Posts Tagged ‘rape’

And I don’t even know her name (a poem on AIDS Day)

December 1, 2010

***This poem is a true story***

Did you know I used to be a conspiracy theorist?
I’m still a conspiracy theorist
I’ve conspired about everything
From Klan contraceptive pills in
Kentucky Fried “Chickens”
To why so many poor children I’ve taught
Are now on Ridlin

I believe in almost every conspiracy
Designed to assassinate black leaders
From Shaka Zulu to Patrice Lumumba to Dr. King
And up to the present

I also used to opine
About AIDS being a disease,
Created in Western labs
To dispose of Black people around the world
But then I had to realize
That my theories on conspiracies
Won’t change the fact
That my cousin in Zambia is dying of AIDS
…And I don’t even know her name

Thoughts of AIDS
Coming from gays, junkies,
Or Vietnamese Rhesus monkeys
In Western laboratories
Won’t help my cousin see her next birthday
Or the birthday of her child

It’s insane when I think of those slain in vain
By this disease with “unknown origins”
But of course it’s worse now
Because it’s closer to home

I often think about my cousin
And how she lost her husband
To the AIDS Grim Reaper
But then I dug deeper
And found out that he died
Because he had to choose
Between money for expensive AIDS drugs
And financial aid to feed his children

So now that they are going hungry,
He must have died in vain
…And I don’t even know her name

US drug companies
Won’t lower the prices of their medicine
And so now she too waits to die
Impoverished and ashamed
… And I don’t even know her name

No more school for her sons
…And I don’t even know her name

Her daughter might be raped
By a gang of infected men
In a futile search to cure their pain
… And I don’t even know her name

Will her children die too
Because of this damn Western drug game?
… And I don’t even know her name
My cousin is dying of AIDS
…And I don’t even know her name!

And I know this sounds repetitive
But for my entire life
Her existence in my mind was negative

And so now that she’s HIV positive
I feel like I have to make up for lost time
Because there’s too much time lost
Before she’s tossed
Into that statistical group of Africans
That die from AIDS, malaria, TB,
And probably common colds

But since we don’t know their names,
And most Americans believe
That all Africans are the same,
Then unless they died from war or famine
Then they must have died from AIDS!

Not old age, not rabies,
Even the babies,
Let them all die
From that disease we call AIDS,

You know that “AIDS”
Some say it means
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
But it might as well mean
“Africans Impoverished Death Syndrome”
Because no one cares for their names right?
Well wrong!

Because from now on,
I’m gonna sing my cousin’s song
And the songs of the throngs
Of those who are dying
In numbers so large
That rivers form from tears of the crying
And mounting AIDS deaths
Keep these rivers from ever drying

But I’m gonna stand strong for my cousin
And fight the fight for her and her husband

Because inability to pay exorbitant prices
For name-brand drugs
Means my cousin might die in shame
But at least for this one soul
It won’t be in vain
Because by the time you read this testimony
I will have known her name

Her name is not “African statistic #10,000,001”
Or whatever figure
Will get these drug companies more money
And by the way I gotta inform my friends
That joking about AIDS
Never was and still isn’t funny

And if they or you ask why,
I will tell them you that my cousin,
She is dying of AIDS
And though some of you may not give a damn,
For those of you who care,
Please join me for a moment of silence
For Kuishi ‘s prayer…

*Kuishi: “to live” in Swahili


Congo advocacy groups must put their egos aside

September 2, 2010

As I have said time and again, fighting for change in the Congo has become my family business. I am part of a continuing struggle that has been deep in my blood for centuries. As I’ve also been known to say, the U.S. media can only handle one African conflict per decade: Ethiopia in the 80s, Rwanda in the 90s, and Sudan from 2000-2010. From the latest trends I am seeing, it seems as though 2010 may be the start of Congo’s US media decade, for better or for worse. As the spotlight continues to grow on Congo, it is high time that Congolese advocacy organizations put their egos aside and stay focused on the task at hand, which should be to assist in creating a conflict-mineral free Congo where good governance reigns and innocent women, children, and men (yes, men are suffering too) can live as free as we do in America.

Over the past 2 years, I have been fortunate enough to work with most major organizations in the U.S. that work on or for the Congo. These include Women for Women International, the Enough! Project, TransAfrica, Africa Action, STAND Now, The Holocaust Museum, and Friends of the Congo. While I have had a great experience with all of these organizations, I have also seen a fair share of dissension between the groups that could ultimately lead to us doing more harm than good for the Congo. The main problem is that there is too much time spent criticizing the approach of the differing groups. What we fail to realize is that each second we spend arguing amongst ourselves is another second a 3-year old is raped. It’s another second where a man watches his family be slaughtered while he sits helpless. It’s another second where women like Honorata are called “food” by their rebel captors.

Much of the debate between the groups focuses on the true value of what has been deemed the “conflict mineral approach” as well as the desire of some groups to only focus on women’s issues in the Congo at the expense of Congolese men and boys who may be suffering. Lastly, there is debate about who is responsible for communicating the crisis in the Congo to the American people. Quite honestly, even though I am a proponent of the conflict mineral approach, I never considered it to be the only problem facing the Congo. Furthermore, I have yet to work with an organization that believes the war in Congo is only fueled by our desire for electronics’ products. However, this approach has the best chance of reaching the average American who could care less about the Congo, but does feel that people shouldn’t die in Congo so we in America can have a cell phone.

As it relates to those organizations that focus primarily on women’s issues, I understand the idea. The problem however is that when we become more engaged in the Congo, we tend to see the conflict through a Western women’s rights mindset that will ultimately aid in the deterioration of Congolese traditional values. This approach ironically becomes quite paternalistic in the end. As the aboriginal quote states: “If you are coming to help me, stay home. But if you are coming because you believe you freedom as a human being is inextricably linked to my freedom, then let’s work together.” Ashley Judd spoke to this sentiment after her recent trip to Congo. At the same time however, there are women and girls who are in need of services and they cannot be ignored either.

The last major issue I see is that many Congolese advocates in America are frustrated that there are no Congolese on mainstream television who are asked to share their work on Congo. For the most part, it is either white Americans like Lisa Shannon and John Prendergast or some other celebrity, such as the aforementioned Ashley Judd or Don Cheadle who are interviewed by mainstream media while we only see Congolese victims of violence on the television. As a Congolese-American advocate for the Congo, I fully understand this point because to the mainstream media, it makes it look like Congolese are just asking for help and not being proactive in ending these conflicts. This makes it hard for anyone to want to get involved because one could easily think “If they’re not involved in stopping their own plight, why should I be?”

At the end of the day though, what I have to say to all of this is…so what? We are dealing with a crisis in the Congo. I’d love to share my work about the Congo on Oprah or AC360 but If Lisa Shannon and Prendergast can speak to a group of people that aren’t going to listen to me and raise more awareness about the Congo, I’m for it. It was never about me in the first place and others must realize it was never about them. If Ben Affleck and Don Cheadle are going to influence their Hollywood buddies to get involved, I’m for it. If Friends of the Congo is going to focus its energies on making sure that everyone also understands how U.S. foreign policy affects what’s happening in the Congo instead of (or in addition to) the conflict minerals approach, I’m for it. If Women for Women wants to focus primarily on making sure the needs of women and girls are met, I’m for it as well!

What I’ve just said about each organization or individual is obviously a gross generalization about what they all do, but the point I am trying to make is that they are all doing something! We need all hands on deck for the Congo right now while we have the world’s attention. Rather than fighting each other on this approach or that, we need to work with one another on how we can enhance each other’s efforts. Just like 1950s & 1960s movements for Congolese independence, we find factions supposedly wanting the same thing for Congo but some of us get caught up in believing we are the only individual or organization that can bring change to the Congo. We don’t need martyrs now. We need messengers to the masses. This misguided approach is going to lead to a new group of Americans becoming aware of the atrocities in the Congo but feeling confused about how they can actually help our cause and ultimately becoming disengaged. For the sake of the Congo, we must put our egos aside and keep our eyes on the prize.

America: celebrating rape and disgruntled flight attendants

August 11, 2010

As we make a celebrity out of Steven Slater, the former Jetblue flight attendant, we need to really step back and think about what we’re doing. This man cursed everyone out over the intercom when I’m sure there were kids on the plane. Then he broke the law and launched the emergency landing ramp. This also caused flight delays as the plane was disabled. Now he is an Internet hit with over 8,000 Facebook fans. We also have Antoine Dodson (Youtube him) how was interviewed about someone trying to rape his sister. Someone thought his interview was cool and turned it into a song so a song about people coming to raper your family has over 10 million hits on Youtube and is now an iTunes song. He is also selling tee-shirts. While we celebrate this, why don’t we ask ourselves what if the flight attendant had a gun? We would have the situation that we did in Manchester all over again and we would ask what’s wrong with America. Is this what we want America? Is this what we want to celebrate? What message are we sending to the children? We should be ashamed of ourselves but we’re all probably just too busy waiting for our 15 minutes.

Stand for me, stand for my country

May 10, 2010

I carry hope in one hand, horror in the other

The promise of tomorrow on my right side

The horrific reminder of my rape in the other

I will never forget what they did to my brother

How they bludgeoned my father,

Made my cousin eat her mother

I often wonder if the world will ever know

If I die today where does my sister’s hope go?

I thought my hand would be used to write wonderful poetry

But now I must carry this extension of me

This outward reminder of what happened to me

When they come back for me tomorrow, who will protect me?

When I can no longer walk, who will STAND for me?

Who will stand for my sisters and cousins in Panzi?

My veins now extend outside of my body

But I hope I won’t die in vain—a nobody

Hope is hard to carry when you only have one hand

If the present is a gift,

Who hates me enough to gift me this?

I may never know but I think you do

If I die tonight, will you let my story, my Congo die too?

Speaking at a “Take Back the Night” rally

April 15, 2010

One of the more humbling experiences I have had in my life was speaking at a “Take Back the Night” rally at Syracuse University in NY. For those who don’t know, this is an international event that calls to end rape and other forms of violence. I spoke about violence in the Congo and how we need to move from the misogynistic messages we see every day. If we take back the misogyny from the day, we won’t have to take back the night. Lastly, I urged those in the audience who are being silent about the abuse they may have experienced to speak up because they could be saving lives. After the rally, we went into the church where students revealed touching stories about abuse, many of which were being shared for the first time.

Who cares about a child rape victim? Tiger Woods is back!

April 8, 2010

Post asserts that we need to spend real time looking at the crises that are happening in our community. We are all upset about this 7-year old rape victim and we should be. But what happens tomorrow? We go right back to gawking over Tiger Woods and Sandra Bullock and the White House party crashers who got a reality show. We have to do better. We have to go beyond calling people thugs and doing stories on “no snitch” for a few days and then going back to celebrity gossip. Just because celebrities make more money than us does not mean we have to give them more attention. The media should spend more time analyzing things like how our educational system contributes to this and how we can help parents who are trying to get their kids on the right track. If mainstream media is just going to become tabloid TV, we need to really re-evaluate why we watch and WHAT we watch in the first place.

February 28, 2010

This past Wednesday, I traveled to the University of Richmond (UR) to perform my spoken word poetry and hip-hop on the Congo. I was invited by Maria Sebastian of the school’s STAND chapter and Matt Sobel of the UR’s Sigma Chi Fraternity. Though I was impressed with the hospitality they showed me, I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm on learning about the Congo and the conflict minerals issue. The STAND chapter there has less than ten active members. The Sigma Chi Fraternity members there told me they didn’t know much about the Congo. Despite these two points, they had over 200 people in standing-room only attendance on a rainy Wednesday night. As I walked into the Commons Student Center, I saw NCAA games on the TVs and of course Winter Olympic activity. All of the campus life distractions were still taking place that night but these students came out to learn how they could stop violence and destruction in the Congo. That to me is incredible and speaks to what a small group of dedicated people can do to affect change.

What was also great to see was that the students followed up the next day with a “cell-out” protest. This is when participants turn off their phones and leave messages on their voicemails explaining that their phones are off in order to draw attention to how our electronics are supporting violence in the Congo. As we posed for the picture attached to this post, one student asked: “How many people died for that camera to work?” Another student said: “I was thinking the same thing.” That summed it up for me. We are winning because we are getting the average person and student to think about something they may never see on the television. Being able to shift every day minds towards such a profound issue as the Congo is proof positive that we are on the track and must never stop. I can’t wait to visit the next school!

Raise Hope for the Congo (a poem)

January 13, 2010

The world’s richest country now the poorest

A chorus of women’s cries across a corrupted country in demise

International lies hide the truth of our turmoil

Raping our country of our women, tungsten, coltan, and gold

Young girls now a commodity is no longer an oddity

Child soldiers watching bullets and not birds fly over their sky

So we can sit pretty with our play stations, laptops and iPhones

iRoam alone in Africa’s first world war

Starving the country, feeding the globe

Little babies dying so we can have a cell phone and warm home

An x-box, a TV, a computer, a flat screen

Flat lining the dreams of millions of Congolese

Never quite able to control their destiny

Mineral gifts turned to curses

Body bags with no hearses

Babies bouncing from the womb to the tomb in a matter of minutes

But in a minute you can decide to help turn this tide

Raise your voice for the people

Raise hope for the Congo

Turn your cell phone to a microphone and speak knowledge to your college

Tell these computer companies we need conflict free products

Realize you’re a fool if you don’t check the trail of those jewels

Diamonds and gold be the fuels to this fire

How can gold become a cancer?

 I’m looking for an answer

In a land where diamonds are NOT a girl’s best friend

But together with the Congolese we can change this direction

If you decide to raise your conscience and each one teach one

Reach one in your grasp make an army of change

An army of conscious consumers and not soldiers for the same old

Sympathetic solutions for political and profitable prostitution

The true resolution is empowering our women

The center of our land must be made whole once again

The backbone of our nation must be realigned

When our women can stand proud our country we will once again have its spine

The heart of our future lies in our young girls

The pride of our lives lies in our young boys

Congo’s future lies in our hands if you’d just understand

That we’re all in this together

So let’s raise hope and take a stand for our land