#TRENDING | A LAKOU NOU PROJECT IN EAST FLATBUSH
the response of eight dancers to the death of our brothers and sisters
"The series of incidents surrounding the ongoing death of Black bodies, especially detailed in social media, have alerted to the importance of doing work in the community. Trending hashtags like #AltonSterling and #PhilandoCastile are the most talked about today but we know that many more - voiced and unvoiced - exist. Additionally, we know the difficulties that exist in the lives of people of color (POC) and Black men, women, and children everyday as a result of the systematic oppression and institutionalized racism that breeds state violence. #Trending is an artistic intervention, developed by Haiti Cultural Exchange’s Lakou NOU artist-in-residence Veroneque Ignace, to showcase the responses of East Flatbush youth to their community’s current state of affairs and to encourage community advocacy through creative production. The project depends on youth of the community (aged 11 years and up) to fill out a questionnaire constituting the data collection component of the project and used as the primary resource for the choreographic work created. Youth also have the option of being the very dancers performing the resulting work. Ignace believes that the process of enriching the East Flatbush through dance, and Haitian dance especially, begins with a combination of pop-up performances motivated by community voices and talk backs in critical East Flatbush locations/community centers."
Beginning roughly in May of 2016, I endeavored to push myself as a dancer and future public health professional to seriously meet my own personal challenge of creating a small army of youth advocates in my Brooklyn community. The new Lakou NOU artist-in-residency program, by Haiti Cultural Exchange, has allowed me to begin this work.
Lakou NOU provides four artists of Haitian descent with the opportunity to create and present new work by connecting their skills and talents to four traditionally underserved Brooklyn neighborhoods, home to generations of Haitians and Haitian-Americans: Crown Heights, Canarsie, East Flatbush, and Flatbush. After receiving over 25 applications, the Selebrasyon! Advisory Committee chose four Lakou NOU residents based on their demonstrated commitment to the Haitian community and their proven artistic excellence. I was one of the artist selected and the development of #TRENDING | A LAKOU NOU PROJECT IN EAST FLATBUSH is my project’s focus.
#TRENDING comes from the belief that creative production is necessary for survival as it is informed by experiential living. Channeling the cultures and traditions of my family, the dance vocabulary I focus on is rooted in Haitian traditional dance, rhythm, and music. It goes without saying that the Haitian identity I have inherited is exactly that which allows me a true understanding of the pains of trauma and the relief of recovery.
Furthermore, born and raised in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, I have learned the meaning of the saying, “it takes a village…” My formation has been the direct consequence of many things — including the frequency at which a merchant on Church Ave, selling from her van, could tell my mom that she just saw me walk by “in the wrong direction,” and, the amount of times that I’ve had to cross the street in zig-zags to ensure that they each received their greeting kiss, and, each Sunday, since 1997, spent dancing carefree in front of Djarara, leading the way alongside Bouki the flag-bearer. My East Flatbush community, overwhelmingly influenced by its solid Caribbean presence in language, music, and culture, has affirmed and reaffirmed many times over the necessity of a healthy community — one that coexists and works to co-develop in efforts to ensure the creation of identity, purpose, and direction for their youth.
Choreography as methodology, in conjunction with writing, has allowed me to play my part in creating improving the health of my community. It has allowed me to effectively explore essential questions regarding the emotional, physical, spiritual, and psychological stability of women, men, and children of African descent, while aiming to mobilize them against the effects of institutionalized violence on their health. Through creative production and through the conceptualization of trauma and recovery for Black people in America and in the diaspora, I have been able to embark on the journey to expanding the notion of healing. Fundamental to my work is the idea that everyone and anyone, despite their background or prior knowledge of what I do, can use my platform and my story as the launching pad for working toward their own liberation.
This installation of #TRENDING seeks to employ all this. It discusses state-sanctioned violence primarily from the perspective of youth living, schooling, and frequenting the East Flatbush community. One group of thirty-nine 9th grade students, attending the High School for Service and Learning (HSSL) at the old Erasmus High School Campus, submitted a questionnaire which served as the primary source of data collection for the project. Each questionnaire had a total of eight questions, which probed the students on issues pertaining directly to them and how they cope with their emotions, as well as issues pertaining to their respective communities. The communities represented varied throughout all Brooklyn neighborhoods, though, seven questionnaires came from students living in East Flatbush in particular.
All questionnaires were evaluated by both myself and the students’ English teacher, Ms. Sakena Sampson. Sampson, a graduate of the Pennsylvania State University and Education and Public Policy major, is the founder of Girls Empowerment Circle (GEC), Inc. – a non-profit organization aimed to equip young women of color with the skills needed to become successful at finding their own identity, as they explore who they are as children of African descent. Her experience with GEC, in combination with my own experience in using dance as methodology for intervention, served as the primary tools for interpreting the open-ended responses we received.
Ultimately, we found that a majority of the questionnaires pinpointed violence as the one main factor students most disliked about their communities. Additionally, many students responded strongly about violence by law enforcement in particular. We also found that many of the students had difficulty in fully expressing emotions that were deemed “negative” (i.e. sadness, anger, disappointment, etc.).
Four 9th grade students – Imani Nelson, Sanaya Weatherhead, Jennifer Williams, and Reanelle Williams – from HSSL were selected to help in the creation and performance of the resulting work, alongside Kriyol Dance! Collective. The students received permission from their parents to attend a total of eight rehearsals during which they learned and created choreographic material. Moreover, they explored the way in which they can use dance to talk about personal and important moments in their own lives.
Providing the students with this opportunity was (and is) crucial in developing community-based work, inspiring advocacy and self-efficacy within these four girls, and developing a pedagogy that can be more widely applied to other important community health topics.
#TRENDING | A LAKOU NOU PROJECT IN EAST FLATBUSH, was debuted on November 12th, from 7pm-11pm at Brooklyn Fete. The show included a performance - incorporating poetry, embodied storytelling, and live Haitian-drumming and dance. This was followed by a Q&A session facilitated by former Kriyol Dance! Collective member, Naomi Faith Fields.