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Haitian Heritage Month continues

The United States Census reports that Florida is home to the largest Haitian population in the United States and we are also home to the most counties that celebrate May as Haitian Heritage Month.

Indeed, according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, Palm Beach County (PBC)’s Haitian community started recognizing the month-long celebration in 2001 and contributed greatly to making it a statewide, and then, national celebration. Even though it started in Boston in 1998.

Our Haitian community is also active on the ground, from Mora Etienne’s historic movie-making to nonprofit Haiti Cholera Research Funding Foundation, which is crazy busy worldwide working on behalf of its people both here and on the Caribbean island, to Emmanuel Morel, a former longtime federal jobs official who is serious about public service.

There’s a Caribbean Marketplace in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami, which hosts events year-round, and the Haitian Heritage Museum in Delray Beach that does the same.

As we reflect, let’s also consider a host of events that celebrate Haitian food, music, culture and people that are happening this month, across south Florida. Here’s a couple of links:

Haitian Mother’s Day concert. Haitians celebrate the big day on May 26 and, in West Palm Beach, there will be an all-day, all-night concert in its celebration on May 31. For more information and the $20 tickets, click here.

The Palm Beach County Library system is hosting a series of events all month at different branches across the county. Here’s the link for a list of the really interesting, informative events.

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A slave rebellion ended today

It occurred in Saint Dominique, as Haiti was then known, and it was the largest, most successful rebellion in the Western Hemisphere. Slaves started the anti-colonial, anti-slavery insurrection on August 21, 1791 and it ended on January 1, 1804 with the former colony’s independence. It involved blacks, mulattoes, French, Spanish and British participants—with the ex-slave Toussaint L’Ouverture emerging as the new country’s most charismatic hero. All of those participants were upset about different issues–white landowners, for example, were upset about rising tariffs from the colonizing French government–and they supported the freedom movement for different reasons. Indeed, Saint Dominique was France’s wealthiest overseas colony, largely because of its production of sugar, coffee, indigo and cotton generated by an enslaved labor force. The event was the only slave uprising that led to the founding of a state which was both free from slavery and ruled by non-whites and former captives. Learn more here. And visit the coco calendar to see local, related events including here.

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Looking for freedom: Watch Night, tonight

Imagine how it might have been. African slaves, some free blacks, pensive men, women and children, huddled together, anxiously awaiting the dawn–and their freedom. That first Watch Night was Dec. 31, 1862, as the enslaved, abolitionists and others waited in the safety of the church for word that the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued. And signed by President Lincoln.

Though that signed document didn’t immediately free any slave–the 13th Amendment did that later–those downtrodden people were on watch.

And that original African-American “watch night” continues tonight, 156 years later, as a tradition of the historic black church across the United States and here in Palm Beach County.

Many Christian denominations have watch nights, or vigil services. United Methodists, for example, began observing New Year’s Eve watch nights in this country in 1770, while Catholics “watch” for the coming of the Messiah on Christmas Eve. But for African-Americans, the tradition is inextricably tied to our history in this country–even if we aren’t today huddled together in fear of what the next day, and New Year, might bring.

Rather, as Bishop Thomas A. Masters of New Macedonia Baptist Church, says, our motivations are different. Thankfully.

“I think people get really religious at the end of the year,” said Bishop Masters, who is today also Mayor of Riviera Beach. “They get to thinking about how God has brought them this far, how He has blessed them, and they realize they have to get right with Him. Now, they may go to the bars and clubs afterward, but at 12 o’clock, they’re in church.”

Language for this post was taken from a South Florida Sun-Sentinel article published on December 31, 2000. It was written by Marian Dozier, coco team lead, when she was a reporter there. Read the actual, full story  here–including the Mayor’s quote!

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AARLCC doesn’t play

The African-American Research Library and Cultural Center (AARLCC) is a coalition of hard-working, well-connected mostly former students from the formerly segregated Roosevelt High School in West Palm Beach. They have been working for more than a decade to ensure the school site itself is not only saved, but converted into a community uplift center with a focus on learning, cultural enrichment and history. That is of critical importance, says Debbye Raing, a now-retired longtime educator who is also an AARLCC charter member. “In order to move forward, you have to look back,” she said.”Our past shapes our future.” People are getting it: for one, the nonprofit has a multi-million dollar commitment from the School District of Palm Beach County to support their dream. For more information on their work and their plan, contact Vice President Donald Gibson at 561-758-2313 or dongibson561@gmail.com. The nonprofit meets on the first Monday of each month at Gaines Park in West Palm Beach.