Current Events

The Black Narrative

My teachers back in St Maarten got me started early with the tales of how the Caribbean islands “came to be.” Here is the short and long of it. The Arawaks were savages. Were it not for Senor Colombus coming through with the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, all would be lost in the Antilles. I swear we had to repeat those three ship names over and over and over. No mention of any slave ships. No mention of any slave uprisings. No mention of how all these colored folks came to land on these islands. No mention of a neighboring Pearl of the Caribbean’s influence on this part of the world. Just some tall tale about three raggedy ships and the man who “discovered” the islands. 

Fast forward to my American education. I pride myself on having a very good memory and impression. Nerd girls typically do. I read voraciously and school books didn’t stand a chance of catching dust in my book bag. Yet I’m rattling my brains more and more these days to think of anything that introduced me to the pivotal role my color, my culture played in human history. Yes there was the mandatory Black History month events. We even had a cultural day in middle school. And it was back to American education as usual. Science class with no mention of the sistahs from NASA. American History with its subtle warnings of what happened to black folks when they rebelled against this great nation and “our” forefathers. 

I’m sure my black teachers tried their best to infuse cultural pride. But standing on this side of education years later, I can see how their efforts may have been challenged at the risk of their livelihood. It took a Black Panther-esque black teacher, then later a hippie-esque Jewish teacher and even later a white woman to exert their respective privileges in the classroom and challenge me to go beyond Siddartha and Catcher in the Rye. Roots took  the scales off my lids. Malcolm X wiped some of the cold out my eyes. Kaffir Boy served like saline to my sight. Caged Bird freed my soul and made me soar. My sixth grade copy still holds a place on my shelf. I still weep for my lost autographed Ntosake Shange book. Colored Girls, suicide and rainbows was more than enuf for me. Beloved. The Bluest Eyes. Song of Solomon. These ladies kept pouring and pouring  and pouring a new story, a new narrative into me. 

Everyone knew that African American history class was for the kids that needed an “easy A.” My guidance counselor felt my time would be best spent taking the European AP class. Side bar: it was the only AP test of three that I ever failed. I had to beg my dad to take me to night school and wait the one hour in the parking lot. I wanted to learn about the Kings and Queens who ruled Mother Africa. You see, at one time in my life I could spit out stories of the Czars and Sun Kings and far eastern Dynasties but the African narrative… well… I was truly mute. 

I sense a hunger in the lives of a people to know who they are as a culture and as a people group. Anytime you have folks breaking down doors to watch a movie about a man whose blood long stained this earth, it is cause to pause and ponder. Our people shouldn’t have to wait for a movie to be inspired. They shouldn’t have to wait for 30 second blurbs on social media to get all amped up. If the Black narrative was the first one taught before all else, I’m willing to bet the trajectory of our lives and our children’s lives would have taken a different turn in human history. There won’t be too many people able to afford to tell the story about “us” on the big screen. The onus rests with us.  

It is the stories told while picking out barrettes from the cookie can, the political dinner table discourse every father and mother should engage their children in, the random moments spent with someone else’s child while babysitting/carpooling–those are the moments we should seize to help our future learn to be great. 

I stood in a circle with 15 other #BlackGirlMagics last evening imparting wisdom to a budding young woman. The moment wasn’t lost on me. Standing to my left and right were women who had to learn the Black narrative the hard way. We didn’t have the privilege of some rites of passage in our youth. It was by hook or crook to get into college. First generation immigrant children are the last on the “privilege” totem pole. The irony was not lost on us. Yet here we stood in unison praying down blessings upon blessings on this young soul. While those in the crowd were either too young to understand or too displaced to even care, we knew it was imperative she heard the words of our ancestors speaking through us just for her. 

I can’t peel off my skin, or cut off my Sisterlocks when I leave my house each day. It’s as much a part of who I am as my faith in Christ. I can’t pretend I’m not hurt when the woman at the theatre sees the “Birth of a Nation” poster and huffs “Oh, I don’t want to see that” and casually walks away. To believe for the betterment of my culture doesn’t mean I negate the value of others. It just means that mine needs some “tending to” right about now. I been looking after everyone else’s for much too long. 

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Nancy Patricia

Today I shared in the homegoing of a beloved classmate and church member. These words will never capture her essence. A poor attempt to speak about someone loved by many. In honor of Nancy Patricia Payoute. 

Will the graduates of MESH please stand. Will the class of 93 remain standing. Class of 93, You may be seated. 
Will the past and current members/attendees of Community Christian Church please stand. You may also be seated. 

I was charged by the family to speak as a classmate and a church member. I asked my classmates to help me come up with one word that came to mind when you thought of Nancy. 

Some shared words like:
Unassuming 

Gentle spirit 

Kind 

Inner Strength 

Loving 

Unique 

Loyal 

Humble 

Sweet spirited 

Serious 

Well Respected 

Courageous 

Intelligent 

Committed 

Great sense of humor 

Quiet storm 

Integrity 

Sweet soul 

Banana Bread Baker

These words come attached to some poignant memory of a friend who only we can speak of because of our personal connection to her. 
You who walked the halls of Edison Senior High may have known her as a flagette, fellow honors and AP student, lunch buddy, class president, math club historian, or HOSA club member,or senior Superlative winner for “Most Dependable.”  Our yearbook lists the the special someone’s in her life to be God, her parents, Henry Payoute. The photos we have of her speak of an active student who never missed a spirit week activity and was always engaged in being that renaissance student. While some of us chose to be either or, Nancy choose to do it all. 

But records and memberships only speak the half of who we knew then as Nancy Pierre. Most of us go through like catching beef with people, knowing full well that if we were truly honest with ourselves, we know we were partially at fault. 
But If YOU didn’t like Nancy, everyone knew that YOU were the one with the Problem. She got along well with everyone and even if she didn’t see eye to eye with you, she certainly didn’t have time to dwell on it. After all, Nancy knew it took two to fight and life was just too short to dwell on inconsequential drama. 

Anyone who has ever been a senior in high school knows to run and win class president is no small feat. It meant that for the most part, your classmates had observed you for four years and some since middle school. They knew you were a person of your word and whether they knew you or not, liked you or not–they understood and were confident you would represent them well. Nancy was that person. She truly represented us well. 
When it came time to host our tenth reunion, TyPical Nancy didn’t want to be in the limelight. And thanks to her, I assumed the role of class reunion president. “I’ll help you plan it but I don’t want to lead it,” she said. She was true to her word. She didn’t let me down. I knew once people realized that Nancy was still in the picture, everything was going to be okay. 
Imagine my surprise when I walked into Community Christian Church the spring of 1986 to see my sixth grade classmate in the same church! By this time she was really tall for our age group and I marveled cause she got to hang with all the cool kids. Her older siblings, Avener and Aliette had paved the way and she held her own even back then. When many moved away, left for college, or moved on, Nancy remained committed. Her commitment paid off in bringing not one but both of her parents to our church. It was a big deal to see two Haitian parents sitting in an English speaking Sunday service. Nancy did that. And when her father went on to be with the Lord, she kept bringing her mom, our now deaconess, Ms. Pierre. 
I realized the other day that as I look around the church, she is a part of the few female members who I can honestly say can remember the Community Christian Church of the 1980s. She kept the faith, rode the tides of change and remained steadfast. 
Nancy was that member who people would think was serious. And for once in my life I got to use the words others have had to sometime use on my behalf. “she’s really not mean, she just looks mean, you just have to get to know her.” 
That’s the beauty of church ministry. The beauty of knowing Christ. Nancy knew That getting to know our brothers and sisters would never happen warming a church bench and leaving right after the benediction. She made it her priority to be involved in God’s work. Whether it was doing manicures at a nursing shelter, planning a breast cancer awareness luncheon, supporting the prison ministry in any way she could, Nancy did what was needed and she would quietly recede back into the background. “whatever you need, just let me know,” she would say. 
My last real memory of Nancy was being at the Circle of women’s spa weekend this past spring. We had been on hiatus for two years and when it came to plan for it, I thought well not many will want to come. I’m glad we planned it. Nancy was one of the first to sign up. She had signed up every year since we started this because she knew self care was the best care. 

In the spa outing, I knew I was going to get to watch people shocked to see that other side of Nancy. The one that had you laughing nonstop. The one that had your marveling at how such a serious looking person could really be so down to earth. I loved hearing her stories about her family. Those famous Payoute family trips. Najah the extrovert who wanted to do and go and be everything–related to two low key parents and a low key big brother. JR getting ready for prom and graduation and off to college. Henry being Henry. You two were created for each other. She loved you all very much. 

For the past 12 years Nancy and I had this countdown to summer thing. As much as we loved our jobs, even we knew it was time to go home. Three more weeks Nancy! Yes Girl! I can’t wait. And we would talk about our plans. “Two more weeks Nancy! Girl I started packing up my class. Girl it’s five more days! …”
And then we would start the back to school countdown. Those countdowns, However, were usually done with reluctance. 
This was my first year no longer working in education and I remember telling Nancy, “Girl you on your own with the back school countdowns. No more of that for me.” We had a good laugh and moved on. Little did I know this was truly be the year of no more countdowns. 

Be at rest now my classmate. Be at rest my sister in Christ.