Notable Lives. Notable Deaths.

Jean-Jacques-DessalinesFollowing the only successful slave rebellion in the history of the world, Jean-Jacques Dessalines–one of the Haitian Revolution’s fearless leaders and founding fathers–became governor-general of the independent nation. Later that year (1804), Dessalines decided he wanted to be Emperor instead. The coronation of Emperor Jacques I took place on October 8. I would be born on the same day, exactly 96 years later.

Becoming emperor did not win Dessalines too many admirers. On October 17, 1806, he was ambushed and assassinated. Dessalines was so loathed that his killers threatened to punish anyone who might have been inclined to bury the mutilated body.

Ms. Bazile

Défilée carries Dessalines’ mutilated body from the street.

Of course, it was a woman–an equally fearless woman–who ignored the threats and rescued Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ body from dogs in the street. She did what no one else dared: She buried the desecrated remains of a fellow human being. For this, she ought to be considered a founding mother. Wasn’t she as brave?




Nearly two hundred years afterwards, a disgraced man whose seemingly diabolical decisions did not win him too many fans in Haiti and in the Diaspora also died. Ironically, this was the same disgraced man whose father purged the Blue from our nation’s first flag–Dessaline’s Blue and Red flag–in exchange for black. (Dessalines’ Blue and Red are once again the colors of our flag). The disgraced man has gone the way of the ancestors, too.

Catherine Flon, Dessaline's goddaughter- sews Blue and Red to create an independent Haiti's first (and current) flag

Catherine Flon, Dessaline’s goddaughter- sews Blue and Red to create an independent Haiti’s first (and current) flag

The deaths of those famous men are considered notable. One of          the two’s life  will be commemorated each year with heartfelt appreciation and pride. The other will be remembered perhaps with great disdain. Either way,  nothing will alter the fact that in death and in life the two men (and myself) have one thing in common: October. Nothing will alter another undeniable fact: Once upon a time, they and we were all just a bunch of cute little babies with big bright eyes that gawked at God only knew what.

Notable Lives.

antique cradleSome of the people I know dreamed for years about becoming parents, long before the babies came. The ones whose babies came as complete surprises cried the same tears of joy as those who planned. And when these sons and daughters arrived—via the foster care system,  adoption agency, or mommy’s belly, most babies are met with adoring looks, gentle kisses, and applause. New parents take and share thousands of photographs of their adorable little ones; they are proud to show off these tiny beings now their very own to cherish, care, live, fight, and—if necessary—die for.

The moms and dads I know are of various shades and nationalities. They call God by different names. They serve different food for dinner, they swim in different oceans, but they have one thing in common: When it comes to protecting their children, these very nice parents will switch from sweet to dangerous in a fraction of a second. At the slightest whiff of danger, moms and dads who can goo-goo and ga-ga with the best of them morph into enraged animals. Touch one hair of the head of their children, and God help you.

Having taught in some of the toughest schools in Baltimore, City, I’ve met parents who teach their children to respect themselves, their teachers, and the school where they spend huge chunks of their time. I’ve met parents who look the other way when their children cheat on tests and steal from teachers’ wallets. I’ve met parents who care so much about their children’s education that they spend hours volunteering in the classroom, helping crazy-busy teachers meet everyone’s needs. I’ve met grandparents who are committed to raising children orphaned by drug-addicted or incarcerated parents. I’ve met parents who come to school high as run-away helium balloons to complain about someone insulting their kid. I am moved and inspired by all of them. I know people who work in adoption agencies who pray every day for the children to find loving (and permanent) homes. No matter what the circumstances are, most parents can agree on the fact that babies are just plain precious. And innocent.

Of course, many of these precious babies grow up to be hardened criminals, but the majority does not. They lead productive lives. Notable lives.

Have you ever heard a three year old say he/she would grow up to be a dictator, a murderer or a junkie? “When I grow up, I want to be hungry and cold. I want to live in a cardboard box under a bridge.” What child would say that?

The parents I know want only the best for their kids. Even when the good babies turn into bad adults, they remain precious to someone. Every felon in jail, every evil-doer, every dictator was somebody’s cute little baby once.

This year, as with the other hundred Octobers before it, I told myself I would have a party. I hadn’t had a birthday party in two decades. This October would be different. I would not feel guilty about having a big cake with my name written on it in shimmering curlicues. I would enjoy blowing out the candles. Champagne glasses would sparkle on the table. There would be laughter. Music. I love to throw parties for other people; why not show myself some love. I would celebrate being above ground one more day. Every breath is a gift. I am here. Alive and grateful for it. Why not celebrate my own life?

My birthday came and went as the others. I didn’t have a party—for the usual rationalization. I will have a small celebration before 2015 comes; I hope. After all, I could have been one of the many people who passed away during October 2014.

Somebody’s precious babies we were once. No matter what we’ve done or haven’t done, someone somewhere loved and cherished us; perhaps not our own parents–Lord knows it takes more than giving birth or fathering a child to earn the titles Mom and Dad. But someone cared enough to wish us the best.

Felicie Montfleury 8/15/1921 - 4/1/2012

Felicie Montfleury 8/15/1921 – 4/1/2012

Everyday the newspapers make special  mention of those whose death are considered Notable. These notables tend to be politicians, former presidents and dictators, movie stars, musicians, famous authors, sport figures, scientists, technology geniuses. What about all the other deceased people whose pictures don’t make the front page? What about the ones who cannot afford a few lines in the obituary section? Are their deaths not notable?

photo by kdu

photo by kdu

To all those born in October, Happy birthday to YOU! And to those who have died: May you rest in perfect peace. To surviving family members, you are in my prayers. And even if news of your loved ones does not go viral, please know that they will not be forgotten. Someone somewhere will remember their names. Always.

Yours truly,







“Take a Picture” ~ Katia D. Ulysse Reads a vignette

katia avan the reading at queens collegeHi everybody!

I love to write; you probably know that by now. I love to READ just as much.  Now you can hear me do both at the same time. Didn’t think I could do that, did you?

Here you go, friends! One more reason why I love America!

Voicesfromhaiti fortune kouki- EGARE

Live and Learn

katia avan the reading at queens college

I am not a wise, old woman yet, but I play one on TV.  The bottom line is: I know a heck of a lot more today than I did when I was 12.  I look forward to learning even more, considering I will live to be 123.

In my country, we have a saying: Si m te konnen toujou dèyè. Rough translation: If I knew then what I know now. Imagine the magic you would create, if you could press a button on the remote and watch future decades of your life unfold–minute by minute. It would be like the World Cup all over again. You could cheer yourself here and chide yourself there. You would be your most loyal fan. The future would be yours; you could say Been there. Done that and actually mean it. You’d know the people and places to avoid; you’d be a real know-it-all. Imagine being able to reach through the years to tell your teen self about the future-tense you! What would you say?

This amazing woman, E. Kristin Anderson, invites authors to write letters to their know-it-all teen selves. She publishes these letters on her site, I was honored and eager to participate. I grabbed paper and pen (computer), and let Teen Me have it. It was NOT pretty.  Here’s a peek.  For the full letter, click on this.

Dear Teen Me from author Katia D. Ulysse (DRIFTING, HAITI NOIR)

Dear Teen Me,

This photo is at Betty's house. One day, I'm gonna "borow" it.You hate surprises, I know; but this one cannot wait. Sit or lean on something sturdy for support. Are you ready? Good. Read these lines carefully: You will not die at the age of twenty-three. You will make it. The year is 2014, and you are still alive. I am living proof of that. That’s the surprise. You see, I am you—your new and improved self—the future tense YOU, the Now-you. We made it. Intact. And that’s not half of it.

Sitting in trigonometry class, you frown because the exam is too easy. The teacher senses that you’re bored. He gives you a second worksheet. You finish it too soon. The teacher is impressed with your advanced math skills, and credits your hunger for learning to your foreignness. He nods approvingly, but your mind is busy trying to solve a greater problem: You have 8 years to live, and you want to make each one memorable . . . (continue reading)



Happy Birthday, Nelson Mandela! written by Jason Harris


THE LAST OF OUR PRIDE ~ by Jason  Harris was first published on

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is 95 years old, resting, dream-walking the path that separates the ancestors from our world.  Walter Sisulu, Chief Albert Lithuli, Govan Mbeki  and countless others on the other side occasionally brush his spirit and say, “Brother, you have done everything and more on that side.  What keeps you?”

Madiba, no doubt, makes a wry comment about the machines that his physical form is currently connected to, and promises that he will join the ancestors sooner than later.  There is no question that wherever the Lion of Azania travels, there is a crowd waiting for him. From the perspective of a child of the diaspora, the image of Nelson and Winnie Mandela holding hands raised over their head as a sea of ANC supporters shout ‘Amandla’, or the black and white photos of Mandela nattily dressed as a young barrister are iconic touchstones that speak to something within us that strives for and seeks out the best. There can be no disagreement with the idea that Nelson Mandela embodies our best.

mandela peace doveYet there is a disquieting void in this moment, as Mandela has been in and out of the hospital in the last year.  There seems to be less joy in celebrating a life of supreme achievement and more of a sense of dread.  White South Africans- the Boers (and the British) are worried that the hardliners in the ANC will exert their influence upon South Africa in Mandela’s absence and carry out measures akin to what Robert Mugabe has enacted in Zimbabwe.  Black South Africans (a redundant term in my opinion) are worried that white South Africans will revert to their more overt measures of oppression in the absence of a moral executor such as Mandela.  Mandela’s children are entrenched in a battle to properly bury their Father.  World leaders such as Obama are hastily making plans to descend upon South Africa to pay their respects and gauge in what manner Mandela’s possible transition affects sub-saharan Africa as a whole.

Desmond Tutu, Ahmed Kathrada, Thabo Mbeki are still with us.  Even former UN head Kofi Annan is with us; but none can be compared to Madiba.  In retrospect, Mandela is the last of the Lions- Martin, Malcolm, Medgar, Steve (Biko), Walter (Rodney), Kwame (Nkrumrah); these are Mandela’s peers.  These are men who fathered movements and stepped in harm’s way.  Mandela was able to reach his particular mountaintop – ending apartheid and bringing South Africa into a multiracial society. Nelson Mandela tasted victory in a way no athlete or executive could ever approach.  While there are mountains yet to be climbed, those journeys are for others.  What forms do our lives take as a race without the “one” whom we can look to for inspiration and model ourselves after?

nelson-mandela1_custom-451884e26a2e9677b50650949e908433e61f79b9-s6-c30Nelson Mandela has lived the lives of multiple men in one soul stirring timeline- Prince and son of a Chief, founder of the first Black law firm in Johannesburg, political activist stepping forward to speak for his people, revolutionary moving about underground to avoid arrest, political prisoner, unifying messianic force of change, President, and now in his retirement, an avatar for morality, dignity and leadership.  His close friend, Ahmed Kathrada, said it best:

“From childhood, when he was brought up as a chief, Mandela was groomed to be a leader. Added to that were his political experience, foresight, courage and dynamism.  Throughout the period that he operated underground, and during the Rivonia Trial, he displayed the undeniable qualities of leadership, culminating with his address from the dock.  Our lawyers, the media, the outside world and all of the accused….accepted him as the leader…”

Young_MandelaConsider the vile reality of apartheid, where a pencil was pushed into ones hair, and depending on whether the pencil held fast or fell out determined the racial category one was officially classified under.  Being classified as an African meant losing one’s property, curfew, restricted movements withIN the country, as well as general subservience to the white minority.  Mandela’s journey was littered with the likes of State sponsored terrorists such as Theuns ‘Rooi Rus’ Swanepoel, the policeman who ordered the Soweto massacre in 1976 and Piet Badenhorst, a sadistic warden whose iron fisted rule of the Robben Island prison that housed Mandela featured prison guards burying inmates up to their neck and urinating on them.  In spite of the dehumanizing tactics of the apartheid regime, Mandela and his fellow inmates transformed Robben Island into a think tank that laid the ground work for the end of South Africa’s version of Jim Crow. The 27 years of imprisonment honed his prodigious gifts as a leader until he emerged from jail as a force whose proper place was nothing less than the world stage.

nelson mandelaHe patiently waited, shaping and honing his weapon of choice, his ideas, ever alert to opportunities to make them sharper, more efficient, more accessible.  Madiba could have fallen to bullets, bombs, bombshells, money or promises.  He didn’t; he walked out of the boxes they placed him in to crush his mind, body and spirit, ready and willing to live up to what he was expected to be.   His emergence and his powerful example as a man of intelligence and morality inspired the entire world.

At the end of Spike Lee’s film ‘Malcolm X’, we see the children standing up and saying ‘I am Nelson Mandela.’   The image was beautifully conceived and brought to mind the ANC slogan of ‘when one in front falls, another is there to catch the spear and continue the fight’.  Almost 50 years later, the last words of Madiba’s famous speech during the 1964 Rivonia trial that would send him to prison for nearly three decades serves as perfect encapsulation as to why children would be so inspired:

news paper image of nelson mandela“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people.  I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.  I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve; but if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Madiba’s charisma, intellect and discipline in the face of apartheid was singular- what we will find out in a world where the enemy has shifted its tactics, is not only who will carry on the Lion’s fight, but whether or not they are a lion at all.  Viva Madiba! Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika!


Mandela - npr-photo

Mandela – npr-photo

“We stand here today to salute the United Nations Organization and its Member States, both singly and collectively, for joining forces with the masses of our people in a common struggle that has brought about our emancipation and pushed back the frontiers of racism.”

South African President Nelson Mandela
Address to UN General Assembly
3 October 1994

Jason Harris is a Baltimore based multimedia artist whose primary medium is speculative literature.  He is the editor and publisher of ‘Redlines: Baltimore 2028′ a speculative fiction anthology that focuses on near future scenarios in Baltimore, Maryland. His upcoming novella, ‘Fly, Girl’ will be released at his event, Mind Trip 2.0, in September 2013.  More information about Jason and his work can be found on his website,

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