By Athena Dawson | [email protected]
Community members and local government leaders gathered on Wednesday Jan. 24 to celebrate the 220th year of Haitian independence at Queens Borough Hall.
Led by revolutionary figure Toussaint Louverture, The Caribbean country was the first Black country to emancipate itself from slavery in 1804. Haitian Independence Day falls on Jan. 1 and is celebrated throughout the Carribean island and the Haitian diaspora at large.
The event kicked off as audience members mingled in English and Creole while they enjoyed hearty plates of griot (pork), picklez (pickled vegetables) and bañan peze (fried plantains).
Community activist Sabine French kicked off the event with opening statements about the impact of Haiti’s independence on the Black diaspora at large.
“It’s not just Haitian independence, it was the first Black nation’s independence. It was a win for all of us. So tonight we are all celebrating the uprising of the first Black nation,” French said.
Following French’s speech, Apostle James Duncan of Christ Church International said an invocation for the crowd. NYPD officer Rueben Jasmin then got the crowd on their feet to sing along with his passionate rendition of the Haitian national anthem, “La Dessalinienne.”
Natalie Francois, a DOE educational administrator, took the stage during the ceremony to speak of Haiti’s significance outside of the Caribbean and its impact across the world.
“If we look at our flag… it says that together we can accomplish great things. That is exactly what Haitian independence and history has done. Haitian independence has made it possible for great things to happen, not just for Haiti but for other countries,” she said.
Francios alluded to her intimate experience of being a Haitian immigrant who felt the importance of passing on to her culture and traditions to her son while living her life in America.
“I didn’t want to come but here I am thriving, but then what did I do? When I had a child I shipped him right to Haiti. He was an American born child that grew up and went to school in Haiti,” she said. “ It just brings everything full circle, me not wanting to come [to America], but him wanting to go [to Haiti].”
After Francios’ speech, the program transitioned to a musical performance by local Haitian artist Smooth Jude, who sang ballads on stage while playing the guitar for the jubilant audience.
Closing out the ceremony, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. thanked the crowd for coming and hosted an awards ceremony for standout community members.
“It is important to me that my office continues to create a safe haven for Haitian residents in Queens. We have to continue to pass this history down to the next generation,” Richards said.
The attendees honored were Rachelle Antoine, manager of external affairs and community outreach for the JFK redevelopment program, and Dayanne Danier, fashion designer and founder of Bien Abye. The event came to a close with a touching rendition of “Ave Maria” and “I’ll Rise Up” by local singer Greca Luc.