wife and found out that she was also from Colon, Gatun and Rainbow City. She said that one of my uncles was one of her brother’s godfather. I then called my father and he said, yes, they are family from the Gatun days. My Uncle Theodore who is also my godfather was her brother’s godfather. I am telling you, we are everywhereJ

We then finished with everyone standing and saying together, ARAMBE! The vibration, the unity, the love, filled up the space.

It is always hard to leave these spaces because you know that these moments do not come often and all we can do is share it with our community as I am doing now and hold onto it for as long as we can.

The next morning, the closing started light with Nana Malaya leading us through a black soul aerobic routine singing, Alaafia, Ase, Ase, giving thanks to the sky, the earth and those on the left and right of you. I was sitting next to the couple I call, Panamanian King and Queen, Dr. Waldaba Stewart and Esmeralda Brown.  It was wonderful to share the conference space with them.

It then got heavy. A young group of actors did a short piece on how we were gathered, packed on the ship, stripped of our clothes, the long hours of labor and the moment of freedom. The room was filled with heavy hearts and tears but we all knew the reminder would fuel our exit from the space and the energy to keep moving forward.

Dr. Ron Daniels summed up our feelings and thoughts as we got ready to leave. He said, “We are trying to connect the dry bones so we can live and be vital. We came with a sense of spirit and we got back love.”

That Soulful Love is still with me and I have done my best to share it in each and every space I am in and in my words to you.

As you sit with all the questions I have shared, I leave you with the words from the poem I wrote called Soulful Love.

Webster dictionary states;

Soul is a person’s emotional nature, spirit.

Love is deep affection

When synchronized to the beat of our ancestors, touching the depth of hope of our people, it is defined as Soulful Black Love.

Let us all reach for it, fight for it and love it.


In peace,