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Monday, May 20, 2024

An Unforgettable Tribute to Jacques Stéphen Alexis in Boca Raton, Florida Last Week

CSMS Staff More than 200 people showed up last Friday for a special tribute to Jacques Stéphen Alexis, one of the best Haitian writers of the 20th century assassinated in 1961 by the Creole fascists of the Papa Doc regime. The Center For Strategic and Multicultural Studies (CSMS) worked in perfect collaboration with the Alexis Committee, Konbit Kreyol from FAU and Nova Southeastern University to make that dazzling event a reality. The event took place in the Grand Palm Room at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), and it was the last or the grande finale, as many people involved in the realization of the project called it, in a long year of activities that CSMS had set out to undertake.  All seemed to play in favor of the organizers. Everything that was supposed to be there was there: the Haitians students at FAU, the old retirees of the Haitian left, folk singers of all sorts, and writers. The tropical haze of the Sunshine State was no where to be felt; instead, it was replaced by the traditional cool-breeze of spring in the tropics that felt so pleasant to the point one has the impression that Compère Général Soleil was well alive and present in the audience. The university entrance was decorated with the red-and-blue Haitian flag, and it was under a spectacularly starry night that the Haitian flag floated over the poles leading up to the entrance of the main building, where the Grand Palm is located. All that was possible, thanks to the devoted young men and women of Konbit Kreyol, who performed that excellent job while standing erect with their arms full of red roses, offering a stem to everyone entering the room. The event started promptly at 7:30 with a minute of respect in remembrance of Hervé Florival, who was not lucky enough to live that great moment. Hervé was one of the founding members of the Alexis committee, who played a major role in the discussions to make 2006, the Jacques Stéphen Alexis year.  He died last year. One minute later, the popular folk singer, Yolande Thomas, reached the stage with her firm and soft voice, her eyes full of emotions and her colorful outfit à la Martha Jean-Claude to shake the soul of the audience, young and old, in Envokasyon Soley. Bravo Yolande.                Yolande was immediately followed by a series of folkloric dances performed by the Sosyete Koukouy dancers of Jean Mapou and the Konbit Kreyol dancers. But the Maroons, a group of young Haitian poets who performed mainly for English speaking audiences, were the most acclaimed of the night, especially for their new poem titled Retrieving Soley From Behind The Mountains Of Haiti, which was a special recognition to Jacques Séphen Alexis. The poetical expressions mixed with folkloric Creole words pushed the Maroons to their zenith of the night, stealing the hearts and minds of everyone in the room. “I believe I have nothing to fear as I’m near the end of my life. These kids are clearly the new generation that will lead the way to the new Haiti we all dream of,” said Gérald Bloncourt, who sat just below the stage in the front row. Many important personalities were also present at the event. Gérald Bloncourt, Florence Alexis were part of a Haitian delegation from Paris, including French film maker, Mehdi Lallaoui who accompanied Bloncourt as part of a documentary that he is making on the life of Bloncourt. Andrée Roumer, the widow of Jacques Stéphen Alexis, was also present as part of a delegation from Haiti. Jean-Jacques Alexis, the son of JSA, who currently lives in South Florida, was also at hand. Gérald Bloncourt used the occasion to present his revised collection of poetry tiltled J’irai Crié sur Vos Tombes (I’ll go crying on your gravesites) dedicated not only to Jacques Stéphen Alexis, his Childhood friend, but also to all victims of the brutal regimes in Haiti. Professor Carrol Coates of New York University of Binghamton and the translator of the English version of Compère Général Soleil came down from New York for the event. The American writer, Bernard Diederich and his wife Ginette Dreyfus, were also present. Diederich is well known for his famous book titled Papa Doc And The Macoutes. He has just released a new book on Haiti titled The Price of Blood in which an entire chapter is devoted to Jacques Stéphen Alexis. Jean Claude Bajeux, under the French title Le Prix Du Sang, translated the book into English. The event lasted 3 hours; and when it was over, one could easily see a feeling of nostalgia in the face of many who attended the event. Many people simply did not want to leave, clustering in small groups while dreaming of a Haiti they hope someday will be free and democratic. Friday night did not mean the end of the grand finale. The activities resumed the next day in the second floor of the main building. A panel of experts on JSA composed of Carrol Coates, Florence Alexis, Gerald Bloncourt and Dr. Ardain Isma presented the three dimensions of JAS: political, literary and cultural. Edwidge Danticat, the most famous Haitian-American writer was present along with her husband and her new baby. There were workshops on Haitian literature and great personalities of this literature. Rare pictures of JSA that no one has ever seen before were presented by Florence Alexis. It was very hard to forget this famous picture of many important personalities of African and Afro-Caribbean writers taken in 1956 during the Presence Africaine’s first congress of Black writers in Paris in which Alexis presented for the first time his Prolegomena to A Marvelous Haitian Realism. In the end, Dr. Isma gave closing remarks. Speaking in the name of CSMS, he gave thanks to everyone who showed up in support for cultural and literary awareness while paying special tribute to the life and works of Jacques Stéphen Alexis, one of the greatest figures of the 20th century Haitian literature.

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