Haitian American Society Poet Speaks

Natalia Cooper

A podium was placed at the front of the room and couches were pulled into a closer circle around the makeshift stage. The main speaker was Exodus El Shabazz. He took the microphone first to discuss his paintings, which decorated the Wheatley Student Lounge. Four of his paintings were on display and he went into detail about each one. Each dealt with themes of family, self, and history and how those things influenced his creativity.

His paintings feature bright colors, especially present are the colors of the African flag: red, yellow, and green. Two of El Shabazz’s works show new takes on images from ancient Egypt. “True Pharaoh” shows a darker-skinned, thicker-lipped representation of an Egyptian king than a history book might provide. With his art, made using oil paints, markers, and other media, Exodus aims to “bring history back to what it’s supposed to be.”

Paul Germain, the leader of the Haitan American Society at UMass, shared some of his poems and talked about the theme of this event. Germain stressed the need for “positive unity” and invited other student poets to share their work in an open-mic setting. El Shabazz took the stage again and read some of his poems.

“Please come up,” said Germain when El Shabazz was done, “if you have something you just cooked up share it, come on, you must have something,” he said, encouraging the crowd.

Some students then went up to the microphone and delivered their poems. Germain and El Shabazz later did a double reading of one of El Shabazz’s poems, line by line, first English then Creole. After the initial applause, everyone did one unified single clap after each poet performed.

Later, Germain said that although his organization encourages unity it is often difficult to bring students together for this type of event. He repeated throughout that the message of the meeting was “positive unity.”

“It’s always hard to gather young people together, if there isn’t any movement or any type of communal push,” said Germain. He stressed the need for a more visible community. “When you unite you become a force, you become strong. When we started, it was with only three or four students, but now we have many more students working with us.”

Germain is still unsure about the exact percentage of Haitian American students at UMB, but said that he is trying to find out.

The Haitian American Society of Poets is an off campus organization that Germain works with. HASP along with two on campus organizations, the Black Student Center and the Haitian American Society, sponsored this event.

“We mainly work with young Haitian American students around Boston and in the metropolitan area,” explained Germain. The plan is to recruit students from various campuses, high schools and colleges, and to form a sort of poetry forum.” Germain wants to keep art present in the education of Haitian American students and organizes events to “encourage Haitian American students and also to share what we have with other students.”

Exodus El Shabazz also works with the HASP and has joined Germain before at events held over the summer. One of the events was held at the Somerville Public Library and they will soon sponsor another event there within the next few months. El Shabazz is also planning to produce a poetry show on a local station in Somerville. It will be aired once a month and he hopes it will provide an opportunity for “everyone to be heard.”

“When people hear the name they think it’s all about Haiti, but it’s all about everything else, too.” Exodus El Shabazz said about the HASP.

“We live in a very small world these days and everybody’s welcome to put something forward,” he added.

El Shabazz has been active on the local poetry scene and has read at many local open mic venues such as The Lizard Lounge and Out of the Blue Gallery, both in Cambridge. He has self-published a book called Da Book of Exodus and sold out of his first printing. He plans to reprint his book soon and this time it will be bilingual, with both English and Haitian Creole versions of his poems.

A collection of writings by HAS members called Haitian American Souls is available for $5 at their office on the 4th floor of Wheatley. It is their second publication and a third book is on its way. On October 30 they will host an Open House in the Wheatley Student Lounge at 2:30. The event will feature a variety of Creole foods from the island.