“But, of course she was so fine. Once in her prime, she was sublime! She kept a flow that brought the fellows to their knees.” While few people still honor her existence with such passion, grace and enthusiasm, attendees filled the ballroom with praises and gratitude because it was her night. Exhausted and hurt, her face bore scars of a tormented past and uncertainties about the future threatened to undermine her legacy. Yet, Johnny “the Haitian Poet” Zephir recounted a different story: “So well pleased, they dared call her mistress of her own destiny. Happily, while she gave birth to kings and queens. Lean, mean, like nothing you’ve ever seen.”
Zephir’s elegant rhymes stole the audience’s admiration. Contemporaries traced her ancestry through rhythms and choreographed dances dated more than five centuries. Armed with radiating smiles, children modeled her distinct, fashionable styles. Dignitaries too, showered the microphone on her behalf with words of kindness, hope and heartfelt empathy. Music, ethnic food, games, prizes, a silent auction and poetry illuminated her night. Still, given recent developments, people outside the Hilton Ballroom in Uptown Charlotte would not know the event was about a flag; they would never guess it was about Haiti and its symbol of freedom and independence.
Organized by Haitian Heritage & Friends of Haiti (HHFoH), Taste of Haiti put the spotlight on aspects of Haitian culture often drown out by spectacular headlines coming out of the country. A crowd of about 130 guests commemorated the 208-year anniversary of the Haitian Flag, symbolizing the relentless pursuit for self-determination by African slaves. With Master of ceremony Tania Rivens at the command, spectators greeted each performance with warmth and excitement. Rivens, host of Power 98’s Sunday Morning Inspirations, kept the audience engaged throughout the evening, as did Zephir’s dream: “I love the way she moved, I love the way she grooved. But the one thing that stirred up my emotions. Long before this earthquake situation, is that Haiti was in a need of redemption.”
Taste of Haiti was as much about Haiti’s Founding Fathers’ heroism as the lingering anguish of the January 10 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 Haitians and ravaged the country’s weak infrastructure. In fact, President Sabine Guerrier organized the fundraising event ahead of her July trip to Haiti with HHFoH to deliver an ambulance, two bathroom trailers and other needed supplies. Haiti’s lack of infrastructure and emergency response system made her work an indispensable lifeline for the impoverished nation struggling to care for its population. But as the evening unfolded, history claimed much of the spotlight.
According to Naomie Pascal, secretary of HHFoH, Haiti’s 11-year slave rebellion against Napoleon’s army took a definite turn following General Jean Jacques Dessalines heroics. “On May 18, 1802,” said Pascal to the audience, “Dessalines ripped the white part from the French flag, creating Haiti’s bicolored blue and red flag sewed horizontally in Arcahaie, a small town outside Port-au-Prince.” As a result, Haitians adopted May 18 as their National Flag Day. “Less than two years later, on January 1, 1804,” Pascal explained, “Dessalines became Haiti’s first Emperor as the country proclaimed its independence.
“The same spirit of freedom that inspired Haiti’s heroes to raise the flag inspired HHFoH to organize this event today,” articulated President Guerrier as she welcomed spectators. She founded the nonprofit organization in 2009 and since became the face of Haitians in the Queen City and surrounding communities. “The goal was to actually connect the Haitian community here,” she said in an interview. “And also to have a presence in the international scene,” she added. With dignitaries such as Jennifer Watson Roberts, Chair of Mecklenburg county Board of Commissioners and David C. Belton, Regional Director at the Office of the Governor – Piedmont in attendance, Guerrier admitted that pieces of her dream for HHFoH were falling into place. “When people used to talk about international countries here,” Guerrier expressed: her eyes, widening, “Haiti never used to be part of the discussion,” she continued—emphasizing that it was no longer acceptable.
Although a fundraising event, the evening was not all about business; entertaining acts took many shapes during the night. Whether under Zephir’s charismatic spell, the hypnosis of Indian dancers or captivated by Melissa Pierre-Louis’s voice, the crowd’s applauses affirmed the evening’s success. If those performances failed to generate enough excitement for distinguished guests, they found solace in the fine Haitian cuisine or arts and crafts, “other notable sources of Haitian pride,” as Guerrier acknowledged. So his dream persisted, “One that was once known as higher ground. Until she was caught up in trance, a dance for survival. And for her children, some say, she sold her soul. Bumping and grinding with all strange folks that drove her insane.”
As the evening unfolded, President Guerrier move across the ballroom like a bumper car, as many issues required her immediate attention. “She a very devoted democratic leader,” said Pascal of HHFoH’s president. “She presents issues to all members during meetings and we decide transparently as a group,” she added. Nevertheless, in the face of her many challenges, relenting is never an option Guerrier explained. In a typical week, she would juggle responsibilities between a full-time job, motherhood and the Provisional Rotary Club of Charlotte-Haiti, pulling all kinds of strings to help alleviate the burden of Haitians both in the U.S. and on her homeland. “I don’t have a life,” she said smilingly of her daily schedule. “Well, at least not a personal life,” she added.
The event generated more than $5,000, 100 percent of which would pay customs and traveling fees for the 19 members scheduled for the July trip, according to the president. As Rivens noted, the charitable organization relied heavily on volunteers and donations to carry out its goals and objectives.
After the banquet, many people expressed satisfaction with Taste of Haiti, but the aspirations of members revealed a recurring theme “I would love for Haiti to get back on its feet,” said Pascal after the event. “Back on track, like any other country,” she added. Many Haitians share that dream, including Zephir who concluded I Dream of a Beautiful Haiti, Once Again, noting: “But I know, only her reflection is broken. Through the rubble, through the pain, I dream of a beautiful Haiti. One that will again sing, free: free at last!”
- Haitian Flag Day (amartianslove.wordpress.com)
- Dual citizenship offers second chance to Haitians (thegrio.com)
- Haitian color, culture on show in Brooklyn (nydailynews.com)
- Deducting Contributions to Haitian Earthquake Relief on Your 2009 Return (turbotax.intuit.com)