My Turn: How these recent events are reminiscent of my early years

  • STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 1/10/2021 4:02:30 PM
Modified: 1/10/2021 4:02:11 PM

I was born in Haiti, where I spent the first 12 years of my life. I grew up in a place where political instability was the norm. As children, my brothers and I missed many days of schools due to civil unrest, coup d’états and political violence. Between 1986, when the Baby Doc régime ended, and 1991 when I left the country, Haiti had seven presidents. Haiti is also a place with strong pockets that believe in democracy, as fleeting as it may be for the small island. People risked their lives to go vote in elections. The values of voting and respect for democracy were strongly espoused in my family, even if unattainable on the island.

I remember vividly when I was about 9, my dad picked me up second from school after getting my brother, who is two years younger than me. We boarded a tap-tap, a pick-up truck turned paid transport vehicle, from my school in downtown Port-au-Prince to go home where it was quieter. By that, I mean that things were not on fire yet. Things were hot all over the capital city, but downtown was literally on fire. There were barricades everywhere. The tap-tap driver worked hard to navigate them and the burning tires that anti-government groups had set up to complement the official barricades. The streets were literally on fire and people were throwing rocks at everything, including our truck. We were all was scared, but eventually made it home safely.

Watching the riot mobs storm Washington, D.C., our own American capital city, and interrupt the certification in the House of Representatives with their flags reminded me so much of Haiti. I wondered what has the United States come to? It was surreal and so reminiscent of my experiences growing up in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. My sentiments on Wednesday afternoon were so different from those I felt in the morning.

I woke up on Jan. 6 thinking that perhaps 2021 will bring the solace that we need as a nation for all of the suffering and pain that we experienced in 2020. Politically, we made history in Georgia and we had our first Black woman to be installed as vice president later this month. I was feeling hopeful, but all of that changed by the afternoon.

As a leader, I know too well that change brings resistance. To achieve equity, we must all give something of value to make this ideal a reality. It’s hard when one has lived in a system of near complete hegemony by one group to suddenly watch as things are becoming more fair. I get it. What was hard to watch, as a person of color, a black woman and mother of a brown boy were the selfies. They were unbelievable!

What our nation needs now is healing. We are one nation. Let us realize that when one suffers, we all suffer. Let us look ahead to realize that a stronger nation is a more prosperous one. Let us realize that respect for human life and human dignity should be afforded to all, not some. Let us make that Pledge of Allegiance mean something for the young people that recite it every day in school.

Yves Salomon-Fernández Ph.D. is the president of Greenfield Community College.

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