Jean Jacques Dessalines, Haiti’s Founding Father and the person that led the successful slave revolt that gave Haiti independence, was assassinated on the 17th of October, 1805. Since than, the 17th of October has been a time for Haitians to reflect on independence, unity, and Dessaline’s legacy.
It was a lack of unity that killed Dessalines, and so it is a lack of unity that is the cause of many deaths in Cite Soleil from inter-neighborhood battles and fighting. And so the members of Soley Leve decided to take this day as one to demonstrate unity among Soleyas in Dessaline’s memory.
For the week before the anniversary, each block took a turn hosting a konbit to clean their streets and rehabilitate their communities: Ti Haiti had over a hundred people turn out to clean the canal from one end of the community to the other, Bwa Nef had the entire length of their main street cleaned, Norway transformed their public park into a beautiful new space, Kwa Ble tackled their toughest canal, and Brooklyn cleaned every canal and corridor from Soley 11 to Soley 17. Each of these events had music playing from a mobile sound truck assembled by the community and a local DJ Pouchymix, graffiti honoring Dessalines and other Haitian heroes by the local artist Snake, and members of different neighborhoods working side by side.
On the day of December 17th, members of Konbit Soley Leve and the voudou organization of Cite Soleil LIVOCS got up early to put a flower wreath at Dessalines’ memorial in Pon Wouj. Afterwards, the mobile sound truck circled around Cite Soleil, playing patriotic music and motivating all of Cite Soleil’s neighborhoods to come out for a peaceful march in the memory of Haiti’s Founding Father. Hundreds of people assembled in the streets, and walked to Dessaline’s memorial.
Upon arrival at the memorial, two political groups who had arrived beforehand had begun to fight, throwing rocks at each other, and the police were shooting trying to break up the disturbance. Instead of scattering in the panic, the members of Soley Leve stood calmly and peacefully behind their banner, and leaders from Cite Soleil used the microphone and loudspeaker on the truck to calm the crowd, appealing for peace and respect for the memorial site. This is an instance where Cite Soleil brought peace to a scene instead of violence.
After the crowd calmed down, the procession advanced to the memorial, where leaders entered to pay their respects and hang up the banner in the trees behind it. Upon leaving, a leader from the movement took the microphone again and urged everyone to gather for a moment of silence, and to kneel to ask Dessalines’ forgiveness for Haitians’ lack of unity and the fighting which had just taken place. Hundreds of people in the crowd kneeled in silence, and then at once, the marchers rose to their feet and began walking back to Cite Soleil.
The police were so grateful for Soley Leve’s role in calming the violence that they escorted the procession back to Cite Soleil. Just as they crossed over the border, the sound truck ran out of gas, and the crowd together pushed the pickup truck back to its home – this was the final expression of unity in a day whose goal was just that.