Francesca Andre

ArtRace

Haiti’s enduring spirit comes alive in this photo essay

August 23, 2018
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By Francesca Andre*, AFROPUNK contributor

 

The first time I encountered Okap, I fell in love. I fell in love with the spirit, the pride and even the accent. I’ll admit I am deep in the honeymoon phase, but everything about Okap illuminates my soul.

No, I am not referring to a person. I have fallen in love with the city also known as Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city. Okap is home to the Citadel of King Henri Christophe, the Sans-Souci Palace, and is now the place I now consider to be my second home. The rich history and architecture is a testament to the power and capability of the Haitian people.

The purpose of my trip was to participate in Thriving OKAP, an initiative created by Maritza Boudoir and Wanda Tima that brings together entrepreneurs across the Haitian Diaspora to explore how to revive Okap’s local economy. The panels, which covered topics from female empowerment to tourism, were invigorating and exemplified the dedication and love that Capois have for their city.

On my last day in Okap, my friend took me on a mini-tour. My intention was to be present, to absorb the spirit of the town, and to not hide behind my camera. The moment I saw the Sans-Souci Palace, I was overcome with a sense of pride, gratitude, and grace. It felt like I was the prodigal child returning home, but instead of a feast, it was a private, intimate conversation with ancestors. As I stood outside of this fortress, I was almost compelled to kiss the ground. Perhaps I would have if the soil hadn’t become damp and muddy from the drizzle throughout the day.

 

On my way back from the sans-souci palace, I spotted a group of kids playing football( soccer). I asked their coach for permission to take a few photos. The young man in the photograph had my attention- He was poised and respectful. His teammates were teasing him for being too dark, they didn’t understand why I wanted to take his photograph. I asked him if it bothered him when they called him “blackie”, he said no, he is used to it.

 

Here in this seldom-known World Heritage site, I expressed gratitude to the elders, who left behind the legacy of freedom. I felt free and unconcerned with the world’s -isms: colorism, racism, bullshit-ism and all the other unnecessary isms. In this moment, I was dancing in a space free of ism. That is the gift that Okap gave me. Throughout my six-day trip, I stopped to chat with and take photos of the locals. It was important for me to ask for permission, instead of just photographing the people from the comfort of a car. Each photo has a story behind it. The Capois are very dignified people, yet approachable. I am eternally grateful for the magical moments that I spent with the people of Okap, and these few portraits are just the beginning of the love story with my second home.

 

 

Francesca Andre is the co-founder of Optik 21 and an award-winning filmmaker whose photography work has circulated in publications such as the New York Post, New York Daily News, News Day, Connecticut Post, Daily Mail and Ellements Magazine to name a few. Her latest film Charcoal, tackles internalized colorism and has been screened at many US and International film festivals and reviewed by Essence Magazine, Think Progress, Shadow and ACT, Ebony Magazine and Connecticut Post to name a few.

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