Emancipation from slavery in the British West Indies is always celebrated the first week in August, its actual date: Aug. 1, 1834. This was the 11th year for Brooklyn’s St. Jude Community Center summer program’s commemoration.
St. Jude’s founder Ena Garcia welcomed all and a memorial tribute was paid to a friend of the Center, a part of the program every year, Haitian Master Drummer Frisner Augustin, who passed away in February.
After introductions–invited special guests, community elders acknowledge – a varied program of stories, history, and music followed.
Sister Bisi Ajeniya captivated the children with her own life story from living in a village in Nigeria. “The village had one little black and white television,” she said, of learning of a world outside her own and wanting to be a part of it.
She worked hard to stay in school. “I wasn’t very smart,” she said, but worried when her mother told her she would be sent to a trade school for sewing, essentially, pulled out of school. She worked harder.
“Focus, you have to focus,” she said. “And dream, don’t be afraid to dream, and dream big,” she encouraged. She uses her own life story as an example of a dream, hard work, a “don’t take no” attitude that enabled her to move beyond her village and get an education in England. Sister Bisi now works in special education.
The Center’s children contributed their own thoughts and feelings as part of the program. Kalia Asecncio and Yasmine Jaffier read their essays on Harriet Tubman and slave history. Akeem Clarke and Kirby Douze spoke on what is emancipation and Ketura McQueen and Chelsea Crandall read and acted out their fictionalized “Yembe’s Story.”
Pierre Dorismond took a different approach. Of Haitian ancestry, (Haiti celebrates freedom and independence on Jan. 1), this three-year Summer Youth Employment counselor gave a moving account of visiting Haiti with his parents.
Pierre told of the hardships so many Haitians live under. He expressed an understanding of the opportunities that living in the United States, by the choices his parents made, affords him and similarly, all the children at the Center. His message to the children: Take advantage of these opportunities.
Dr. Brenda Jack read a story.
From the Crown Heights Youth Collective, Dr. Richard Greene spoke of the slavery route and how emancipation continues to be an on-going process. Then he distributed percussion instruments, thumb pianos, shakers, bells, and scrapers and led the whole group through hypnotic rhythm making accompanied on flute by Sadbu who also gave a solo performance.
By afternoon’s end, children and guests snacked on Trinidadian acra, corn, and mini cupcakes washed down with mauby.
This year’s theme was: Forever Forward: Reflection, Resistance, and Renewal. On the printed program there was a picture of the Sankofa bird, a bird looking backward with the egg of the future in its beak. The word Sankofa also means, “return and get it.”