Archive for February, 2010

It’s time to repay our debt to Haiti

February 11, 2010

There was an earthquake in Haiti and I took it personally.

I took it personally because while I know that earthquakes are naturally occurring events – Mother Nature stretching, tumbling and turning, aren’t they? – I knew that her mischief would provide the world yet more reasons and information to pity the Island of Mountains’ much-maligned inhabitants.

I did not have long to wait for proof of my “prophecy,” and that is not counting that famous/infamous “man of the cloth’s” proclamation of how this disaster was merely punishment from God for the Haitian people’s “pact with the devil” in exchange for their freedom.

My parents are from Jamaica, Haiti’s island neighbor directly west. Watching the aftermath of the quake news with my sons, I saw myself in the faces of the Haitian people. I saw my mother, my father, my sisters and brothers, my family. I saw my humanity and I felt exposed, helpless, defensive and increasingly angry as I recognized that many others of us would not, could not, see what I saw.

How many of us know anything about Haiti other than that it once was a colony of France and is now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere?

Did you know that Haiti was the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere, and the second republic, after the United States?

How many of us know the rich, troubled but true, history of Haiti? How many of us understand the role of America, Britain, Spain and France in the rise, fall and suppression of Haiti and its populace?

The African ancestors of today’s Haitians rebelled against slavery, fighting a 12-year war from 1791 to 1803, (aided by both Britain and Spain), against the French colonists and Napoleon’s army. Gen. Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared their independence on Jan. 1, 1804.

How many know that in 1801 Pres. Thomas Jefferson reversed U.S. policy toward Haiti, secretly giving France permission to reconquer the island? France failed.

How many of us can imagine securing one’s freedom only to be re-enslaved, but this time your master is not man, but money? Imagine having to pay your former master for the loss of his property, namely yourself.

France did not recognize Haiti’s independence until 1825 and only then in exchange for a financial indemnity of 150 million francs. Haiti was considered “persona non grata” by other slaveholding nations for fear its success would incite and inspire their slaves to resist. It did.

Britain abolished legalized slavery in 1807 followed by a succession of other European nations. America denounced it finally in 1865.

Did you know the Haitian resistance was the catalyst for France selling the United States its claim to Louisiana – the Louisiana Purchase – in 1803?

Haiti was forced over the years (and continues to be, sometimes it appears, by Mother Nature) to take out loans of 70 million francs to repay this indemnity and gain international recognition. As recently as 2003, Haiti disseminated repayments on international debt totaling approximately $1 million dollars per week.

I do not claim to know what is in your mind, nor your heart. I do know, however, that information, or lack thereof, can taint our benevolence, our love, which is our energy. That universal energy that we all are made of; that we all are exchanging whether we know it or not; that energy that is our currency, our most valuable resource. I know that this energy can be toxin or tonic; it can hinder or heal.

I believe truth can transmute toxin to tonic. My hope is that the foregoing truth can help you, too, see your humanity in the faces of the Haitian people (ultimately all people) so we may all bestow upon them, not pity for the benighted, but compassion for our kin.

The Haitian people, a mighty, resourceful, fiercely independent but long-oppressed people need our energy. Send money if you can. Remember though, there is healing currency aplenty inside each one of us. I believe a little truth in information can set it free.

Sharon Martini is an English “mummy.” She lives in the Bridlemile neighborhood with her two sons, several pets. A local singer and actress, she also writes and illustrates little picture books.

This article originally appeared in the February, 2010, edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper

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Request for an omission shows the need for inclusion

February 11, 2010

I am an angel.

I am dark.

Dark as mother earth.

I am an angel.

I am a black angel.

Feel my spark.

I performed my original song, “Black Angel,” at Colored Pencils Art and Culture, One-Year Anniversary Celebration at City Hall this past month.

Colored Pencils is, in the words of founder and Portland artist Nim Xuto, “…a group of newcomers, poets, artists and like-minded people of all colors who gather together once a month to sing, read poetry, and perform in our native languages.”

I am golden.

I am goddess.

I am dark.

I am divine.

Singing my own words, my own truth, for an audience is an exhilarating, humbling and nerve-wracking experience. My dormant familiar inner dialogue never fails to resuscitate immediately before I begin: “Did you practice enough? No. Relax, it’s the words, Sharon.” Nevertheless, gladly taking the stage I smile, inhale, invoking supporting spirits. Strumming and singing my heart, the universe cradles me, the audience smiles back at me. They are listening to my words.

I am regal.

I am rebel.

I am dark.

I am divine.

A man approached me afterward. Shaking my hand, he tells me how much he enjoyed my song. He remains standing before me. I feel my being expand in the warmth of his admiration and I remember the little girl in Jamaica shyly confessing that my song made her cry happy tears. Present again, I await this man’s continued, sure to be complimentary, commentary.

“… But you need to take out the ‘black.’”

Eloquence, articulacy and pride escape me, rapidly deflating me. Discombobulated, a tad perturbed, I am ready to jettison my halo, pluck my wings and climb into conveniently materialized cloven hooves. Miraculously, recovering vocabulary and sense, I am able to exclaim: “I am black.” Momentarily relieved as I glimpse my white angel friend (a.k.a. potential ally) in my, thankfully, re-expanding scope of view, I am quickly forced to refocus while contemplating whether angels can, indeed, fly backward.

Nobody ever talks about angels like me.

I can move mountains.

I have birthed seas.

Transmigrated, I right my halo and fluff my wings.

“You need to take out the ‘black,’” the man repeats in a soft, but menacing tone, akin to that of a concerned but seething parent.

Reconnected, mercifully, with my inner seraph, I patiently explain that I sing of black angels to counter the accepted norm, or mythology, that angels are only white. I shared my belief that we humans are angels, too, and we appear in every color. Sadly, I did not assuage his fears. He stomped off repeating his warning that I needed to take the “black” out.

Where angels are concerned, black angels are not often considered, nor depicted. If they are, they are dismissed as white angels gone astray; the fallen, the naughty anomaly, or quite simply a sullied one covered in soot.

In this life I know there is a lesson in every surprise, every disappointment – every happening. I am grateful for this truth, even as I ponder the pedagogy. The “art of gratitude,” unlike “the art of the guitar,” which I have a tendency to wing, I do practice, regularly. So, thank you white angel in men’s clothing, for liking my song and requesting that I eradicate the “black.”

In these our multicultural times we humans/angels habitually find ourselves mired in the black and white divide of good versus evil. I sing “Black Angel” as antidote to the poison of that gap, or as a tool to use, if one wishes, to assist in navigating your own way out of the quagmire.

Thank you also for teaching me that I need to dare to keep singing “Black Angel.” Try to remember, you, too, are an angel. You, too, are divine, and, as you did concede, angels do come in all colors. You are free to choose your own hue, however I reiterate:

I am golden.

I am goodness.

I am dark.

I am a black angel.

I am.

I am.

I am divine.

This column originally appeared in the January 2010, edition of The Southwest Community Connection newspaper