Recently I was offered several opportunities to remember and to celebrate various expressions of unity, patriotism, race pride and other good feelings.
On a Friday night I arrived late for the start of the party, so I walked around the periphery of a monthly family festival of song, food, culture and all things Haitian, called Big Night in Little Haiti, which happened this month to fall on Haiti Flag Day. I had attended this monthly event before and knew that my experience would be satisfying.
My intention was to sample the sights of people and art, the sounds of a local Haitian band, and the exotic aromas of food from somewhere else.
I drove south on Northeast Second Avenue in Miami and, the nearer I got to the Little Haiti Cultural Center located on Northeast 59th Terrace, between Miami and Northeast Second avenues, the more flags, T-shirts and other forms of national expressions could be seen. Images of the Haitian flag were everywhere, including on “blankets” for car hoods.
Unpredictably, I began to feel a swelling of pride rise up within me, not because I’m Haitian; I identify mostly with the Bahamian culture of my mom and the quintessentially American culture of my father’s South Carolina family. No, I felt a prideful yearning for what could have been.
There was very little English being spoken that evening and although I did see and speak with several people I knew who were fluent in French, Creole and English, I knew where I was and it felt good to bask in the outpouring of pride and love of nation that was being celebrated all night.
I spent hours into the night thinking about why I became so emotionally overwhelmed by the sights and sounds that were supposed to be foreign to my firsthand experience.
The following Saturday morning, I attended the second Overtown Music Project Gospel Brunch at the historic Bethel AME church in Overtown. The church has been, and remains, one of the starting points for civil rights marches and other forms of protest since its beginning 116 years ago.
During the first year of the Gospel Brunch, the space was less than half full. This year, the church was at nearly full capacity and the food line stretched out the door.
The event celebrates the music that was so prevalent during the heyday of
Overtown when the Miami neighborhood was known as “Little Broadway.” The headliner musicians who played on Miami Beach in those days had to retreat to Overtown to sleep because of segregation. The Gospel Brunch program featured comments that explained how the policies mandating segregation, while detestable, also tended to nurture the souls and memories of Overtown residents and visitors.
Interestingly, the majority of the audience was a cohort of white and other non-black persons, under age 40. The organizer and visionary, Amy Rosenberg, was passionate in her explanation about how she, a Jewish woman, fell in love with Overtown and pledged to bring back the music.
Later that day, I attended the “DJs for Obama” fundraiser at the Walls of Wynwood, a hotspot in a former warehouse district where walls of graffiti have been commissioned from artists around the country and anchored on either side by two restaurants owned by the Goldman family, major developers of the area.
The group at that event was very mixed, young and widely diverse. There were buttons for Women for Obama, LGBTs for OBAMA, and Hispanics for OBAMA. And then there were the DJs! The DJs looked like a commercial for diversity in South Florida. The music was a good mix, too.
By the end of the day, I was emotionally high, from the Friday night in Little Haiti to jamming for Obama.
Then, the following day, my book club discussed the best-seller Faces at the Bottom of the Well by noted law professor Derrick Bell. He is best known for his theory about the permanence of racism. I have referred to this iconic book in a previous opinion, specifically the essay, The Space Traders, in which aliens trade with the U.S. government to exchange all African Americans for enough gold to settle the debt, an unlimited supply of nuclear fuel and equipment and a non-toxic environmental cleaning agent. In the end, the African Americans are stripped and chained as they enter the space ships.
And that brought me to an emotional low.
And that brings me to this thought: Can’t anybody turn me around from my transatlantic kinships, from my fellow travelers across the racial/age/gender/economic divide, from anyone who supports the democratic process?
We must all walk this road to greater glory together.
Antonia Williams-Gary is a consultant with Miami-based Savings and Grace Enterprise. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Antonia Williams-Gary