By Ruth Jeannoel, Huffington Post
It is important to me that we always include and apply the values from the Haitian Revolution-lresistance, self-determination and black love, in the movement for Black lives. Living at the intersection of being first-generation Haitian and Black, I have learned to bring my culture into my activism and organizing as a first act of choosing freedom and loving myself. This has not always been easy for me, with a family that has been stripped over generations of a lot of our cultural practices.
But what the Haitian Revolution means to me and what it means for Black liberation is a long and powerful story of resilience.
I was raised by my mother, an immigrant woman who moved to the United States from Haiti almost 12 years ago. She spent at least three months in a detention camp in Florida and only recently shared that part of her personal history with me. My mother grew up in Haiti during a time of serious political conflict and rivalries and in a time when joining a political party could get you killed, sometimes publicly. My mother learned to be protective at a young age and her early experiences impacted what she later shared with me. We never talked politics. She did not share openly with me about what liberation meant to her. I was not taught the history of Haiti when I was little, and no one explained to me the importance of the Haitian Revolution.
Even though I was born in America and my mother never talked about politics with me, I was raised with a Haitian identity. I learned to speak, read and write Haitian Kreyol, we ate and cooked Haitian food and I grew up learning the values of being Haitian. My mother taught me nearly everything that I know about being Haitian.
I think because I had this strong Haitian identity and at the same time my mother kept Haitian politics from me, I ended up growing thirsty to know more. Later I learned on my own about the rasin (roots) movement, the culture of Haitian Voodoo, and other aspects of African-based spiritual practices and values that Haitian people followed.
What exploration of my Black-Haitian American heritage has taught me is that the fight for Black lives must include deepening our understanding of concrete historical examples when Black liberation was real and we won! We must remember Haiti; we must celebrate and hold Haiti up. Haiti was the first place in the western hemisphere where Black people successfully fought back and then became the first Black nation. The Haitian Revolution has a rich and layered history, but the key action of the Bwa Kayiman, a Voodoo ceremony, would also prove to be the spark of the Haitian Revolution in 1791. Enslaved Africans living on the island of Hispaniola, originating from all different parts of Africa and speaking many different languages, came together nonetheless to evoke the spirits of their ancestors and to fight against the French, eventually winning their independence from France in 1804.
Although in a way my mother kept a lot from me, the blood of liberation was already boiling inside my body. And when I was ready, I chose the side of seeing and telling the truth. I chose to learn more about the role of the Haitian Revolution in my own life. And I am still choosing to find the bits and pieces I need to weave into my current organizing, through cultural sharing, by including Haitian folklore dancing and drumming in my work, through political education workshops and by story sharing with the Black youth who I organize with.
The future is full of Black people, from all across the diaspora of Africa, living in all different parts of the country, with different religions and cultural practices. Just as we did in 1791, we can all commit to dreaming big today and every day, recreating Bwa Kayiman in places all around us, through jete-glo-pour libations, invoking our ancestors and inviting them to join us at our actions, strategy sessions, rallies, protests, outreach events and canvasses in this battle for liberation.
The truth is that there is no Black future without honoring the Haitian Revolution, too. We will learn again how to embrace the traditions of our African ancestors and truly acknowledge and uplift the values the Haitian Revolution: self-determination and Black-love. We will hold strong to these values. After all, our ancestors were fearless, they’ve been here before and they are with us now, and we have got to lean on them to have our backs, our fronts and our sides.