Where Are the People?
By Shirley Thimothee-Paul
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe”. – Frederick Douglass
As I ride down Northeast Second Avenue and 54th Street headed toward the Little Haiti Cultural Center I drive past the almost empty streets thinking of the movie Philadelphia and the Bruce Springsteen song, I’m on fire. Shots of various areas that people from Philadelphia can remember. Children playing in the street, vendors going through their daily routine, cars passing by, men playing basketball and area views of old Philadelphia land marks and I think of the Liberty bell and what it stands for.
If we had a liberty bell today, would we be able to summon the community to come and take a stand? Perhaps the multi-generational past process would make more of an effect on the people of Little Haiti and awaken something within them to come and fight for what is rightfully theirs. From all areas of the world, people come to America for a chance at a better life, one that offers them more opportunity, a fair chance to gain wealth, prosperity, and a reasonable chance of crossing class lines. Although Haitians have been in America since the late 1930’s, this group was not really recognized as a separate population due to their minimal numbers and lack of involvement in the governmental process. Now that those numbers have largely increased and more and more Haitians are moving to America, placing a cultural stamp on a country, though stilled tainted with issues of racism and socio-economic disparities exist, it is still is the best country to live in.
Little Haiti is the best known area of Haitian exiles. The Market place and Cultural center sits directly in the center, sur-rounded by a number of Haitian owned businesses including Mapou’s Library.
The murals in Little Haiti are covered with the faces of community leaders and activist such as Jean Mapou, Mecca aka Grimo and Marliene Bastien to name a few. An area, in just a few blocks can take one right back home as they are listening to our music during the festive “Sounds of the Little Haiti” or observing in awe at the art work and design of the local and international artist of Haiti when pieces are displayed at various events.
Haiti is known for many things worthy of celebration, when this designated one of a kind area should not be eliminated, but prized to be a success.
Little Haiti is under attack and Haitian leaders have now taken part in this fight to help Little Haiti survive.
The bigger question I must ask is where are the people?
Being poor is not a sin, not having much to offer in way of finances does not take away your right to speak up for your-self or those who cannot speak up for themselves. That is one of the great things that living in America has to offer.
The gentrification of Little Haiti process has begun and it will happen. Your input is necessary, when you are contacted to come and make your issues known about your community, it is your responsibility to come forth, if not, keep your opinions after the fact to your-self.
We all know that there is power in numbers. We all know that it does not matter what others think of us as long as we know who we are, but when we forget this and allow the people without conscious to come in and make themselves powerful by way of the dollar, we are now at fault.
To stand by and do nothing is to let them win. Change is coming, but what change will that be? Will Little Haiti no longer exit? Will Little Haiti be painted with new faces that have no know-ledge of the Haitian culture and people? That is for us, the Haitians, Haitian-Americans and all others who care to decide. So what is it going to be?