October 29, 2008

"For Alton Ellis, O.D." by Malachi

Alton EllisThe death of Alton Ellis on October 10, 2008 sent shock waves through the Jamaican community and many of us have still not fully recovered from the passing of this great artist who gave us so many great songs that were part of the soundtrack of our adolescence.

Birth, death, and all the other parts of life surround us. But it is the writer, the poet, acting in a public role, who creates context for us to understand the emotional meaning/significance of events within the community.

The dub poet, Malachi, has written a tribute poem and a brief narrative, and I give thanks to him and Alton Ellis for enriching our lives.

For Alton Ellis, O.D.

I couldn’t take it

Seeing you standing in line

In this time

With a meal ticket

Your black felt crown shading, just barely

Your majesty’s face

From the blazing Miami sun

Coming down without mercy

As you waited patiently, off stage

For a meal

You had already paid for in Trench Town

Father, take my hand and sit

I will serve you.

For how could I, how could they

How could we not know better

When you had given us so much

With your song dance sermons ?

How could we not know

You stopped this very dance from crashing

Long ago…

Giving us love melodies

That kept us dancing

Holding us together as one

When hungry belly suffering threatened

To make us all victims?

How could we not know you are a pillar

Of the movement that gave us our culture

That you soared before Paragons and Heptones

Feathering from Brown to Beres

To Sanchez crooning

And all the rest of us who hide

Behind blinking facades,

Trying to deny your legacy?

But let them try

For no longer will they see

Feel a weeping willow rocking steady, center stage

No longer will they feel

See black man tears bursting flowing

The gully banks of a black man’s face

No longer will they hear the cock crowing

Sunday coming…

Prepare the sweet seasoning

For the one day of the week when

Sufferers had good dining

No longer will they know

That love is all that matters between souls

And forever “I’m still in love

With you girl” will linger

The deejays will still spin you

Yesteryear souls will rock steady, get closer

At Merrytone gathering

Choking up reliving, celebrating

A time when love meant something

When the music was as sweet as honey

Pressed from live wax

Losing you is hot

Like seeing yard without Blue Mountain peaks

Unfathomable, undeniable

Father Alton…


Growing up in Jamaica, I was always fond of Alton Ellis’s music, so you can imagine how I felt when I introduced him on stage at the Miami Reggae Festival at Bayfront Park in 2005. His sister Hortense had just died and was still to be interred. Alton came and did the show any way and what a performance it was. Tears streamed from his voice eyes as he sang “Weeping Willow”--a tribute to her.

But the time that really made an impact on me was a few years earlier when I emceed a show at Bayfront Park and Alton was on the show. I was standing at the side of the stage. When I looked down, I saw him standing in line with a meal ticket in his hand. He was very humble and dignified. I was enraged when senior female member of the production team jumped to the head of the line and took a large snapper dinner to a so-called super star, who was hobnobbing backstage, and he wasn't even performing on the show.

I went down to Alton and said, "Father, this isn't right. This is disrespect of the highest order. Sit. Give me the ticket, and I'll bring you your meal." He said something like “Thank you, sir,” or “son.” I got him his meal. The experience still lingers in my psyche. It seems my people often times take the greatest of us for granted too many times and it hurts.


Born "the son of a preacher-man" in the Parish of Westmoreland, Jamaica, Malachi has become an icon in the world of reggae/performance/dub-poetry. Performing from an early age, his first three poems were written while still attending White Marl Primary School for the White Marl Beacon magazine.

An alumnus of Florida International University, Miami-Dade Community College and The Jamaica School of Drama, Malachi was one of the founding members of Poets In Unity, a critically acclaimed ensemble that brought dub-poetry to the forefront of reggae music in the late 70s and carried it forward for a decade. Malachi has also performed as an actor and poet, and is an accomplished writer, publishing and performing his own plays and poetry. He has also become known for his performances in other theatrical productions and on radio, television, and live theatre.


Related Post: Heaven Just Got I-rier

October 27, 2008

Early Voting in Miami: Amendment 8

Vote Yes Amendment 8 MiamiFrom the first time I voted in a US election to the last county election, whenever I went to the polling station, I used to look disdainfully at the partisans with their hats, t-shirts, and placards supporting their cause or candidate and think, “Who are these crazy people?”

Well, on Wednesday 22, 2008, I became a crazy person. And I’m proud of it.

But it didn’t happen overnight. Craziness like this takes planning.

On Saturday, October 18, 2008, after collecting my palm cards and t-shirt from the Amendment 8 PAC, I went to my local Home Depot and bought the wood for the handle of the placard and went to Office Depot to make copies of the signs. I may be crazy, but I’m not cheap.

Then, I went home and as I was putting the placard together, I began thinking about American democracy and how easy it was to become involved in a political cause. It also made me think about the difference between American and Jamaican politics. Elections in Jamaica are a dangerous business. Voters have been killed because of the political rivalry. There have even been cases where innocents have been murdered for wearing the “wrong” color during the election season—either “orange” for the PNP or “green” for the JLP. At least in America, no one was going to shoot at me for supporting Amendment 8. Or were they? I have some friends who are pretty much anti- everything.

After making the placards on Saturday, I had to wait until Wednesday, the day for which I had volunteered, and went with my coworker, Agnes, to the early voting site at North Miami Public Library.

On Wednesday morning, I got up at five and Agnes and I got to the library at six thirty in the morning. It was still dark, yet to my surprise, there were approximately a hundred and twenty people already in the line that snaked around the building and out into the street—well beyond the 100 foot barrier beyond which we could not solicit any votes.

As we unpacked our water and granola bars, we looked around to find a good spot (like with everything else, it’s location, location, location) where we could interact with the voters—many of whom looked at me the way I used to look at the crazy supporters with the hats, t-shirts, and placards.

For the most part, our solicitations went well, and my job was fairly easy. I reminded the voters to Punch #140 (Amendment 8) while Agnes worked the line with her palm cards. We didn't have to do much convincing and most of the voters were pleasant--despite the three hour wait in the line. It also helped that many of the voters were either students, ex-students, or knew someone was attending or attended Miami Dade College. I even saw one of my former students and began to think that if I had failed him, he would vote against Amendment 8 to spite me. Luckily, he had passed my freshman comp. course and I breathed a sigh of relief.

At nine o’clock Agnes and I picked up our palm cards and placards and drove back to the college to put in a full day. It was going to be a long day, but we left the voting station feeling that we had done something meaningful in the two hours we had volunteered.

And somewhere deep down in my little immigrant heart, I was proud to be participating at a new level in American democracy. I could almost hear the opening lines of The Godfather in my head: “I love America.”

October 26, 2008

"The Person in African Religious Thinking": Dr. Albert Wuaku

Dr. Albert Wuaku
"The Person in African Religious Thinking: Reflecting on the Epistemological Basis of Indigenous Akan and Yoruba Medical Practice"

Dr. Albert Wuaku

Department of Religious Studies
Florida International University

November 6, 2008

7:00 pm

Venue: University Center, Room 245
University of Miami

For more information contact:
Edmund Abaka @ e.abaka@miami.edu
(305) 284-3885


October 24, 2008

Mervyn Morris: Caribbean Writers' Summer Institute

Mervyn Morris
Mervyn Morris reads his poetry @ the Caribbean Writers' Summer Institute: "Legion" "Oblation" "Valley Prince (for Don D)" "Windscreen" "To an Expatriate Friend" "I Am the Man" "To the Unknown Non-Combatant" "Case History, Jamaica" "Afro-Saxon" "For Consciousness" and "The Roaches."

You will need Real Player to view the video:

Mervyn Morris @the Caribbean Writers' Summer Institute


October 22, 2008

Old Boy Pride: Jamaica College

Jamaica CollegeDuring the nineties when I made regular trips to Jamaica, I'd usually visit my alma mater, Jamaica College, and invariably, I'd be disappointed by the physical appearance of the buildings and the rowdiness of the boys. Not that when I was in high school my friends and I weren't a bit rowdy. But this was rowdiness to the point of being rude. The line between personal and communal behaviors seemed to have been blurred, and whereas we were cautious about crossing social barriers, these boys didn't even recognize the limits and barged through with reckless abandon.

Last year, however, I visited Jamaica College and noticed a visible change. The buildings were painted and the boys seemed less uncouth. They were even courteous. This was a welcome change, and for the first in a long time, I felt proud to be a JC Old Boy.

It was quite a strange feeling because I've always had a quixotic relationship with Jamaica College, which I've written about in my novel Benjamin, my son and in some of the stories in my latest collection, Who's Your Daddy? and Other Stories. The time I spent at Jamaica College meant a lot to me, and I'm being precise when I say it was my alma mater--nourishing mother.

As a young man growing up in an all boys' school during the seventies, Jamaica College provided me with space to think about my relationships with parents, friends, and community. It was a time of enormous change, and every relationship, every assumption behind every relationship was scrutinized. This scrutiny extended into social and gender/sexual arenas.

And because Jamaica College, besides being known for its intellectual tradition, was also known as a "battyman" school, it was difficult to balance the decency and tolerance that were the cornerstones of the education that I received from JC Old Boys and teachers such as Dennis Scott and Jimmy Carnegie, while at the same time reconciling the idea of being a Jamaican gentleman, exemplified by JC Old Boy and then Prime Minister, Michael Manley, with the rise of feminism and the homophobia of Jamaican society.

I was also born during the generation that could remember the lowering of the Union Jack and the raising of the Jamaican flag, so the question presented itself: What does it mean to be a Jamaican gentleman in postcolonial Jamaica?

Growing up in colonial Jamaica, many of the previous old Boys had a clear idea of a Jamaican gentleman: white, Oxbridge accent and a sneering contempt for the masses--VS Naipaul sans melanin. However, after we gained our independence from Britain, the clarity was lost as new dimensions were added to the conception of our identity: Africa, Rastafari, feminism. Rastafari and feminism forced us to ask ourselves: How do men and women behave toward each other without invoking the legacy of paternalism, colonialism, race, and class privilege?

Reggae and Rastafari were also transforming Jamaican culture and language and therefore the lens through which we interpreted the world with words such as dawta, I-dren, and sistren.

To all these questions, I got mixed answers. So what's a boy to do?

Well, we must act and the behavior of this young man, a current Jamaica College student, seems to be just right:

He was just another Jamaica College student; she, from Ardenne Preparatory. They could have been siblings, or cousins. Yet something about them pulled my attention away from the other students nearby who were chattering noisily… It sang to me in the almost fatherly way in which he instructed her to position herself so that she could hold on to one of the bus seats for stability…

He was no longer just another high school student. He was that little girl’s protector, her rock.

And he became the hope I clenched tightly in my heart for the future of our young men.

There didn't seem to be any condescension of the young man's part, just genuine care for a younger sistren. He could be strong even in the knowledge that there are predatory men out there who would seek to exploit the sistren's vulnerability. In that moment, he was her "protector"--he was being chivalrous in the truest sense of the word, for there was nothing to be gained. He acted truly and he was on his way. And that's what being a gentleman--in any culture--is all about.

This young man acted in a way that affirmed the rich tradition of Jamaica and my alma mater. And after reading about him, I have one more reason to say proudly, "Yes, is there I come from."


October 21, 2008

Friendship Around the World Award

Friendship Award MemeJack Mandora, whose blog I admire, has passed this award along to me with the mandate of sharing it with friends whom I’ve met through blogging. I will add that they became my friends because of the remarkable content of their blogs.

So, here are my awardees:

Moving Back to Jamaica: Francis always provides useful information about what’s happening in Jamaica and his time management series is awesome!

Doan Mind Me: Jdid writes thoughtfully and many times humorously about life in Canada from a Caribbean perspective.

Jahworld: Pam Mordecai is a wonderful poet, fiction writer, and scholar.

Kyra Hicks: Kyra continues to teach me about the wide world of children’s books

Poéfrika: Click on Rethabile’s site some time, anytime and you’ll be rewarded.

Professor Zero: Just when you think you’ve figured her out, she’ll come from another angle and drop some wisdom on you.

Stanmore Hill: I don’t know how Fragano can keep up his pace of poetry and commentary.

MadBull: Not only has he become an online friend, but when he was in Miami. we met and it turns out we were from the same part of Kingston. Amazing!

Blogworld: Nicolette is not only a scholar and poet, but also someone who writes critically about the state of Caribbean life and letters.

Crafty Green Poet: Crafty writes with passion about the environment and gives me glimpses of Scotland that otherwise I’d have never encountered.

If you noticed a trend here, you’re right.

Now, fellow awardees, you all have a job to do. Tell me about your favorites


October 19, 2008

What Does Caribbean Mean?

The definition of Caribbean continues at Scavella's Blogosphere and Caribbean Beat.

My definition: The nations of the Antilles that share a common history of colonialism under European dominance and whose Creole identity has been shaped primarily by the merging of African and European cultures and most recently by Asian influences.

Jamaican Culture Definition: Jamaican culture would fall under the definition of Caribbean culture and the differences in these cultures of the Caribbean would be the extent to which these other influences and others such as class and race have shaped the history, music, lifestyles of the peoples in these nations. In Jamaica, there has always been a strong African presence in the music, dance, and religion. This in turn, has seen the creation of Jamaican based religions such as Rastafari and its aural representation, Reggae. The literature of Jamaica has been impacted by these two very important cultural movements and the writers who have grown up in post-Independence Jamaica have been articulating this phenomena in fiction, poetry, and plays.

The definition of Jamaican culture has also been complicated by the diaspora in North America, technological advances in communication (Internet and cable television), so there is an increase of North American cultural influence on the island.

Is it a group of nations and proto-nations defined by a common history or culture, or by political links? Is it an aspiration, an attitude, an illusion? Is its meaning determined by presence or absence? Has it an antonym?

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Aimé Césaire's Legacy: Colin Dayan

Aime Cesaire
Colin Dayan's tribute to Aimé Césaire highlights some of the tensions still evident is Caribbean life and letters.
If in Paris Césaire found writing and Africa (he confessed that until he left Martinique in 1931 he did not know what it meant to be black), in Haiti he found something quite different. Césaire arrived in Haiti in 1944 a poet and returned home later that year a politician. At the time Haiti was still the only independent black republic in the Americas. The people of Jamaica, Barbados, and the West Indies still served the King, learned English history, celebrated the Empire, and knew the beauty of daffodils not breadfruit. Martinique itself had supported the colonial regime and Vichy after France’s collapse in World War II until a U.S. naval blockade in 1943 forced the island to transfer its allegiance to the Free French.
The magic of the hybrid—the beauty, the heat, the odors and music, the luxuriance and excess of the tropics—is much more attractive to publishers and critics than the grueling realities of racism and violence.

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October 17, 2008

"All Suicides (Are Cowards)" by Geoffrey Philp

“All Suicides (Are Cowards),” which I read at Africando, will be published in my next collection of poetry, Nearing Fifty.


October 16, 2008

Joe The Plumber: Man or Metaphor

Joe the Plumber and Barack ObamaDuring last night’s presidential debate, "Joe The Plumber," stopped being real and became a metaphor, and as a storyteller who delights in metaphors, the discussion suddenly became more interesting. For in an instant, Joe Wurzelbacher morphed into the "Joe the Plumber," self-made American, the rugged individualist who by his own volition is living the American Dream.

But what happens when the metaphor meets the reality of taxes? For the question of taxes is not merely about defence, roads, education, and social services to citizens, but it’s also about the social contract. Or does that still exist? Did it ever exist?

Is it fair to tax Joe the Plumber at a higher rate to pay for defence, roads, education, and now health care? How and who will pay for these services? Or do we insist as Margaret Thatcher did that “there’s no such thing as society

These are the larger questions that the candidacies of Barack Obama and John McCain have brought to the fore and as a storyteller it reminds me of an old story that asks the question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”


Photo Source: AP

October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: Poverty in Haiti

One of the remarkable consequences of blogging is that people of like minds can join together to raise the global consciousness about a particular issue.

Today is Blog Action Day and my focus is on the poverty in Haiti. This is not to say that Jamaica, my homeland, does not suffer from the effects of poverty. But the conditions in Haiti, the nation that led the way for freedom in the Americas, is unconscionable.

So, I'm joining Blog Action Day with a call to support abundance in Haiti. For I know that once the brothers and sisters in Haiti can see themselves as one, then just as with the revolution that began at Bois-Caiman shook the world, another awakening can happen--and then…


A few other bloggers, including Professor Zero, Dave Lucas (who has a great list of ways to really help) Jack Mandora, Sotho and Crafty Green Poet, have joined Blog Action Day: Poverty, and the full list can be seen here: Who's Participating?

And I just love this Wordle view of this post. Give thanks, Anonymous!

Island Fiction Redux

Island FictionThe introduction of the Island Fiction series by Macmillan is a development in Caribbean writing about which I care deeply. For the past twenty years I’ve worked with many children’s literacy programs, including the Poets-in-the-Schools program, and I’ve seen how children’s imaginations can be spurred or stunted, especially when they are growing up in environments that do not value reading.

One of the most heartbreaking incidents happened to me a few years ago when I walked into a classroom filled with children whose imaginations had been crushed by a system that had become a paper mill. I tried every trick in the book to stir their imaginations, but nothing worked. They were all extremely well-behaved and up straight behind their desks that were arranged in neat rows, but lived in fear of “Miss” (who watched me like a hawk) and looked over at her every time I asked a question.

What was even worse, they had stacks of books gathering dust over in a corner. And when I picked up one of the books, a shudder went through the room. It was as if I was now in trouble with “Miss” for touching one of the classroom ornaments.

When children grow up in environments like these that do not foster the habit of reading, then books become foreign to them. The habit of reading is also one of those behaviors that has to be modeled by parents, teachers, and leaders for it to become a communal pattern. The tragedy is that although this learned behavior make take generations to become part of the community’s fabric, it can disappear in one generation.

Yet, I’ve heard it said so often, “Why should the children learn to read anyway? We live in a post-literate society.” What’s sad is that the people who voice these opinions often send their children to private schools to learn the classics and to become producers of technology even as they condemn the rest of our children to become mindless consumers of technology. For even if it is true that we live in post-literate society filled with video games and text messages, someone has to be able to write the story lines behind these games that control the imagination of our children.

This control is something that parents from non-white cultures need to be on guard against. I used to shudder when my children used to watch cartoons because of the frequency of imagery (even in Disney!) that was tinged with racism. If you disbelieve me, check out the crow scenes in Dumbo.

We have to safeguard our children’s imagination and for them to see themselves as the active agents in their lives and not passive consumers. One way to begin is for them to read about and see heroes and role models who look like them or they may think that heroes only come in one color. The precocious James Baldwin realized this early in his life when he stated in The Price of the Ticket, “It comes as a great shock around the age of 5, 6, or 7…to see Gary Cooper killing off the Indians and, although you are rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians are you.”

Luckily, my children were readers and we got them books with characters that looked like them. For this is how children begin to learn and imagine: with books and characters that look like them.

But this is not just for brown and minority children. It’s for all children to learn that humanity and the stories of humanity come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. It’s to free their imaginations.

Reading and the imagination go hand in hand. And it is only through the imagination that we can create a vision of freedom or create the self image so that we become the active agents in our own lives.

From the looks of it, Island Fiction is a step in the right direction and I can’t wait until the full series is published.

October 14, 2008

Haiti Hurricane: Poetry Benefit

Haiti Hurricane Poetry Benefit

The African and African Diaspora Studies program at Florida International University in collaboration with Poetry for the Environment and the People (PEP), and the Mapou Cultural Center have organized a quick response poetry benefit fundraiser. They have partnered with Food for the Poor to get much needed funds and food to the victims of the recent hurricanes in Haiti.

The event will feature poetry and performances by: Jan Mapou, Donna Weir-Soley, Nzingah Oniwosan, Haiti Bluez (featuring Racine Jean Zenga), Nathalie Guillaume, Ivy Armstrong, and dance by Sosyete Koukouy. Along with the poetry, come join us for the live and persistent drum rhythms, Haitian folkloric dance, original art, and food!

The benefit will be held at the “Sant Kiltirèl Mapou" (Mapou Cultural Center) in Little Haiti on Friday, October 17, 2008 from 6:00pm to 10:00pm. The “Sant Kiltirèl Mapou” is located at 5919 Northeast 2nd Avenue, Miami, FL 33137.


$15 in advance

$20 at the door

$10 with student ID

Tickets are available at the following venues:

Libreri Mapou/Mapou Cultural Center

5919 Northeast 2nd Avenue

Miami, FL 33137

Phone: 305-757-9922

Fax: 305-757-3606

African and African Diaspora Studies

Florida International University

3000 NE 151st Street (AC1-162)

Miami, FL 33181

Phone: (305) 919-5521

Fax: (305) 919-5267

Or call Jessica @ 954.554.7177 Or Donna @ 786-718-7658


October 13, 2008

"An Encounter with Haiti – Notes of a Special Adviser" by Reginald Dumas

Reginald DumasPORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad Oct 2, 2008 -- Medianet Ltd. has announced the launch on October 16 of a new book entitled An Encounter with Haiti – Notes of a Special Adviser, which chronicles the experiences of Reginald Dumas former Trinidad and Tobago Ambassador, who served for six crucial months in 2004 as Special Adviser on Haiti, to then Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan.

On February 19, 2004, Kofi Annan, called Reginald Dumas, someone he had known for 45 years, and asked him to be his Special Adviser to “monitor closely’ on the ground, the rapidly deteriorating situation in Haiti. Ten days later, and before Ambassador Dumas could make his first trip to Haiti, the world learnt that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had left his country for an unknown destination and for what has since become an extended exile.

For the next six months, Special Adviser Dumas put his considerable diplomatic, investigative, and political skills to work, negotiating the minefields of Haitian politics, so often in the past prone to violent solutions, and the complexities, political and bureaucratic, of CARICOM, the Organization of American States, and the UN itself.

By August 22, when he left at the end of his contract, some semblance of order was returning to Haiti. National elections were being planned, a UN mission was in place, and a relative calm prevailed. But he was not satisfied that he had accomplished much of what he would have liked, and he determined, as he puts it, that “I couldn’t just turn my back and walk away; I still wanted to be of some use to Haiti. Most of my efforts would now however have to be exerted outside the constricting rigidities of traditional international community behaviour.”

An Encounter with Haiti – Notes of a Special Adviser is dedicated to the people of Haiti, whom Ambassador Dumas firmly considers to be always the central element of the Haitian picture. He wrote in the prologue; “It is on the side of the Haitian people, objects always of domestic callousness in tandem with foreign interference and ideological pontification that I have firmly come down.”

US Congressman Charles B. Rangel, Chairman, Committee on Ways and Means, US House of Representatives, writes in his foreword: “…this book is an extremely valuable addition to our storehouse of knowledge. I have no hesitation in recommending it not only to those concerned with Haiti in particular but also to the general public and especially, to international and regional officials and agencies.”

The occasion will be used to launch a HAITI ASSISTANCE FUND. Part proceeds from the sale of each book will be donated by Ambassador Dumas and the publishers Medianet Ltd to initiate the fund. Donations will continue to be made to the fund from local regional and international sales.

Medianet Ltd is also offering to send free digital copies of Chapter 1 of AN ENCOUNTER WITH HAITI to any one who sends a request by email to:

publisher@medianetcaribbean.com with SEND ME CHAPTER 1 in the subject line.


October 12, 2008

Heaven Just Got I-rier

Alton Ellis, one of the original rocksteady grandfathers, made his transition on Friday evening. Ellis, who was known mainly for tunes such as "Dancecrasher," "Girl I've Got a Date," and "I'm Just a Guy," provided the tracks that launched the careers of many singers who covered the I-tinually buoyant "I'm Sill in Love." He also provided some good rub-a-dub for many parties in uptown and downtown Kingston and all around Jamdown.

We've lost a great pioneer whose music goes back to the days when the word "shotta" did not exist--not that there weren't rude bwais. But the sheer innocence and optimism of the Ellis's music reminds me of a time when the island was not ruled by fear of the gunman, and you could walk down the street singing, "I'm Just a Guy," or even try singing it to a dawta. For here was a song written in your own idiom and without any apologies for the emotion or delivery.

Enjoy some more of his clips here, and give thanks to the I-dren who whether for love or money preserved these clips.

But most of all, give thanks, Alton!


October 10, 2008

"Erzulie's Daughter" by Geoffrey Philp

“Erzulie’s Daughter” which I read at Africando, was first published in The Caribbean Writer, and will be published in my next collection of poetry, Nearing Fifty.


October 9, 2008

"Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?"

Joe DiMaggioI will never claim to understand the nuances of Americana, but the controversy surrounding Barack Obama's relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and John McCain's use of the phrase "That one," has made me realize how much African-Americans and white Americans do not speak to each other and that the necessity for honest brokers is needed now more than ever.

For if the current mudslinging, which concentrates on personalities rather than ideas, continues, then whoever becomes POTUS will truly inherit these "divided states," with the possibility, if Obama wins, of some whites refusing to swear allegiance to an African-American president, or some African-Americans, if McCain wins, viewing the outcome as further evidence of racism. And if recent history is any indication of how me might behave, then we have the potential for all kinds of race wars and perhaps riots.

But "we don't need no more trouble," as Brother Bob would say. I've lived through riots in Kingston and Miami, and I do not want to live through another. Lives are lost too easily in moments of irrational behavior. And tears never brought anyone back from the dead.

There is a need for real patriotism on both sides and for the voices of rationality and impartiality to speak up. America used to have them--before she turned over her media t0 spin doctors, liars, and partisan pundits--to speak the truth to and about each other across the racial divide.


October 8, 2008

FORUM: Florida's Caribbean Connection

The latest issue of FORUM: Florida's Caribbean Connection, has been published, and contains a two poems by Ricardo Pau-Llosa and a certain Jamaican poet whose name, for modesty’s sake, I will not mention.

Here are a few snippets from the Table of Contents:

Florida’s Caribbean Connection (Click here for full article)
Our state’s historical and cultural ties with the Caribbean have endured for more than 500 years, from pre-Columbian trading routes to modern migration.

Cauldron of Conflict
By Paul Dosal
The Caribbean has been one of the most hotly contested regions in the world.

The Story of Pedro Pan
By Jon Wilson
When Cuban children flew to freedom.

Leaving Home, Finding Home
By U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez
Excerpt from A Sense of Belonging: From Castro’s Cuba to the U.S. Senate, One Man’s Pursuit of the American Dream

From Haiti, with Hope

By Connie May Fowler
Lauded Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat—living an exile of blood, land, and memory.

Reading Florida
By Jon Wilson

Introducing our column about new Florida books.

Florida’s Earliest Caribbean Contact
By Bob Carr
Scholars find tantalizing clues of early contact between natives of Florida and the Caribbean.


Money, Power, Art, & Identity

Who are you?Nicolette Bethel has begun a very interesting conversation about art, culture, and money over at Blogworld which began a series of thoughts in my mind that were too complicated to leave in her comments—I didn’t want to hog her space.

At it’s simplest level, the conversation is about the perennial issue of art vs. money. As I hinted at in my post about Maslow, the people with money or those who pursue power are often operating on a lower level of self-actualization and do not possess the kind of curiosity to make or appreciate the value of art to the individual and the community. They may buy books or own several paintings, but they are often clueless about the true worth of art. All they know is how many units (their language for books) were sold or how much they paid for a painting.

And when a confrontation occurs, like the one described by Obediah Michael Smith, I’m often reminded by the scene in Shakepeare in Love (where the question is repeatedly asked, "Who are you?") between Fennyman (the producer) and Alleyn (the actor), and talent (momentarily) trumps money:

A moment, sir!

Who are you?

I am the money!

Then you may remain so long as you
remain silent. Pay attention and you
will see how genius creates a legend.

Thank you, sir.

It’s not that I don’t have any respect for money, but as Dorothy Parker said, "If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."

In other words, culture is too important to be left in the hands of people who only know about money or power.


New Line of Books for Children: Island Fiction

Island Fiction
Macmillan Caribbean has introduced a new line of books for children, Island Fiction, and the first titles should be available in January 2009.

Here are a few of the titles:

Island Fiction

Series Editor: Joanne Johnson

Island Fiction: Legend of the Swan Children

Maureen Marks-Mendonca

On a quest which leads him from a sleepy village on the Caribbean Sea, through the rainforests of South America, to an island in a time without time, eleven-year-old Alex Springfeather faces a difficult choice: will he use his powers to fulfil the Legend of the Swan Children, or pursue the riddle that could save his mother’s life?

Island Fiction: The Chalice Project

Lisa Allen-Agostini

Ada and Evan thought they were two normal children, living with their father in Trinidad. But when they begin to look deeper into their father’s scientific experiments, they discover secrets beyond anything they had ever imagined. Who is their unknown mother? What is the mysterious potion their father is hiding? And what is The Chalice Project?

Island Fiction: Escape from Silk Cotton Forest

Francis C. Escayg

Under King Zar's sincere but timid rule, the Kingdom of Ierie is rife with corruption, on the brink of another war and in need of a true leader. Domino, a rebellious, young Goan who seeks to avenge his mother's death, stumbles into the role of Hero only to find an even greater destiny awaits him in The Silk Cotton Forest.

Island Fiction: Time Swimmer

Gerald Hausman

Riding the seas with an ancient story-telling sea turtle named Odysseus, Luke journeys across the Caribbean and plunges into a remarkable adventure through space and time. Righting wrongs and saving lives, Luke and Odysseus encounter spiders that are men and lizards that are gods, all mixed together in a pepperpot stew of fantastic spice that blends fiery history with delectable fantasy.

Island Fiction: Night of the Indigo

Michael Holgate

Marassa, a 15 year old Jamaican boy, is catapulted into a wondrous world of Natural Mysticism. His twin brother Wico is dying and no doctor on earth can save him. Guided by Kundo, the mystic warrior, Marassa transcends time and matter into an unknown dimension, a planet called Orunda. If he accepts his responsibility as a Marshal or "Warrior of Light" he can rescue his brother from the clutches of death. Can he over come all obstacles and prove that he is worthy of his title?

Island Fiction: Delroy in the Marog Kingdom

Helen Williams

“If you look into River Mumma’s eyes, something terrible going happen to you!” Too late, Delroy remembers his mother’s warning. Is drowning his fate or is something worse in store? Becoming a marog is only the beginning. The king of these unusual frogs has chosen Delroy to succeed him, but first he must retrieve the king’s magical stone from a venomous snake. Slogging through underground caves and tunnels, faced with insurmountable obstacles, Delroy is tempted to give up and wonders whether he will ever return to his former life.

For more information, contact Macmillan at caribbean@macmillan.com. Or here's a list local agents within the Caribbean:

Antigua: Best of Books (bestofbooks@yahoo.com)

Bahamas: Media Enterprises (info@bahamasmedia.com)

Barbados: Days Investments (enquiries@daysbookstore.com)

Dominica: Jays (jays@cwdom.dm)

Grenada: Grenada Teachers’ School Supplies (mahp48@hotmail.com)

Jamaica: Kingston Bookshop (info@kingstonbookshop.com)

St Kitts: Laws

St Lucia: Nato’s (nato@candw.lc)

St Vincent: Union of Teachers (svutccu@vincysurf.com)

Trinidad: RIK Services (rik@carib-link.net)


October 7, 2008

Heroes, Role Models & Dreamers

Jamaican poets
Poets Marva McClean, Beth Harry, Ivy Armstrong, and Donna Weir Solely will present a dramatic presentation, Heroes, Role Models, and Dreamers, at the Broward County South Regional Library, 7300 Pines Boulevard on Wednesday, October 15, 6:30 PM.

The poets note that the presentation seeks to honor those individuals who have worked to offer hope and inspiration to others, often positioning themselves as role models, and dreamers. According to Ivy Armstrong, “the idea for this presentation arose from a desire to pay tribute to our (Jamaica’s) national heroes during the month of October when they are nationally recognized.” The four poets will read selections from their work in celebration of all the heroes and heroines in our lives, those who work as community activists in the public eye and those unsung heroes/heroines whose quiet support remain constant and enduring inspiring hope and possibility in our lives.

About the Authors

All four poets are educators and active community members committed to community building and civic engagement.

Ivy Armstrong is a psychiatric nurse, actress, and writer whose poetry cuts across themes to include Jamaican patois, love, and cultural heritage. A graduate of the University of Glasgow, Scotland, she is the author of five volumes of poetry including Native Dawta, Share my Precious Stones and Lignum Vitae and Leather. Miss Ivy as she is popularly known, notes, “Wherever we go we carry our native selves within our hearts. It is this awareness of who we are that adds credibility to our external endeavors and gives us a sense of rootedness.”

Jamaican-born Dr. Donna Weir-Soley is an Associate Professor in the department of English at Florida International University. She is the recipient of the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Faculty Career Enhancement Fellowship. Her scholarly text on Spirituality and Resistance in Black Women’s Writings will also be published in 2009 by University Press of Florida. Professor Donna Weir-Soley will be reading from her poetry collection First Rain, published in 2006 by Peepal Tree Press.

Beth Harry who was born in Port Maria, Jamaica pursued her BA and Masters degrees at the University of Toronto and her Ph.D. at Syracuse University. She has been a teacher all her adult life, including teaching English at the secondary and community college levels, and special education at all levels. She is presently a professor of Special Education at the University of Miami in Florida. She will read from her recent publication, In Sunshine and in Shadow, a collection of intensely personal poems that reveal her deep- rooted connection to the sensuous colors and rhythms of her Caribbean experience.

Marva McClean, Ph. D., is an educator and author who explores issues of ancestral heredity and identity in her writing. She is the author of Bridges to Memory, a collection of poetry which explores the intriguing connection between culture and identity, and memory and the imagination. Dr. McClean will read a selection of poems celebrating the West Indian ideology of resistance and empowerment.

October 6, 2008

Vote YES on Amendment 8

Vote Yes Amendment 8On November 4, 2008, Miami Dade voters will be asked to vote on Amendment 8, which, if passed, would provide unprecedented empowerment of local communities when it comes to support for their local community college. Amendment 8 would give the voters a real voice in the future development of their community college.

I will vote YES for Amendment 8.

Now, I know some will say, “Of course, you’d say yes, Geoff, you work for a community college.” And I’d have to admit that I do have a personal stake in the passage of this amendment. But as many readers of this blog also know that among the other things that I carried with me from Jamaica (literature, Reggae, Rastafari), I believe very much in the concept of InI—the individual recognizing his unity with himself and his community. So this decision is not only about me, but also about my community. And as someone who has worked in Miami for the past thirty years, I’ve seen firsthand the beneficial changes that Miami Dade College has brought to the lives of our community. I am one of those beneficiaries.

Back in 1979 when my family moved to Florida, we didn’t have a lot of money. My mother, ever the Christian woman who obeyed the laws of God and Manley, came to America with legal minimum. We lived with my aunt in Hollywood, Florida. After a few months, my sister and I pitched in, got jobs and with the help of my aunt, bought a house in Carol City.

After working for six months as a bag boy at Publix for about six months, I knew that couldn’t work like that for the rest of my life. I had to go to college, but I didn’t want to go to Miami Dade Community College. It was too embarrassing. All of my friends had graduated from UWI, Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Oxford, and Cambridge. And although, I had gotten a scholarship to Barry College, I was still in a legal limbo, and the money for the rest of the costs wasn’t there. I gritted my teeth, swallowed hard, and applied to Miami Dade Community College. I was sure that I wasn’t going to waste my time there.

I finished my all my credits for my AA degree in a year and a half and won several scholarships to attend the University of Miami. I was going to leave the stigma of going to community college behind me forever. What I hadn’t counted on, however, was catching the attention of several professors who urged me to work as a peer tutor in College Prep., and to help other students who were struggling with their English classes. Of course, I jumped at the idea and continued to work at Miami Dade Community College during my undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Miami.

My relationship with Miami Dade Community College continued even after I completed my MA at the University of Miami. I worked with Dade County Public Schools and once the hiring freeze ended at Miami Dade Community College, I took a pay cut and taught everything from remedial English to creative writing. I did this for sixteen years and through our official name change to Miami Dade College until I became the chairperson of College Prep.

My story is unique in the details, but the arc of the narrative has been multiplied 1.5 million times in a city with a population of 2.4 million. Miami Dade College has helped to change so many lives for the better. And especially the lives of women. 58% of our currently enrolled students (160,000) are female. Many of them are the heads of households, have two jobs, at least one dependent, and are sending money “back home.” And yet they find the time and money to take at least three or six credits at one of our 8 campuses and outreach centers. Miami Dade College as the largest community college in the nation has been doing what community colleges around the nation have been doing: breaking the cycle of poverty.

I’ve seen it. Students who were homeless or lived in shelters have graduated and become homeowners and tax paying citizens. Many of my students who have come from the Caribbean and South America with even less than my family had, now greet me in the supermarket, and drive away in BMWs and Saabs filled with groceries.

Yet despite all the good that community colleges and Miami Dade College, in particular, have done, there is opposition to Amendment 8. According to the Orlando Sentinel, “it's the state's -- not local authorities' -- job to support them.” I agree with the sentiment, but the legislature has not been funding community colleges at the same level as the state universities. In fact, MDC receives one-third of state funding per student than is provided for other state educational institutions. And at time when many of the state universities have been closing their doors to students and laying off faculty, Miami Dade College continues its open door policy and is hiring new faculty.

But all of this is beside the point. Amendment 8 is about choice and opportunity—two things at which Miami Dade College has excelled for the past forty years. We have lived up to our motto: “Opportunity Changes Everything.” This is why I will be voting YES on Amendment 8.


October 5, 2008

Book Review: "After-Image" by Dennis Scott

Dennis ScottFragano Ledgister has written a fair and objective review of After-Image by Dennis Scott that it seems that I could never bring myself to write.

In this time of waning book reviews of our artists and writers, Fragano, you have done a wonderful thing for our friend.

Blessings I-tinually,
What’s human about us is what we create, and it is what we create that endures. That’s the one lesson the poet teaches. Reading this selection of Dennis Scott’s last poems, made by his friend Mervyn Morris, and published seventeen years after Dennis’s death at fifty-three, that lesson is borne in with extraordinary force.

blog it

October 1, 2008

Two New Books from Peepal Tree Press

Curdella ForbesCrossing the space between novel and short fiction, A Permanent Freedom weaves nine individual stories about love, sex, death, and migration into a single compelling narrative that seizes our imagination with the profound courage, integrity and folly of which the human spirit is capable. Each story surrounds migrant or migrating characters seeking to negotiate life on margins, within silences, in in-between spaces. Through the memory or immediate experience of sexual encounters or love that drives or haunts their journeys, these characters are taken out of the safe places of conventional behaviour and belief, to the farthest reaches of themselves, both the heart of darkness and the quest for a larger meaning. In almost all cases the encounter involves a confrontation with death and the spiritual.

In the title story, a man, his gay lover and his wife are drawn into a ‘strange’ alliance as they struggle to deal with his impending death from AIDS. ‘Say’ and ‘Nocturne in Blue’ recount the story of a rape and its retribution from the point of view of the rapist, his victim, and her healer, in a competition of narratives leading to a shocking dénouement. In ‘For Ishmael’ the lines in the palms of a man’s hands keep changing without explanation, as he becomes embroiled in the lives and stories of others. Characters cross over into each other’s stories in uncanny networks of meeting orchestrated by a dark angel who also bears witness to these tales and the nature of stories as a form of haunting.

Curdella Forbes is Jamaican. She is currently Associate Professor in the Department of English at Howard University.


David DabydeenDrama critic Lance Yardley is only 30 but is already a seedy wreck of a man, spending his nights in the back streets of Coventry looking for prostitutes. A working-class boy brought up in a broken home on a council estate, he has sought escape in literature and through his marriage to an actress, the great-granddaughter of a 19th-century Englishman who made his fortune from the sugar plantations in Guyana.

At first Elizabeth attracts Yardley, but their differences of class exacerbate the mutual hatred that grows between them. Later he is drawn to a mysterious Indian girl, Rohini. She seems shy, but sells her body to customers when her boss goes out of town. When she dies suddenly, the victim of a strange and violent assassin, Yardley decides to decamp abroad for a while. He goes to Guyana, not least because he wants to learn more about an Irish priest who as an old man has been a priest in Coventry, but as a young man had worked as a missionary in Guyana. The priest’s fragmented journals seem to offer Yardley some possible answers to his own spiritual malaise, but the Guyana he discovers provokes more questions than answers.

David Dabydeen was born in Guyana. He has published six acclaimed novels and three collections of poetry. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Professor of Literary Studies at the University of Warwick.