Staring out at the audience in the dimly lit Student Center Theater last week, senior Frank Brady asked, “Who will cry for Haiti?” while performing spoken-word poetry inspired by the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake that shook the capital city of Port-a-Prince, Haiti.
“A mother holds her child in her arms cradled in blood,” said Brady. “Her child, no more than three months old, lies lifeless before she ever got the chance to live.”
Brady performed “Who Will Cry for Haiti?” during a night of music, dance and poetry at “Expressions: Haiti Unplugged,” as part of a week-long observance and remembrance of the tragedy in Haiti, called “Paix Et Amour” (Peace and Love).
The poem’s message, said Brady, is to cherish life and to remind people of the country’s ongoing suffering.
“Don’t take life for granted,” said Brady. “In Haiti, people are dying without a grave and once the media starts to forget, everyone forgets.”
Brady, a communications major, said he was inspired to write the poem after hearing a spoken word piece by Haitian poet Carvens Lissaint. Lissaint has been invited to perform at another Haitian relief effort at Southern, “Hip Hop Part IV: Hope for Haiti,” taking place on April 28.
Brady, who is vice president of the Black Student Union, said he has helped coordinate the regular open-mic series, “Expressions,” for a couple of years. He said the setting allows students to express raw emotion in a non-judgmental setting.
“It’s another form of therapy – you can say on stage what you can’t face to face,” said Brady.
Daphnie Bruno, a motivational speaker, educational consultant for Hope for Africa, Inc. and author of books on cultural identity, was the keynote speaker for the event.
Immigrating to Brooklyn, NY from Haiti as a young girl, Bruno urged young Haitians to hold on to their native language of Creole and embrace their culture.
Bruno used common Creole phrases— the greeting, “What’s happening?” and response, “I’m doing good,”—to open her speech.
“When you ask ‘sac pasé’ and folks respond ‘map boulé’ you are acknowledging and being your culture,” said Bruno, who has done extensive research on the correlation between language and self-esteem.
Bruno said the more Haitians speak their language, the more they identify with being black, the more they identify with being Haitian and the more likely they are to have high self-esteem.
According to Bruno, January’s earthquake was not the country’s first display of strength in the wake of natural disaster. She said earthquakes have hit Haiti in 1701, 1751, 1770 and 1860.
The 1751 earthquake, said Bruno, was even greater than January’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake.
“Our culture has not died and has not been buried,” said Bruno. “Have no doubt because history has shown us just how resilient we are as a people.”
Bruno said the way to continue helping Haiti is through “strength in unity.”
“Partner up with an organization that you know and trust and who is actually doing something,” said Bruno.
For NAACP President Ashiah Richeme, who is of Haitian descent, constant support of Haiti is an obligation.
“It’s the food I eat, the language that I speak, the music I listen to,” said Richeme, a sociology major who hosted the event. “It’s a lifetime commitment for me because it’s what I stem from.”
Having performed a praise dance to “Lift Me Up,” by Christina Aguilera, sophomore Kaiesha Johnson said she likes to send a message when she dances.
“When you dance with feeling people are touched by what you do,” said Johnson, a social work major.
Aguilera performed the song during the “Hope for Haiti” concert, said Johnson, just 10 days after the earthquake hit Haiti.
Johnson said the phrases “if you lift me up,” and “we all need someone” prompted her to raise her body and reach her hands out to the audience.
“I make sure I listen to the words and connect to the lyrics,” said Johnson, who has also performed praise dances during a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in March and Hispanic Heritage month last October.
After performing a rap verse inspired by the tragedy in Haiti, New Haven Academy student Laron Strong asked the audience to suggest words to rap on the spot, or “freestyle” off of. The audience suggested the word “hope.”
“I’ve got hope for Haiti and hope for myself,” said Strong, who is a member of a national non-profit organization called Hip Hop 4 Life.
“It’s a way to get kids off of the street and help them turn their lives around,” said Strong.
Strong, who helped organize a Darfur awareness group at his high school, said he takes opportunities to
help those in need.
“If there is something I can do to help, then why not?” asked Strong.
“Expressions” also spotlighted a number of campus and local talents including spoken word by African Student Association member Joy Osahon, praise dancing by members of Bethel AME church, a step routine by Steppin’ Up Drill Team and gospel performances by student Francesca Jean and jubilee choir professor Thomas Mitchell.
Naa Opoku, a Multicultural Center graduate intern who coordinated the event, said the goal for Paix Et Amor week was to raise $500 for Haiti relief. The events were free and open to the public, with a suggested donation of $1.
Opoku said it is uplifting to know that months after the tragedy “people still have Haiti in their hearts.”
Throughout the week, Haiti-themed events were run by members of the Multicultural Advisory Board, which included the Multicultural Center, Black Student Union, NAACP, Steppin’ Up, Men About Business, Organization of Latin American Students, West Indian Society and CIAO Italian Society, according to an e-mail sent by the SCSU Public Affairs office.