Last year, the level of inter-neighborhood violence was so high that the annual Konbit Solèy Leve celebration was cancelled, and only the Peace Prize ceremony was held at a location outside of Cite Soleil. This year, the situation had calmed enough that both the celebration and ceremony could be held in Cite Soleil, in Place Fierte. Thousands of people from all Cite Soleil, across Haitian society, and internationals showed up to show support for Soleyan excellence.
The event began around 4:30pm with a race organized by ID-Haiti to celebrate the return of freedom of movement to Cite Soleil. Odlin Jean, the MC for the evening, then kicked off the celebration. The first person to come on stage was Rossi Jacques Casimir, an invitee from another ghetto, Grande Rue, who was inspired by the event and wanted to share a slam poem.
Many people were honored throughout the night, including some allies from outside of Cite Soleil. Madame Odette Roy Fombrun, a 99-year old intellectual and activist, climbed the precarious stairs on stage to give a speech about defying class barriers through the spirit of Konbit. Harry Nicholas, known as Met Fey Vet, spoke about how Cite Soleil had taught him about the meaning of solidarity. Both of these individuals received honorary portraits as symbols of Cite Soleil’s gratitude. Les Filles de la Charité, a group of nuns who have been serving Cite Soleil for decades despite being the targets of theft and violence, were also given an award (their former student Joanes XXXX accepted it on their behalf).
But the night was mostly about celebrating Soleyans’ resilience and accomplishments. Cite Soleil’s most famous son, international champion boxer Evens Pierre, received a glove trophy as a symbol of the love his community has for him. A great Soleyan institution, SAKALA (Cite Soleil’s most comprehensive and recognized youth center), was given special awards as they were celebrating ten years of serving the people of Cite Soleil.
Well-known local entertainers were also given special awards for keeping the community’s spirits up during the challenging and often violent years in Cite Soleil. Cite Soleil honored Shalom Rara, a socially-engaged rara band who recently celebrated 21 years of music and service. Two comedic theater troupes, Comedus and AMA, also received awards for their innovation and endurance.
And of course, the third annual Cite Soleil Peace Prize was held during this important moment. Five honorees were chosen this year, and the Selection Committee chose leaders who are more established than the past two year’s recipients, but whose work had gone under-recognized over the past five years. This year’s honorees were Gardy Guerrier (REMUSOV – Vaudreuil), Beniçoit Rosemé (Planete des Enfants – Boston), Jean Claude Moise (OPJED – Soleil 19), Jean Olrich Estime (PENAH – Cite Lumière), and Ronald Henri (UCDDJ – Wharf Jeremie). Louis-Henri Mars, director of peace-building organization Lakou Lapé, delivered the awards.
The night was also filled with special musical guests who came out to show solidarity and celebrate with the people of Cite Soleil in this time of relative peace. Singer-songwriter Belo came straight from picking up his wife’s family at the airport to Cite Soleil, where he sang a six song set that the crowd sang along to. Gardy Girault, one of Haiti’s most innovative and famous DJs, is a long-time friend of the movement and had promised to come – not only did he come, but he brought J.Perry and Mikaben, two of Haiti’s most popular artists, with him. They delivered a short set and powerful messages of solidarity
The rest of the evening was about celebrating Cite Soleil’s talent. Soleyan artists such as Rene Gueldy, Belabre Sage, and Daddy Fresh gave electrifying performances, and the rest of the night was filled with rap kreyòl and local DJs. The celebration continued until 2 am, undeterred by short rain showers.
The most important aspect of the evening, however, was not what happened, but what didn’t happen. As mentioned before, the year before had been an extremely violent one. On March 8th, 2015, the government had organized a concert right next to Place Fierte; that evening, a gangster showed up and fired randomly into the crowd, leaving more than many people dead. That, combined with intense turf wars in which Place Fierte was a no-man’s-land between the two sides, had made people afraid of that space. By recognizing the opportunity of the current truce in Cite Soleil to use Place Fierte for this immense celebration, Konbit Solèy Leve was able to reclaim this space for the community. Throughout the entire night, despite more than eight thousand people from every block of Cite Soleil being in the square until 2am, there was not a single violent incident. It was as if Cite Soleil was holding its breath to see if this truce would last, and they were able to exhale tonight.
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