Category Archives: Daily Musings

Dear Paule:paule-marshall-82c23b76-d605-4b66-8c21-4854fcc7032-resize-750

You gave me Brownstone, Brown Girl, 1959 and Praisesong for a Widow, 1983.

In all your other nine books, you kept giving me pieces of myself and my people to see and cherish, but mainly to understand what drives us, what stops us, what chokes us, what keeps us bound and how and why some have to be bound so others can be free, and that the walk to this freedom is never an easy, clear path; it might include defiance and consciously going against all you have been taught to hold dear, as Selina had to do, silencing Selia, the mother she loves and hates, and to whom she is closer that she can yet admit.

Paule, you also told me that sometimes I have to jump ship like Avey to find herself back home in Carriacou and dance the Juba Dance to the Big Drums.

But always you wanted to remind me/us that we are from The Chosen Place, The Timeless People, 1969 and yes we are the timeless people, inextricable linked to our enslavement but determined and fighting, refusing defeat.

You Paule was a sweet gentle soul, A Lady – a suitable title for you who was always elegantly dressed, always soft spoken and who spoke with spaced precision as if every word was important.

I can’t imagine you ruffled or shouting.  You represent that Caribbean disposition of womanly calmness, reliable and sturdy as our yams, hardy like our cane, resolute like our mountains.

You gave me a view of the first immigrants to America; you taught me about Barbados and your Bajan heritage.

You gave me Ursa from Daughters, 1991, so I could better understand that regardless of where I live, my present and future are fissured by the Caribbean that birthed and reared me.

Most only know you as Paule Marshall (April 9, 1929), but your people know all your names (aka Valenza Pauline Burke) and they welcome you home, (August 16, 2019), the Bajan girl who would never fit into any box.

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Toni Morrison: She Belonged To Us, Too

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Published:Sunday | August 11, 2019 | 12:30 AMOpal Palmer Adisa – Contributor

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another,”

-Toni Morrison

Any writer over the age of forty who is worth his/her weight in salt knows of Toni Morrison’s works, and probably would say that one or more of Morrison’s texts inspired their development as a writer.

I was but a teenager when I read The Bluest Eyes in 1970. On that first reading I was not yet fully versed in American history and the tremendous struggle of African Americans to achieve equality and restore their dignity. But it was the ‘70s, and the Black Power Movement was still strong and had spread its energy throughout the world. My older brother introduced me to the works of Stokely Carmichael aka Kwame Ture, Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat By the Door, et al.

But in 1971, when we immigrated to New York, and while completing high school, an African American teacher who detected my love for literature opened the world of Black writers to me, introducing me to Jamaica’s own Claude McKay, one of the seminal writers of the Harlem Renaissance Langston Hughes, and suggested the book of the new writer, Toni Morrison, whom she said had Jamaican connections; and who was “a writer to keep an eye on as I think she is saying something.”

Well, Morrison’s connection to Jamaica was through marriage to Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect, in 1958, that produced two sons, Harold Ford and Slade Kevin. Although the marriage ended after six years, Morrison, being the consummate historian and mother of two boys would research the history of our island. I suspect her reading about Maroon Nanny and the long, rebellious spirit of Jamaica would inform some of her other works, specifically her most acclaimed, Beloved, 1987, and the character Sethe.

Toni Morrison in earlier interviews about her Pulitzer Prize, American Book Award, and ultimate Nobel Prize book, spoke of the common practice of infanticide among enslaved women who refused to have their children subjected to the life of slavery.

She would have read Lucille Mathurin Mair and other Caribbean and African-American women scholars who wrote about this practice. Morrison’s works explore thorny areas, and her writing forces readers to look at those dark moments in our history and development. But, mostly, I would say, her work is about survival, riding the waves of the storm, being tossed hither and tither by the waves, being pulled under, but fighting your way up and out, and gulping for breath… water strangling your throat.

INFORMS MY WORK

Toni Morrison’s novels and essays will continue to inform my work and my teaching. Her young adolescent novel, The Bluest Eye, is very relevant today in the Jamaican society as it was when published in the 1970s. Its theme explores self-hatred as a result of colonialism and white supremacy. The protagonist, Pecola Breedlove, a pre-teen girl, stained by poverty, sexually abused, believes she is ugly. Pecola believes she can only be pretty if she has blue eyes like white girls. This is similar to the pervasive belief that many young Jamaicans now harbour, and as a result, are bleaching their skins, believing that whiteness connotes beauty and acceptance. What Toni Morrison wants all our children to know and believe in the fullness of their hearts is that “you are your best thing,” as she so aptly states.

The themes that Toni Morrison explored throughout her works, her vision for the triumph of Black people, her excavating of the pains that have lacerated and kept us imprisoned, and her flight to freedom through an understanding and connection with our ancestors and our nascent spirit, are characteristics that will make her work continue to be relevant forever and that grounds her work in Jamaica’s journey to being a great nation.

Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford, February 18, 1931, Toni Morrison died on the eve of Jamaica’s Independence, August 5, 2019, leaving us a treasure trove of novels and essays that should be required reading. She believed in the importance of community and working to make it a strong base of support.

She was a staunch advocate for freedom, physical, but more so mental and emotional freedom for black people, and she always asserted that “the function of freedom is to free someone else.”

As we continue to celebrate this Emancipation/Independence period, Toni Morrison’s work has much to teach us about how to walk a new walk by healing the scars and keloids of our enslavement and colonial experience so all of us as Jamaicans can truly experience and live our independence through love and restoring cohesive, safe communities.

Opal Palmer Adisa is university director of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, (IGDS-RCO), University of the West Indies.

Were I a Little Girl in Jamaica, I Would be Wondering if I’m Next

pICKNEY hab RIGHTs too _ ADISA 2019

Recently, I was returning from my daily walk in Mona, when a woman ushered a girl about 9 years old out of the car and told her very firmly to move quickly as she was going to be late for school. With that, the woman drove off.

 

I was terrified for the girl. It was only the day before that I had read about a little girl who was raped and beaten, and I had heard of a high school student who was in the hospital struggling for her life after being raped and beaten with a pipe, and I wanted this little girl to be safe.

 

I am sure that fear is clouding the vision of many children as a result of the news about what is happening to their peers. I am sure they are wondering why they are being raped and killed and why they aren’t valued.

 

If I were a little girl in Jamaica now, I would be having nightmares. I would be wetting the bed and asking to stay home. I would be thinking of how to run away if someone caught me, so I might not hear my teacher and be accused of not paying attention while at school. My parents might ask me why it is taking me so long to complete my homework and get ready for bed, and I would be wondering if I would be next.

 

I stood by the side of the road and waited until the girl crossed the street. I called to her, “Have a good day at school.”  She glanced at me, but did not respond. I wanted to shout I love you and you are loved. I lingered until she was inside the school yard.

 

Dear Parents:

Make sure your child is safely inside the school or wherever you are dropping them off. Spend that extra time, even if you are running late. Whenever you are leaving your children say you love them. Talk to them about how they might stay safe by walking in groups at all times and staying away from desolate areas. Teach them self-defence skills. Instruct them that if ever they find themselves in trouble to scream at the top of their voices regardless of the person’s threat to be quiet. Guide them how to trust their instincts. Many of us have a gut feeling about persons or situations, but all too often children have been taught to defer to adults, even when they feel they should not trust that adult. Don’t force your child to hug or kiss friends or relatives; respect you child’s right to refuse.

 

More schools, churches and communities need to engage children in discussions and listen to their concerns and recommendations about how to keep themselves safe. It is our job to keep our children safe, but we can only do so by creating a safe society.  There are a few places in the world where children are not targeted.  We need to examine those societies and the social systems. We need to ask the difficult questions of why men and some women harm children. Each child that is murdered is a potential award-winning writer, a zoologist, an environmentalist, a city planner, or a parent. We need to create a more equal and just society, free of misogyny, blame and hatred.

 

I am calling on our Prime Minister, Commissioner of Police, Minister of Education, dads and moms, teachers and religious leaders, and each and every one of us to protect all our children, to put proper systems in place, to send the definitive message to would-be perpetrators that harming any child in Jamaica will not be tolerated.

 

This is a state of emergency and the entire society needs to build a wall of protection for all our children, so they feel safe and valued.  We must unearth and correct what is causing these aberrant behaviour. We must heal.

 

Every morning when returning from my walk, I pause to observe the children, especially those walking alone and I wonder if they feel safe, and are safe.  I affirm safety for all our children!

 

Revisiting My Childhood: Going to the Denbigh

One of the fond memories of my childhood is being taken annual to the Denbigh show by my mother.  We would spend all day in the hot sun, looking at fruits and vegetables and animals, then returned after the sun set, loaded with fruits and plants that Mommy always purchased.

I had not been to a Denbigh show for over twenty-five years, but in memory of my recently deceased mother, and also as part of my newly infused independence spirit, I wanted to see if I would recapture my childhood exuberance.

My niece agreed to take me, and on our way, close to Maypen, Clarendon, the site of Denbigh it began to rain, and that too was a part of my memory– that it always rained at Denbigh.  Sure enough, as we entered the entrance gate, I heard two women talking loudly about how every year it rains at Denbigh and that was a symbol of its blessings.

I don’t remember if the show was organised by parishes when I was a child, but was happy to visit each of the Parishes and see the abundance of fruits and vegetables that are being grown in all of the Parishes.  I enjoyed the displays, was very gratified at the re-purposing of plastic, car tires and other disposable item refashioned and shown how they can be put to good use for home gardening. Mostly what gladden my heart was seeing and sampling the diverse by-products of the many fruits and vegetables. For example, I sampled a juice made from potato and pineapple.  There were numerous hair and facial products, organic and made from home grown products. It has long been said that given the geo-diversity of Jamaica, that if we were to push our agriculture production, we could easily feed the entire Caribbean region, and that was evident at the Denbigh show.

Denbigh lived up to my expectation, especially since I plan to go into farming when I retire from academic life. I can raise two goats, a few chickens and grown the food I love to eat like pumpkin and callalloo and yams. We all need to know how to feed ourselves, and despite what limited space we might occupy each and everyone of us can and should grow something, not just plants and flowers to beauty our home, but some herbs, vegetables and fruit trees. May Denbigh continue to grow and improve and I hope parents will continue to understand its importance and take their children to see and appreciate our food and what we grow.

*My Mother Loved Easter

IMG_2140My mother was a Christian, an  Anglican when I was small and she insisted on us going to church and Sunday school, then she went back to being a Baptist, when I was in my teenage years, as she was reared.

My mother loved Easter and I remember this season fondly.  My mother always changed the curtains and doilies throughout the house to white and purple, even our bedspreads were white and purple. I can still see the living-room back then now, white curtains, with purple tulips patterned, fluttering by the open window in the afternoon breeze, billows and folds like waves dancing over the chairs. The center table, side tables, bookcase top and on top of the piano, were draped in purple and white doilies my mother had crocheted, starched and pressed to stiffness. I loved going into my mother’s room because even in the middle of the day, her white Chenille bedspread with purple flowers, and her dresser with purple and white crochet doilies lured.  Everything had its place, and it made her room a haven I would enter quietly, run my hand over her Chenille bedspread, wrap the curtain around my slender body and sniff the air laced with Kanaga, the perfume she wore frequently. Sometimes, I would go into her closet, pull the door shut, crouch on the floor and sniff her clothes.

My mother celebrated Easter by  baking her own bun that flavored our house, making it smell like a bakery, raisins, currents, maraschino cherries, flour, spices and molasses.  On Good Friday, we usually began the day with salt-fish fritters, hardo bread and hot cocoa, which was grated, boiled, spiced with nutmeg, allspice, brown sugar and milk thatcame from my mother’s village, Flamstead,  in St James.For lunch we had bun and cheese, and then we were off to church to suffer for three hours on the cross like Jesus allegedly did. I hated Good Friday service, and barely survived except in anticipation of the reward of food after the service. I always argued that it  was unfair that I had to suffer three hours of dirge like singing and the preachers droning on since Jesus already died for me, and besides I wasn’t aware I had committed any sins. My mother told me to zip it and off we went, anticipating dinner – Escovitch fish, bammy, fried plantain, all of which were prepared the evening before, because my mother’s rule was no major cooking should take place on Good Friday, a holy day. The irony of course is that it is called Good Friday, the day of Jesus’  crucifixion. “So why is it “good” anyway?” I almost earned a box on the mouth for such abomination.

Well perhaps it is a coincidence, but since my mother’s death, Good Friday was the first day I felt as if I were back to my normal self. I awoke and it was as if the sky opened and the sun shone like it hadn’t before. I walked five miles, I marveled at the golden Poui blossoms all over the campus and Mona area, I began to make plans for the new books I had to write. I felt, again, ready for all life has to offer. And then on Easter Sunday, the resurrection, I woke at dawn, went to see the amazing “Movement and Music” performance by the NDTC at the Little Theatre where I also danced, (in another life it seemed), and when I came home, Mommy was strongly on my mind.  So I searched and found the bed-spread she crocheted for me about twenty years ago, and that I had not used in perhaps seven years, and put it on my bed, then I went through the closet and found some doilies that she had crocheted for me. Whenever she came to visit me in California and saw my tables and dresser bare, she would crochet me different color doilies, which I sometimes used as basket mats for food when I entertained. But this Easter Sunday after her death I put a doily on the desk of hers that I inherited, poured white rum as libation for the ancestors, of which my mother is now a member, placed my favorite photo of her taken when she was twenty-one, and two glasses of water, bun and cheese so she will not be thirsty  or hungry on her journey and white and purple bougainvillea in a vase for she loved flowers – an altar in her tribute. Then I placed two other doilies on what used to be my bare side and dining tables, in her honor.

Although I did not bake any bun, I did buy bun and cheese and put curtains on the windows…sorry they are not white or purple…Happy Easter Mommy.

Your loving daughter, Opi (like you affectionately called me).

Catherine l Palmer

* I haven’t written anything for my mother since her death (February 23, 2018), but I know I will write a lot about her, as I have in the past, and will continue way into the future as she was and remains like formidable heroine.

 

Getting the Kite

IMG_0308I was in Berkeley last week and caught the end of the Kite Festival. This is a wonderful family event to witness the amazing array of kites take over the sky and share the excitement of the kite-fliers, of all ages, and the wonder-gaze of the children.

Being there I was reminded of all the times my ex and I took our children to the Berkeley Marina to fly kites and my mind ruminated over one specific Sunday when we went to get the kite, and I pondered if my children even remember.

While I am uncertain about the specific year when this occurred, I think the children were, 4, 6 and 10 years old, respectively and I had gotten them new kites. The sky was clear, the wind strong, but the air warm. We climbed the knoll and our day unfolded, running and rolling and trying to keep our kites from being entangled with others in close proximity.

JaJa, my son, with his usual zeal and zest, and untiring energy unfolded his kite last and his face lit up as it soared in the sky and his Baba helped him steer it while also cautioning him to hang on tight. The kite took off, its yellow and green tail swirling, the wind tugging and batting it around. Jaja began to run with the kite, and we all applauded the frantic dance of the kite that seemed to be having as much fun as as we were.

And then JaJa stumbled and the kite flew from his hand and ascended further into the sky.  We watched as the kite dipped and soared and spread itself and glided across the sky, free and confident to explore. We kept watching as it sailed across the water and got caught in a tree.

“Let’s go get it!” JaJa shouted taking off. His Baba caught up with him and explained that the kite was too far, and even if we were to walk that distance, there was no guarantee that we could unhinge it from the tree. Jaja pleaded, determined, and as a family, we decided to give it a try.  We walked for well over a mile, sweat pressing our clothes to our bodies.  At long last, we circled the harbor and was under the tree.  We could see the kite, still trying to free itself, but the wind and a tree branch kept it anchored

But luck was on our side.  The string of the kite dangled between the branches, and very carefully, with Jaja giving directions, and the rest of us putting in our two cents, his Baba was able to maneuver the kite and after about half an hour of careful unwinding the kite was free.  We shouted and jumped up and down, praised Baba for his careful mastery of detangling and freeing the kit;  it was an elated moment for the entire family.  We all felt vindicated, but more importantly we felt we had accomplished an arduous feat, and indeed we had.  I was so proud of Jaja for his determination and insistence on retrieving his kite and getting us as a family to buy-into making it happen.IMG_0307

I remember that as one of our very special family adventures, of which we had many. We were all on one accord: to not stop until we get the kite, and get the kite we did. As we drove home, all three children exhausted and asleep even before we exited the Marina, I glanced at Jaja, with the kite tucked under his arm, and I knew that singular spirit of determination and our family working as one would serve us well in the future.

I always tell my children that together they are a fist, unbeatable. As long as they stick together and support one another (and I am confident that they are still being a fist), they will be able to track down any kite, and not allow it to get away.

Evidence of Abundance

Life is happening all around me and I am part of the flow, the change, the acceptance, the reaching for something else, the transIMG_8702forming to become winged.

The caterpillars are eating the Frangipani tree. They are so beautiful and the tree is almost stripped clean –all the leaves have been devoured.  I wonder what the tree says to the caterpillar? Do the caterpillars apologize, say they are partial to the leaves and purple flowers. I nibble at everything in sight.

IMG_8712 Down the road, the horses are horny.  As I begin my walk I watch them sniff each other then the males mounts the female until she shakes him off.

Returning from my walk, the mare is wallowing in the dirt, rolling around as if to dislodge something…The stallion is no where to be seen.  Often, after intercourse couples turn their backs to one another.

The bees love the Haita/Sea Hibiscus/Maho. IMG_8708The swarm it.  They have been frisky and lost, flitting everywhere, seemingly confused in search of the queen or a hive.  Death might be eminent as the pollens swirl in the wind and the petals fall to the ground. Love is like that sometime — it hits rock bottom then soars.  Figures!

There is so much abundance I swoon. The fruits ripen all at once.  We spent almost an hour sighting and picking belle apples.  The nease berries/mesple/sapodilla/chicle are in fruit.  The custard apples/coriazon are in the trees and the ackee branch is so weighted it broke.  Bats and birds prey and we do what we can to have enough and leave them some.

I pop 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 belle apples in my mouth. IMG_8733 I slice off the top and suck the seedy juice in my mouth.  I want their juice to lather my skin.

I want to run naked.

I want to fly away to India.

I want to stop wanting to make a contribution, and really contribute.

My mind finds the words then hold them in my mouth until they vanish, not saliva, not meaning, not fact just a promise that is coming…

Camping on the Beach: ST Croix’s Easter Tradition

From Butler Bay in the west, to Cramer Park in the east, a week before Easter, many Crucian families make the beaches their home, camping out for as long as two weeks for some, or just four or so days for others. It is a tradition dating back at least thirty years, and although, thus far, no one I spoke to can tell me how it began; it is the thing that’s done.IMG_8496

Families and friends tend to camp together and form a cluster or tents that vary in size. While most people stick to basics, over the years, some families have gotten more elaborate bringing gas stoves and fridges from home and generator. In one campsite there was even a large tent designated for entertainment, and inside was a large TV, that reportedly was turned on at nights for the children. There are also porter-potties and makeshift showers at all the camps.

I have visited camp-sights at Dorsch, Salt River and Cramer Park, specifically and hung out with friends and enjoyed meals. As one Crucian senior said to me as we sat on chairs looking out at the ocean and nibbling on vegie burgers,

“I do this so I can forget about everything, including myself.”

Josetta, a mother and grandmother says, “I’ve been camping for over twenty years. My children grew up camping. Now the only baby we have is my four year-old grandson in the water with my daughter. It’s what we do every Easter for 7-10 days.”

Camping allows absolute freedom for the children –-two little ones, no more than four years old were in the water for the three hours I spent at one camp-site and their mother said they had been in the water all day.DSC_0056

There are various bands of children ranging in age and activity, splashing around in the sea, snorkeling, and engaging in other water and beach activity, including chasing and running. Even the pets enjoy this time, as leashed dogs strolls the beach with teenagers.

I stopped a few girls as they were running out the sea and heading towards one of the tents. I asked them if they were enjoying themselves. They affirmed in unison and their responses spilled out and over each other.

“We’ve been doing it since they were young, since third grade,” asserts Shania.

“It’s a family tradition,” adds Jahnaye.

“We do lots of things such as water sports, fishing, hiking and volley ball inserts Shandeah, obviously the leader if the pack.

“And we play board games, and sometimes we do storytelling,” adds the only boy in this group who runs off before telling me his name.

Although I have not camped during this season, I love seeing families and friends living next to the ocean and I enjoy spending the day on the beach with friends and sharing the amazing meals.

Even though living in St Croix, one is never far from the ocean; I imagine there is nothing like sleeping with the sea right in your ears and waking up and jumping right into its arms.IMG_8492

Easter Monday, a public holiday in St Croix, signals the end of this tradition. However, today, Tuesday, you can still see a handful of tents strewn on a few beaches –the true die-harders, soaking up one more of the good sea breeze.IMG_8486

Making International Women’s Day Personal

Every day we have to be conscious, every day we have to celebrate and broadcast the news about women, girls, people, those who have no platform from which to speak their needs.
I purposely did not post yesterday for International Women’s Day but my mind and heart were heavy thinking about the vast majority of women all over the world who don’t know of this day, and whose daily life is a toil, a real effort to have breath.
My heart feels constricted when I think about the vast exploitation of people, and in particular girls in the Congo in virtual slavery under the Chinese regime. I think of girls all over the African continent, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Asia and even in some parts of Europe who are not being educated, who are vulnerable to rape, forced marriage, random acts of violence both physically and emotionally.KenyagirlsDISA2015
I mourn that such beauty and vitality are being squashed every minute somewhere in the world, and that the contribution that these girls could make to improve our world will not be realized.
Celebrating International Women’s day means we have to broaden the focus so the issues that impact indigent and poor women in rural areas as well as urban areas are addressed with the same vigor and attention as issues of mainly white, middle-class women.
Yes, let’s celebrate International women’s day, and let each of us take a specific issue or geographic location and promote the welfare of women in that community.
Today I celebrate my 88 year old mother who is still my heroine, mother87and who showed me a lived example of helping others less fortunate, who fought to be herself in Jamaica at a time when dark shinned proud women were not even allowed to work in banks despite their qualification.  
I am fighting because that attitude still prevails today hence the wide-spread use of bleaching cream and artificial hair weaves  by women from the working class community in Jamaica in the hope  that being lighter with long hair, they will stand a chance, get ahead, and even be considered beautiful.
Every day we have to celebrate International Women’s Day until these beliefs and attitude are eradicated and women are not discriminated against based on their address, the color of their skin, the length of their hair, their sexual preference — their gender.
Celebrating International Women’s Day means all girls and women have true and real opportunities to be themselves, to love their own skins, and excel in whatever areas their passion soars.

Uncovering Haiti: A Photo Exploration

When I first visited Ayiti/Haiti,  exactly a year after  the 2010 devastating earthquake I did not know what to expect, but I was deeply moved by the indomitable spirit of the people, by the immense artistry and beauty that they created everywhere and by the care and loving attention they obviously invested in their children.orangegirlAdisa2015

But we never see or hear this portrayal of Ayiti in the media, and even less about the historical wanton exploitation of the land and resources and the people’s labor by Europeans, Americans and even neighboring Caribbean islands.  All our hands are a little dirty.

However, what we are most guilty of is our negligence of thought that continue to speak of Ayiti as the “poorest” country in the western hemispher, and negates its foundational wealth, its unstoppable creativity and its undaunting determination to continue and thrive. This collective spirit is evident in the children I saw everywhere — their clean, clear eyes, their open curiosity, their keen sense of responsibility for themselves and their siblings and their innate, open beauty that was as welcoming and heart-stirring as the most beautiful flower, which of course they are, and to my delight, I felt many of them knew this, was shown and taught this, despite their immediate circumstances.

As I was driving by, I photographed this little girl squatting by the road, in charge of the two bags to her right and left.  goldenshowergirlAdisa2015There was something golden about her manner, some assurance of belonging, some assurance that life was not going to simply use her up then sit her out. She was already installed on her throne, hence the color and texture that I employed in amending the photo.

At a vodun ceremony, I was arrested by this other girl, who was probably no more than six years old. blueyellowgirlAdis2015It was her gesture, finger to mouth, angle of her upright arm, bold intensity of her eyes that I wanted to share. I am here and must be counted, her presence spoke to me.  I am here and have something to share.  I am here and will not be forgotten.  I am here…See me!

See these children, really see them and see their island, and help them and their island to live the freedom they so daringly seized that others have been trying to pull from their hands. They are truly methaphysicians.  They see beyond the immediate into a future where real freedom is a lived reality.

This is part of a larger photo/poetic project, in progress, entitled, Still: Ayiti’s Resoluteness