Haiti Week in DC 2017
Changing the Narrative: A Celebration of the Western Hemisphere’s First Black Republic
Last month, hundreds gathered in Washington to participate in the inaugural Haiti Week in DC and take a new approach to the Haiti narrative. In collaboration with the renowned establishment, Busboys and Poets, the Embassy of Haiti hosted this initiative to honor Haiti’s inspirational history and vibrant culture by offering a full-week of programming ranging from thought-provoking discussions to fun and interactive events. Under the leadership of Ambassador Paul Altidor, the week-long celebration was particularly designed to help shift the negative narrative often associated with the island.
The early inspiration for Haiti Week in DC arose when the founder and proprietor of Busboys and Poets, Andy Shallal, attended a dinner held at the Embassy in honor of Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck’s Oscar nomination for the documentary film “I Am Not Your Negro.” However, it could be said that the link between Haiti and Busboys and Poets predates 2017. The restaurant chain, which also serves as a bookstore, lounge and theater, takes its name from the great African American poet and prominent figure of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy at a Washington, D.C. hotel when he was still a fledgling poet. At the twilight of the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes traveled to Haiti in 1931 for three months, and he befriended the great Haitian poet and novelist Jacques Roumain. Following Roumain’s death in 1944, Hughes penned a memorial elegy in his honor, “A Poem for Jacques Roumain.” He also collaborated with Mercer Cook of Howard University to complete the first English translation of Roumain’s classic novel Gouverneurs de la Rosée (Masters of the Dew) – arguably the most celebrated chef d’oeuvre of Haitian literature. Eighty-six years after Hughes’ visit to Haiti, the bygone connection between the busboy-turned-poet and Haiti was befittingly revived by the Embassy of Haiti and Busboys and Poets with the initiation of Haiti Week in DC.
Each event highlighted Haiti’s wealth and essence. To launch the week, the Embassy hosted a Haitian cooking class and offered the local community (Haitians and non-Haitian alike) an opportunity to learn how to make a three-course traditional Haitian meal with a twist. For the occasion, Chef Dimitri Lilavois from California was selected and served as the featured chef for the remainder of the week. His featured dish was made available at all Busboys and Poets locations, and was sold out daily!
A number of discussions were held to feature the contributions of Haiti and notable Haitians. During the panel conversation on current issues in the U.S., Haitian-Americans at the forefront of socio-political affairs shared their reflections on how their Haitian heritage has shaped their political trajectory and offered their take on the best ways forward.The exceptional sound of internationally acclaimed songstress Emeline Michel (re)introduced the soul of Haiti to the audience through her charismatic and vivacious performance.
The week closed out with a successful pop-up shop where the renovated Chancery transformed into a high-end Haitian marketplace featuring products and designs by Haitian-American entrepreneurs. This finale was the launch of the Embassy’s newest initiative, which offers a new approach towardthe Haiti conversation, with an emphasis on businesses and entrepreneurship.
“Haiti Week should really be replicated in the other major capitals around the world where the Haitian Embassies are present. It was truly a positive experience that showcased Haiti in a way that’s not often seen or portrayed in the diplomatic community,” said a senior Foreign Service diplomat towards the end of the week.
Haiti Week in DC was a tremendous success, as evidenced by the high praises received from the maximum capacity audience attending each event. The public was able to (re)discover Haiti through its arts and its people, the Haiti that Langston Hughes described in his autobiography as “Haiti, land of blue sea and green hills, white fishing boats on the sea…People strong, midnight black. Proud women…whose backs are very straight… Nights full of stars, throbbing with Congo drums.”
Please see below for a recap of each event and media ready albums.