Dr. Maya Angelou, MLK, Pres. Obama, Kita Nago, and Nadège Fleurimond?

393px-Angelou_Obama - We’re all connected. Yes. I’m not talking about Linkedin, Facebook, and other networking sites. We’re connected in the way that we’re not so different from one another. Dr. Maya Angelou, in her historic “Human Family” poem, puts it this way: “We are more alike, my friends, than unalike.” But what in the world could Dr. Angelou, MLK, President Obama, a new movement in Haiti called Kita Nago, and a certain Nadège Fleurimond possibly have in common? Come with me.

To say that Martin Luther King was just a guy who walked around (a lot), asking folk to treat one another fairly would be a transgression. Also, whether or not you voted for President Obama will never take away from the fact that he is not some dude who ‘tried out’ for president, and won. Twice.

We’re all part of the human family, but you’ve got to admit there’s something a little extra special about family members like Dr. King and President Obama. Don’t they seem to possess an extraordinary sense of. . .je ne sais qoui? People like that are beyond audacious and resolute in their mission. It’s almost as if they exist on a different plane.

Let’s step out of history books and ‘other planes’ for a minute. Zoom in on Brooklyn, New York. See that tomboy-at-heart lady in the pretty dress and uncomfortable high heels. Note how she scans the room to make sure everything is perfect. Here she is at so-and-so’s baptism, first communion, wedding, and a fancy event for some big-shot official. Her name: Nadège Fleurimond. What makes her more alike than unalike with. . . say. . .President Obama? Two words: Kita Nago (The ‘a’ sounds like alpha; the ‘o’ sounds like bravo).

Stay with me.

Haitian FlagIf you care anything about Haiti but have not heard of the Kita Nago movement, give it a little while. Kita Nago continues to sweep across our side of the island, gathering thousands of followers. “But what the heck is it?”

I read an interesting definition that included the words “mysterious” and “strange.” Ah, but that article has vanished from the Web. Now, that link takes you here. Not bad.

Others call Kita Nago a cross-like thing of mahogany that weighs close to a ton, which someone decided would make a great symbol for unity among Haitians. Thousands continue to carry it across the country. The destination is Ouanaminthe–a 430 mile trek from its place of origin, on foot! That’s roughly 17 back-to-back marathons.

People are confused by Kita Nago. Some are ashamed of it. Some are proud, and wish they could walk the miles with fellow countrymen. Some don’t like Kita Nago simply because of the words’ obvious connection to a certain ‘ancestral’ religion. One thing is clear: Kita Nago won’t stop until it reaches its destination. Google it.

Get a thousand online definitions, but if you want to know what Kita Nago really means, find that elderly Haitian in your circle, Ask, Seek and Knock–ask. Our ‘granmoun’ elders carry volumes of this stuff inside their heads. Run and get those stories before the undertaker comes. In the meantime, here’s what my own Haitian mother told me:

When people say: “M pap fè yon pa kita, yon pa nago,” they mean “I am not moving. I am not taking one step from where I stand. You cannot make me move. I shall not be moved. I am resolute in my belief. You cannot unravel this faith in me. M pap fè yon pa kita, yon pa nago. Nothing you do can force me to alter my course. The dream I hold is my life-mission. No army will deter me from accomplishing it. M pap fè yon pa kita, yon pa nago.”

Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTSNow, focus your lens on a jail cell in Alabama not so long ago. See that man leaning on the bars? Can’t you hear Dr. King saying to himself: I shall not be moved. I will not relinquish this dream. No matter what they do to me, I will not abandon this mission. This movement is far bigger than I. They can kill me, but they cannot kill my dream. M pap fè yon pa kita, yon pa nago.

When President Obama ran for office the second time, Romney and Ryan wanted him to just go. Politely. They probably didn’t care where Obama went, as long as he abandoned the idea of being President of these United States. Again. Can’t you see Mr. Obama shaking his head? Can’t you hear him saying: No, no, not yet.  I’m not leaving. I will not be moved. Or removed. ‘And I am telling you, I’m not going. . .’ M pap fè yon pa kita, yon pa nago.

Let’s go back to Brooklyn, New York. Don’t forget we are all more alike than unalike. Wait. Adjust the rear-view mirror. Go as far back as 23 years. (If you weren’t born yet, don’t worry; Google it.) Nadège Fleurimond was a 7 years old kid then. Her father had brought her with him from Haiti. No one said the words, but everyone knew the little girl would grow up to be a doctor. A lawyer. Something respectable. She would make the family proud. She would realize what they had not.

Nadege Fleurimond Adjust the rear-view mirror again. Look closer. It’s now 2003. There’s a grown-up Nadège in starched cap and gown. Diploma in hand–courtesy of Columbia University. It was not easy to earn that degree in Political Science, but she had done it. She was on her way to a smashing career as a. . .cook!

“You’re crazy!” her father had screamed. “You get that big degree, and all you want is to be a vending woman. You want to be a mashann like the ones on those filthy streets in Port-au-Prince? You want to waste your life? For all my sacrifice, you dreamed only of being a maid?”

“We rarely speak to each other now,” Nadège allows of her relationship with her father. It’s complicated. “He had his dream for my life; I had my own.”

Not everyone dreams about becoming a world leader, a poet, a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, or whatever. “I want to be who I am,”Nadège continues. “And when the opposition gets to be too  much, I believe in myself that much more.”

Fleurimond catering banannIt’s been 11 years since Nadège fought to fulfill her dream. Fleurimond Catering is now a thriving business; she could not be happier. “I am not here to save the world,” Nadège explains with her infectious smile. “I take pride in bringing people together and representing my Haitian culture the way I know how. I follow my heart. We need to allow children to dream for themselves. When everyone tried to shake my dream out of me, I told them No. This is my path. I believe in myself enough to work for this. You can’t make me move. You don’t have the power to stop me. ”

M pap fè yon pa kita, yon pa nago.

“Tell Them I’m Still Here” ~ Remembering 1/12/10

1-Hummingbird2 (1)-001“Mommy, Are These Real People?”

My daughter’s eyes were fixed on the red letters that flashed at the bottom of the TV screen: CNN.

I Can Live -- FranceskaI was glued to the couch, watching Andersen Cooper broadcasting the news from Haiti.

Here and again a reporter would put a microphone near someone’s mouth. The person—a Haitian—would say something in Kreyòl; a disembodied voice would give a creative translation that was nothing like what the person had said.

“No. No. That’s not what the person said.” I would shake my head. My mouth was dry. My eyes burned from not sleeping. I could not stop watching.  My daughter wanted to understand. She wanted to understand why I was suddenly so interested in the television—something I had banished to some corner of the house.




I agonized about allowing my little girl to watch the people wandering around Port-au-Prince with tragedy drawn on their faces like massive Ash-Wednesday crosses.

The blood and mud looked like old play-dough. I thought my daughter was far young to see these graphic images. I told myself she would have nightmares. Watching this horror would transform her. She is only five years old.

Five year-old children in Haiti are different; they’re older somehow. Surely there’s some type of math that would substantiate this, particularly when you factor in a 7.0 quake, 30 plus aftershocks, and the estimated number of casualties. The story developing in Mommy’s country now is a must-see. It’s an epic blockbuster.

Frank - 1I sat my daughter down next to me. She watched intently a pre-recorded news segment which showed dazed and dusty people wandering about aimlessly.  The bad thing had just happened.

There were no bandages to cover the scary playdough on survivors’ eyes, arms, legs. There were no shrouded human forms in the middle of the street—not yet. The heaps of half-dressed mannequins with muddy hair and missing limbs had yet to be piled in wheelbarrows and dump trucks.

The former Palais National photographed by kdu: March, 2010“Mommy, are those real people?” my daughter was confused, incapable suddenly of making a basic distinction. She blinked hard, adjusting her eyes.

“They are real people,” I explained. “They are real as you and I are.”

A man walked across the screen with a baby in his arms. The baby looked like an antique doll that had fallen off a shelf and lost a few parts.

“Is that little baby sick, Mommy?” my daughter wanted to know.

“Yes, the little baby is sick.” The truth would have to be rationed carefully– told in increments — over time.

“Tell Them I’m Still Here” words spoken by Maxo Simeon inspired a Short film by Katia D. Ulysse (Estimated release date, December, 2013)

“How can we help them? Do you think they need snacks? And juice boxes? Do you thing we can give them each a Happy Meal? And then they’ll be ok, right?”

“This will take a little more than snacks and juice boxes, honey. Not even a Happy Meal will fix this one.”

Katia D. Ulysse ~ February 12, 2010


Leslie Sauray’s “Untitled”

As the ashes clear and we move away rubble
you see my people still standing, still running
even if we stumble.

We’ve been down worse roads
We have broken many chains
Shaky grounds have been around
Long before the earthquakes came

The after shocks are the souls
of those in the after life
trying to wake us all up
so we can continue to fight

The te. . . levision can’t show
the smell and the screams
So you only got a small picture
even on a big screen


Carline Ruiz And the New Revolution

Cécile_FatimanCecile Fatiman stood among the men at Bois Caiman and gave them the courage they would need to accomplish the impossible. Marie-Jeanne Lamartiniére put on a male uniform and fought alongside the men to bring about the only successful slave revolt in history.  Catherine Flon, by the light of a candle, sewed the first Haitian flag. And after Dessalines was assassinated, Marie Sainte Dédée Bazile (Defilé) was the only one bold enough to gather his remains and give him a proper burial.

Carline Ruiz En IndienneIt’s been 209  years since the “1804” has been branded on every Haitian’s heart and mind. Even if parts of our country are now scuffed beyond recognition, the Pearl of the Antilles did shine brilliantly once. That much we know. But what would Marie-Janne Lanartiniére say if she saw Haïti today? How would Dessalines react if he saw all the foreign nationals roaming freely on Haitian soil; many with guns in their hands.  Would Catherine Flon cry? It’s been 209 years since they gladly died to give us our  freedom. What would Dédée Bazile say to us today?

One of the best quotes I heard in 2012 came from Leonie Hermantin. She said: “Don’t just wrap yourself in a flag, do something.” I love that quote because so many of us wrap ourselves in the Haitian flag but do nothing to help fix the mess our country is in. Our culture’s pants have fallen below its knees; we point fingers at “those people,” and yet we do nothing. Strangers have bottled up our culture to sell it right back to us. We pay high prices for goods that belong to us. What would our our ancestors say?

Carline Ruiz in hatYes, the flag looks fantastic on our heads and on our backs, but who’s rebuilding the National Palace? Who is taking care of the orphaned babies? Who’s working to get the displaced from under the tents and into homes. Who’s selling our legacy acre by acre?

Our great-grandparents left us land galore; now when we go “home,” we have to rent a little spot from a stranger, and pay in U.S. dollars. Is this the new Pearl of the Antilles? Manman Flon, speak a word to us.

On this Independence Day, VoicesfromHaiti remembers the legacy of Cecile Fatiman, Catherine Flon, Marie Sainte Dédée Bazile, and Marie-Janne Lanartiniére for standing up against the worst kind of abuse. We celebrate also all people who carry a torch in Haiti’s name. We celebrate the politicians, the lawyers, the judges who work for real justice. We celebrate the young people who are searching for life. We celebrate the hundreds of thousands who passed away as a result of the earthquake, floods, and hurricanes. We remember the ones who lost their lives for no particular reason. We applaud our authors, our poets, our teachers, and our students who study by the light of the moon. We bow down to the grandmothers and grandfathers in whose heads the history of Haiti lives. We honor Haiti’s glorious past, and we celebrate the new journey.

Carline RuizWe say ochan for one of the boldest women who collects the remains of Haitian culture and breathes life into them: Ms. Carline Ruiz.

Carline was born during a thunderstorm in Port-au-Prince, in 1969. From an early age, all she wanted to do was dance, sing, write, and tell stories. When she was twenty years old, she became part of the group KNK: (konbit neg kay); at the same time she co-founded ADJAH: (Association for the development of young Haitian Artists).

Carline, along with a few others, kept Haitian culture alive by teaching more than four hundred children traditional dance, drumming, theater, and craft-making. The following year, Carline helped to create one of Haiti biggest folk bands: Boukan Ginen. The band would go on to represent Haïti all over the world.

Carline Ruiz in red scarf around her waist“If our culture disappears, we will forget who we are,” Carline says, And when that happens, we will become a lost people.”

Carline continues: “The way we as Haitians and Haitian-Americans can preserve and promote our culture is by educating the young people. We must teach our foreign-born kids what it means to be Haitian. We must teach them our history. Our youth today lack a sense of pride. Too many young foreign-born Haitians shun their own culture; they would rather say they’re from anywhere but Haïti. We need to teach them to embrace who they are. It is our civic duty to promote Haitian culture; to teach the new generation the way of our ancestors; to keep our tradition from disappearing. No matter what tragedies we endure, we have to continue to promote our legacy. Our ancestors told us that together we are strong. If we lose our identity, we will be divided. Everyone will speak a different language; we will not recognize ourselves. I say let’s work to preserve our identity. United we are strong. Now more than ever, we need to come together and do the work before us. Or watch ourselves fade away.”


Carline Ruiz is the founder of Rhythm, Dance, et Traditions. Her forthcoming CD is a tribute to the women of Haïti who continue to fight for our art forms and cultural freedom.