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February is Black History Month, and it would not be complete without a look at Haiti, the first nation in the world to ban slavery, declare independence, and become a Black republic, reclaiming its original name, "Ayiti," while liberating itself from French colonial rule. Haiti is the only nation in history to declare freedom and independence after throwing off the chains of slavery. This was possible after an epic battle between the indigenous army led by General Capois la Mort against the French army on November 18th, 1803. The victory at Vertières paved the way for freedom and independence. 

On January 1, 1804, the general in chief of the native army, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, along with all of the generals, denounced French rule and signed the Haitian Declaration of Independence. It was the first document to establish a free nation for everyone, regardless of skin color. The impact of this revolution shook the Western world, which quickly reacted by isolating the young nation through an embargo that slowed its growth.

Haiti served as an inspiration for African Americans historically. It planted the seeds of the American civil rights movement, as it was seen as a beacon of genuine self-determination, freedom, and equality, all of which were unavailable in the United States. Prominent Black American intellectuals W.E.B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass (who served as United States Ambassador to Haiti) were influenced by Haiti. The impact of Haiti on the African American experience was also felt in other ways, such as the work of the poet and activist Langston Hughes, who was heavily influenced by Haitian experiences and connections and spent much time in Haiti. For more information, check out this Library of Congress resource: Introduction - Freedom in the Black Diaspora: A Resource Guide for Ayiti Reimagined or this article from the Smithsonian: From Harlem to Haiti | National Museum of African American History and Culture

We are so proud to spotlight two St. Barthélémy students who came in first and third place with their winning Valentine’s Day essays in 2023! Thanks to the incredible help of the Athens Academy French Club, we have the English translations of these essays!

Fully translated content for the writing competition's assigned subject, "The measure of love, is it to love without measure?" here below!

Essay by Cavensley Etienne, 9th grade, 3rd prize winner:

The measure of love, is it to love without measure?

Yes, the measure of love is to love without measure, under noble and just conditions.

It is to love to a high degree, to love even to the point of folly. To love without keeping accounts, to love with all our soul, with all our mind, to love without fear (without even knowing it). Love comes without reason, and can leave the same way. To love without measure is to love without aim, without destination, without knowing where it intends to lead us. Love is the strongest and most powerful sentiment, the easiest and the most difficult in the universe.

When love knocks the door of our heart, one cannot resist it. It is as if it were love alone that governed out heart; it does what it wants, where it wants, and when it wants, without the least bit of permission. When one loves someone, one cannot measure the love one feels for that person. Without any doubt, one could say that love is a mystery that each person would like to solve, but no one can know where its point of departure lies nor where locate it’s end.

Essay by Samy Félix, 9th grade, 1st prize winner:

Love is without a doubt the strongest, the most important of sentiments; it is above all a complex domaine that takes many forms. It is not easy to talk about because the needed words don’t come easily to us. It can push us to be better even as it can bring out our worst, but to be our best selves, all of us need to create connections tinged with this sentiment, whether it be the love of your parents, that of your most cherished, or anyone else that you hold dear. This affection is an essential component of life. In his perception of love, Saint Augustine held that: “the measure of love is to love without measure.” Should we agree with this theory? Given that love is the source of life and pleasure, but is also that of its opposite, hatred and displeasure, it is therefore an endeavor that demands a lot of energy, and it always contains less joyful facets. So, is excess really the basis of love? 

To answer this question, it is first necessary to ask ourselves about unconditional love, taking passion to be our guide. And then to explore conditional love in conjunction with a measure of reason which will permit us to better understand it in its entirety. 

Certainly, the sole way to love is to love passionately, to love so deeply as to lose reason. If we take into account the words of Saint Augustine, then this kind of excessive love must also be sincere. His approach shows the power of true love upon human will. Faced with such heights of emotion, we let ourselves be guided by nothing but passion; it does not suit us to abstain or resist, we should love immeasurably and give ourselves body and soul to those we love. But a love like that, won’t it lead to consequences? Won’t we become victims of love if we no longer belong to ourselves? 

When you love unconditionally, you commit yourself to your beloved almost to a fault, little considering the impact this love will have on your social life; you don’t care. As somber as the adventure could be, it will be equally intoxicating, and nothing can turn you away from it. No undertaking can be too arduous as long as this can help you attain your aims. The most important things are neither obstacles nor pitfalls, but to be with the person whom you love, to give of yourself without limit and without asking anything in return. A love like this brings us to accept that person just as they are, no matter their flaws and qualities, no matter what others say or think. Take for example the love that a mother feels for her child: she is ready to bear all sorts of injustice and sacrifices to assure their survival. It is the same for those who are blinded by passion, caught in the net of love. To them, nothing seems impossible; they will do anything for the person they love, even give their life should it be necessary. There are so many stories in which people die for love, but is that reasonable? We cannot say; above all, this shows the value and sincerity inherent in love. In his poem “À toi que j’aime” (For You whom I Love), Maxalexis said: “Love given without reserve is the most precious of the universe’s gifts.” Thus, to surrender yourself to love is to afford your soul sweetness, tranquility, and comfort. 

But is love really worth the pain of its experience if we get more suffering than happiness from it? For some, it is folly to love to the point of folly. Reason is key to limiting the damage and the torrents of tears that this tyrant brings. For these people, it is dangerous to let yourself be guided by love because it is the nature of loving passion to blind you. 

According to Descartes, when we love someone we must also carefully consider their merits, and it does not do to let ourselves be blinded by that passion which drives us sometimes to love their failings. In reference to the previous paragraphs, this is a warning about love and the opposite of unlimited love. To rationalize your feelings is to love with measure, with prudence and moderation, to love without surrendering yourself. It is possible that we restrain ourselves on account of some past lived experience, as would one who has had their heart broken as the result of some encounter that ended badly. Such an experience can plunge one into a constant fear, the fear of love, the fear of surrendering oneself to others in order to avoid a perpetual nightmare. But this way of loving, does it not prevent us from living fully the experience of love? If we limit ourselves from loving, will we have the chance to enjoy all the happiness love can bring? Will this practice not permanently engender doubt? Often, it is those who have picked themselves back up after this most difficult fall who are most likely to reflect and establish boundaries before taking part in any kind of relationship.

In his book, the CID, Pierre Corneille declared: “Love is a tyrant who spares no one.” No one on this earth can say that they have not loved at least one person at one time in their life. Who are we to never have come across love’s charms? Sometimes we love someone without knowing why, just knowing that there is something about that person that attracts us, something we can’t express, and in that is found one of the mysteries of love. This impression that we feel when we are in love, that we feel in the moment when we are next to the person we love, it is comfort. No one can live their entire life without loving, because love has the capacity to change even those who have a heart of stone. It will never do to underestimate the power of love. But right now, it would be judicious to find the most appropriate way to love. 

In discovering love, we cling to something pleasant, something sensational, something beautiful to experience. As soon as you have passed the first step of love, know that there is no return. Love is a unifier; it comforts, it appeases, and it raises man to be his better self. Always, as a passion, if we let love guide us, it can deprive us of reason to the point of regretting having lived at all. It goes where it wants, when it wants, seeking no authorization to intervene at any moment in your life.  In life, even if love has been the chief cause of injury, it is never right to say that you will never fall in love again because love can take you by surprise in a second; it only takes your heart encountering the right person. So, where would the world be without love? Do you think that life would even make sense without it?

With a wink, he said, “When I pick a pumpkin up here, it rolls right down to my house and by the time I get home, my wife has made it into soup.”  We laughed, one up on DoorDash.

But behind his Haitian humor, I knew he was scared. He can’t feed his family. This little farm is all he’s got and when it falls short, they suffer until next harvest. We were there to talk to him about improving his situation. 

In an explosion of Haitian Creole, Merilus, one of our agronomists, told him, “In the first month this land needs to be terraced and planted with trees, yams and pineapple. In six months the trees will be over your head, the yams will be twining up and you'll have a pineapple hedge. Between terraces you’ll be harvesting sweet potatoes, manioc and vegetables. Six months later you’ll have yams to store for months of food, and pineapples to sell. The following year you’ll have wood poles to sell. What do you think? ”  

He’d been nodding his approval but now he looked defeated. He said, “I can’t plant yams, they cost too much, I don’t have money, and I don’t have trees, and making those terraces…”, his voice trailed off and he looked away. I was ashamed, we had just humiliated a proud man.   

Fortunately, Merilus jumped in and Haitian to Haitian said to him, “I know... but let me tell you this, there are people who think your farm and your family are important and they want to be your partner on this. The farmer looked at me.  

“He’s right”, I said. “You can tell your wife you have a partner, when you’re eating that pumpkin soup she made.” We laughed and our partnership was launched.  

That’s how it goes in Haiti, but it starts when people like you say, “ I’ll be a partner to that.”

Rob Fisher

Executive Director

Partner for People and Place

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