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Healing From Slavery at the Heart of Maafa Commemoration
by Mary-Devon Dupuy
It’s Essence Fest weekend, a time for people from all over the country to come down to the Big Easy and enjoy the contributions of hip-hop, R&B, and soul to the local and national music scene, as well as get inspired at the Empowerment series. The people at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, organizers of this year’s Maafa observance, want New Orleanians to remember that, while many African-Americans are headlining at the Dome, many still face injustice head-on every day.
Maafa, a Swahili word that roughly translates in English as “disaster,” or “terrible occurrence,” is an observance of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Throughout the day, participants will move to sites in Treme, Algiers and finally Central City to reflect on all that has changed since slaves were transported as commerce, as well as all that hasn't.
New Orleans has coordinated a Maafa remembrance for the past 12 years, and we spoke with the Center’s Executive Director, Carol Bebelle about the ceremonies.
The Ashé Center’s motto is “the past we inherit, the future we create,” and that’s essentially the type of message that Maafa is designed to inspire in the New Orleans community.
“This is a context and frame to make a commitment to work for change,” Bebelle said. “We want all people to share in the covenant of healing.”
The director said that slavery’s legacy is still visible in some modern institutions.
“There are urban issues like joblessness, we continue to struggle with the prison industrial complex and the percentage of African-American men that find themselves there.” Bebelle added that, “We’re the great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren of folks who went through something so much worse.”
The day begins bright and early with a healing ceremony at Congo Square in Armstrong Park at 6:30am, followed by a procession to the tomb of the Unknown Slave at St. Augustine Church. Participants will walk through the French Quarter, eventually continue to the Ferry, and end the solemn portion of the day at The Village at Algier’s Point, 200 Patterson Avenue. Following the procession, observers can convene at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center, 1712 Oretha Castle Haley, for food and entertainment.
The lineup includes Elegua, a woman’s percussion group, as well as the Treme Brass Band. There will also be a health fair, which Bebelle believes is a fitting addition to the day.
“The wellness of the community is replicated by how well the people are within it,” Bebelle said. “We need to distance ourselves from this horrible time but also learn to value ourselves and gain healthier practices.”
Dead Huey Long, Emma Boyce, Ian Hoch, Sarah Esenwein, Will Dilella, Chris Rinaldi, Lianna Patch, Phil Yiannopoulos, Cate Czarnecki, Jonas Griffin, Jennifer Abbot, Mary Kilpatrick, Elaina Patton, Mike Horst, Devin Bambrick, Katherine McGuire, Norris Ortolano, Joe Shriner
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