A Brief update on Poetry, Art Music; A Celebration to Benefit St. Lucia

Earlier this year, way back in May when the year was fresh and promised endless possibilities, I shared with you my plans to host a fundraiser Benefit for St. Lucia after Hurricane Tomas thrashed the island late last year.

Well, I managed to pull it off and wanted to share some of this with you:

St. Lucia event listed in Chapman University's 150th Celebration Booklet

"Heliconia" one of two glicee prints donated for auction by artist Donna Grandin on display at Leatherby Library

" Bird of paradise" glicee print donated by Donna Grandin on display at Leatherby Library

Leatherby Library St. Lucia display

Me with poet Lynne Thompson and dirtcakes editor, Catherine Keefe

Dr. Anna Leahy, Director of Tabula Poetica, welcoming everyone with "See Me, See Me Now" (image from artist Donna Grandin) in background.

Me along with theater students Vano Kimmel, Kelly Rogers and Malia Wright who did a fantastic job of reading poetry by St. Lucian poets Travis Weekes, Jane King Hippolyte and Kendel Hippolyte. See also event sponsor, Catherine Keefe of dirtcakes.

Steel Drummer Francis Lynch creating great ambiance

Photos depicting St. Lucia before, during and after Tomas on display throughout poetry reading. Images provided by St. Lucian photographers Stephen Paul, Bill Mortley and artist Donna Grandin

Click here to view video recording of the event.

Again, I’d like to say thank you to all involved: Dr. Anna Leahy, Catherine Keefe, Leatherby Libraries, Lynne Thompson, Donna Grandin, Jane King Hippolyte, Travis Weekes, Kendel Hippolyte, Stephen Paul, Bill Mortley, Vano Kimmel, Kelly Rogers, Malia Wright, and last but not least, Deena Edwards for all your support and participation. This wouldn’t have been possible without you.

All donations were delivered to the Red Cross.

Natural Hair Revolution

Yveline Previl-Exantus one year after her second big chop.

Have you or someone you know been thinking or talking about “going natural,” making the “big chop” or growing locs? Well, I used to think this emerging trend was solely limited to my circle of friends but I now understand that we’re part of a growing movement. A sort of awakening is in progress. I can feel a change in the air, and it certainly feels like we are on the verge of a natural-hair revolution!

Lately, within the past year or so, there has been a lot of discussion about natural hair. Chris Rock’s Good Hair might have been the catalyst, drawing attention to the issues surrounding black hair, but since then, the revolution has picked up speed. New YouTube videos and Facebook pages on the subject are popping up daily, and a wealth of information on how to style, maintain and care for natural hair await anyone the least bit interested in learning more. We are doing away with the chemical relaxers and opting for natural curls, coils and kinks and are eager to share this rediscovered love.

Traditional hibiscus leaf cleanser. A gentle no-poo method. Photo compliments Caribbean Natural

Black women are caring for our natural tresses in new ways and are falling in love with our different grades of hair all over again. We’ve gotten a little help from beauty lines like Carol’s Daughter, and Mixed Chicks, lines specially developed to treat our hair and skin, but we’re also exhuming homemade concoctions.

My Caribbean heritage is rich with natural recipes made from aloe and hibiscus leaves, coconut oil, castor oil and honey.

Hand-made 100 percent PURE St. Lucian Castor Oil. Image compliments Caribbean Natural

All these ingredients are found right in the garden or kitchen cupboard and I’m making the best of it. Not only am I  embracing my roots by returning to these old recipes, but I also manage to save money while seeing and feeling the difference in my hair and on my skin. Ingredients like these make hair happy and we keep  finding new ways  to showcase our individualities.

No two heads of hair are the same, so the magic lies in this diversity and the ways in which we choose to showcase that versatility. We are learning to moisturize, accessorize, massage, twist, lock, curl and braid as we embrace individuality and breathe new life into our hair. I for one am loving it!

My sister Melissa and I way before the relaxer or big chop.

In essence, black women are re-learning to love their hair and I couldn’t be happier or prouder. Together, we brave and beautiful women, are raising consciousness about our hair and ultimately our health as we stop to consider the effects of certain ingredients found in products currently on the shelves.

I know it may sound strange to say we are “re-learning” to love our natural hair, because we start off both natural and loving our hair, but that sentiment usually gets turned around before the age of ten for black girls. Some parents start the ritual of straightening girls’ hair from as early as four.

Getting one’s hair straightened, either through applied heat or a relaxer, is a sort of rite of passage for us.  I remember family discussions about when I would be old enough for the application of my first relaxer, which happened about the age of nine by the way, because my mother couldn’t handle the texture. I never had a problem with my hair but learned to want something different and I trusted that my mother knew best. I still remember getting my hair styled in cornrows and two-strand-twists in my earliest childhood and I always liked it. I especially liked adding colorful beads to the ends, not just for the appearance, but the pleasing sound they made near my ears.

After my first straightener, my hair felt softer, lighter, longer, but also thinner, more fragile and somehow foreign. It never did feel completely mine. I don’t think I understood that I was saying goodbye to my natural hair for the next seven years and I understood even less that I would miss my natural hair so much. I would miss the way it felt to pass a comb through it, or how it looked with neat rows of well oiled cornrows.

Ashlei Alexander rocking a pipe-cleaner mohawk up-do. Photo compliments Loc'd and Lovin' it!

I kept my hair relaxed (usually wearing it up-in-one because I hated sleeping with rollers) for many years until I was sixteen and therefore old enough to make the decision to go natural again. I took the “big chop” and about five years later, decided to grow locs. I’ve been happy with my hair ever since but only now can I truly say that  I have re-learned to love my hair.

A few of my friends have started Facebook pages “Caribbean Natural”run by

TheQuitabee and “Loc’d and Lovin’ it!” run by Nikita Alcide are a couple of my favorites. I check these pages regularly for new posts because I enjoy their tips, styles, videos and photos. I also try to add my voice to the mix by participating in their discussions whenever possible. It makes me feel good to share what I find there and I find myself using more and more home recipes. For instance, I’ve adopted a deep banana conditioner and monthly ACV (apple-cider vinegar) rinse into my regimen. The banana promotes manageability, shine, growth and controls dandruff while the vinegar removes build-up and residue from hair-shafts and closes the cuticles.

I’ve also learned about sister locs, a very popular style in London, and endless variations on styles for all lengths and textures.

TheQuitabeeof Caribbean Natural wearing her chunky fro.

People like Lauryn Hill, Jill scott, India Airie and especially Bob Marley, and entire Rastafari culture, have all influenced me and my love of natural hair.

I’ve always known that natural hair is beautiful no matter what the $1.8 billion black hair product market says with its weaves, wigs and relaxers. I’m just happy more black women are returning to their roots and taking the initiative by finding out and sharing all we know about hair.  Not only it is healthier, but I swear; natural hair looks better.

A Lesson in Art Appreciation from Sir Dunstan St. Omer By Nadia Alcee-Miller

Artist Sir Dunstan St. Omer Photo by Chris Huxley

Sir Dunstan St. Omer is a St. Lucian born master painter and renowned muralist. He was born in Castries St. Lucia on October 24th, 1927 to Gerald and Louise St. Omer and was raised in a Catholic household.  The second of three children, a young Dunstan attended the St. Aloysius Boys Roman Catholic Primary School and later the St. Mary’s College. His interest in art developed under the tutelage of Harold Simmons, his Art teacher, who taught him to appreciate the beauty of the country, its’ people, landscapes and seascape. St. Omer therefore spent many weekends exploring St. Lucia’s countryside, searching for inspiration.

The Hon. Dunstan St. Omer works on his Prometheus Mural at the Open Campus site in Saint Lucia. The mural features man receiving from God, the gift of fire and light.(Photo Compliments UWI)

Sir St. Omer married young and fathered nine children. He painted at night and sold his art by day. St. Omer would eventually succumb to the pressures of poverty, and turn to alcoholism, but quit the day his son came home upset. The boy’s friends were referring to him as a drunk, so St. Omer gave up drinking and remains sober to this day.

Sir St. Omer later moved to Curacao to work for Dutch Oil and got the opportunity to work with the country’s most prolific painter, Pandelis. Upon return  to St. Lucia, he taught at the Vide Bouteille Secondary School and also managed to teach part time at his alma mater, St. Mary’s College, and the Extra Mural Department of the University of the West Indies. Sir St. Omer studied art for a year in Puerto Rico, worked as editor and sub-editor for a local newspaper, The St. Lucia Voice, and was Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce. He became the Art Instructor with the Ministry of Education in 1971 where he remained until his retirement in 2000.

National Flag of St. Lucia designed by Dunstan St. Omer

Sir St. Omer is known as the most religious painter in the Caribbean region. Famous for designing the St. Lucia National Flag, he has also produced several versions of the Black Madonna. He remains interested in the love of mother for children and believes that a man’s only role is to protect a mother and her children. Sir St. Omer has done many murals depicting community life and cultural activities unique to Caribbean culture. He says he was used to the European version of God as an artist, but wanted to explore an image that represented himself and his people. He painted his first Black Jesus mural in a small church in Jacmel on the western coast of St. Lucia. This mural depicts the Holy Family, not just Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, but also several members of the community, including a dancer, a fisherman, an Amerindian woman and child, and a musician, images that mirror the faces of the people who worship there every Sunday. When it came to unveiling the mural for the first time at the dedication of the new church on an Easter Sunday morning, Sir St. Omer admits to experiencing anxiety, he wondered whether the public would embrace his version of God. Not surprisingly, the people were thrilled and felt that Sir St. Omer had given them a church that finally belonged to them.

St. Martin de Torres, the first black saint, Castries Cathedral. Photo: Nancy Atkinson

After this project he was asked to work on the restoration of the Holy Cathedral in the city of Castries in conjunction with Pope John Paul’s Second visit in to the island in 1985. On this project, Mr. St. Omer painted his own interpretations of many religious figures and scenes. He painted yet another portrait of the Holy family; Mary the Queen of Heaven, St. Martin de Torres the First Black Saint, Patron Saints St. Anthony and St. Jude, Archbishop Webster and St. Dominique Founders of Monasteries, The Martyrs of Uganda and a mural of the Last Supper. Pope John Paul commended St. Omer’s ingenious work, and since then, visitors from around the word have come to The Holy Cathedral to pay homage to his work.

St. Omer dedicates all his work to the Virgin Mary, inscribing each of his pieces with the letters PSLV Pour La Sainte Vierge, or, “to The Virgin Mary.” In his view, people gravitate towards Mary because she personifies love. In 1987, St. Omer was approached by the parish of Francois in Martinique to help restore their church, which was destroyed by fire. Within a period of three months he painted his greatest prismatic work, a style of painting that was established by St. Omer and his friend, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, when they studied cubism in the 1950’s. In Martinique, St Omer portrayed the Life of Christ from birth to crucifixion with the final scene depicting Armageddon.

St. Omer's The Holy Family Mural Roseau Church Photo: Nancy Atkinson

Sir Dunstan St. Omer has received several accolades for his work over the years, including the St. Lucian Cross, a papal medal bestowed by the Roman Catholic Church, and has been declared a national hero by the Folk Research Center. In 2009, Sir St. Omer received the Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) from the University of the West Indies for his outstanding contribution to art in the region and earned knighthood by Queen Elizabeth the Second in April 2010.

I was a student at St. Joseph’s Convent Secondary School in St. Lucia when I got an unexpected lesson in Art appreciation from this great artist. My class walked down Cedars Road and through the streets of Castries all the way to the City Town Hall on Peynier Street. We attended an art exhibition organized by Mr. Dunstan St. Omer and his sons in commemoration of St. Lucia’s twelfth Independence Anniversary from Great Britain and viewed art pieces by local students as well as adults. I was surprised to see family portraits by preschoolers on display, and found the pieces amusing. I did not think these drawing deserved to hang next to works by great artists like Dunstan St. Omer and his sons, so I snickered. Mr. St. Omer heard me and quickly chastised me before my peers. He taught me a valuable lesson when he told me that art could not only be found in galleries, but in everyday life, and in all forms. He insisted that, from a child’s simple drawing, to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, paintings, and all art in general, was valuable and needed to be revered and respected as such.  In that instant, Sir St. Omer, my favorite artist, inspired me to embrace all forms of art and appreciate them as masterpieces in their own right.

Self Portrait Photo by Bruce Paddington Founder of Prismism

Sir Dunstan St. Omer has created great art and has a unique style of painting that truly speaks to me. His works portray familiar faces and grace communities and landmarks in my beautiful island country of St. Lucia. Sir Dunstan St. Omer has helped develop my appreciation for art and also helped broaden the artistic views of my fellow St. Lucians. He has made excellent contributions to the development of St. Lucian culture through his work and dedication to his craft. I remain inspired by all he has done, and grateful for that simple yet valuable lesson he taught me on what was just a regular afternoon in Castries.

Note: Biographical information provided by Strabon Caraibes, Caribbean Beat and Visit St. Lucia Anytime.

Nadia Alcee-Miller is a wife and mother of a three-year old daughter. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin but hails from the beautiful country of St. Lucia. She is currently pursuing a Nursing degree
at Concordia University, Wisconsin. She is very passionate about people and teaching and would like to be a nurse educator in the future. She enjoys reading, cooking, baking, entertaining and spending quiet time with her family.

Poetry, Music, Art: A Celebration to Benefit St. Lucia

I was born and raised in St. Lucia, a tiny island in the West-Indies, and though it may be viewed as just a dot on the world map, I wouldn’t trade my small island upbringing for anything in the world. At 16 degrees north of the equator, St. Lucia wears a fertile skin of dark rich volcanic earth covered in lush vegetation, and rises pristine out of the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean to fold itself into fecund hills and majestic mountains, deep valleys and serpentine rivers all fed by cool tropical rains.

Masquerader on the streets of Castries depicting a pregnant Mary as part of Christmas Celebrations in the city

The island brims with sensuality and life.  The waves’ constant caress carves sandy beaches out of the shoreline and keeps the island and its inhabitants isolated from the rest of the world. As a result, St. Lucians have development a rich and unique culture. The combination of St. Lucia’s impeccable natural beauty and its deep culture that inspire me as a writer. I grew up reading books that took me on journeys and adventures all around the world, creating a longing for foreign places, peoples and languages, but it is St. Lucia that grounds me as a writer.

Castries habor in the background

I had no idea I wanted to be a writer until my late teens, but I think the seed was planted long ago when I attended Methodist primary school and learned that Derek Walcott, had attended my school. By secondary school, I was introducing myself to my classmates saying, “My name is Natalie and I’m fascinated by Greek Mythology.” My good friend Kama and I still laugh about it to this day. I then sat in Mrs. Edwards’ class at St. Joseph’s Convent and soaked up all she had to say about literature. It wasn’t until then that I began to think that I too could someday write great stories. The woman displayed a passion for Caribbean Literature that inspired me to want to read more, to dream that I could someday create and share my very own stories. From there I attended the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College where I studied under Kendel Hippolyte and his wife Jane King Hippolyte, two of St. Lucia’s most noteworthy poets. My time with them was what truly convinced me that writing was what I wanted to do with my life. I remember having a serious conversation about it with Kendel. He told me that it wouldn’t be easy, but well worth it if I was prepared to work hard at my craft, and I am forever thankful for his guidance. Now, as I work on my first novel, I can truly appreciate how inspiring St. Lucia is for a writer.

Severely damaged road in Tomas' wake

I followed the news of Tomas from my Los Angeles apartment remaining glued to my computer. Countless images and stories kept appearing on facebook and I couldn’t pull myself away. That same tropical rain that nourishes all life on the island had become torrential, causing landslides and mudslides, damaging roads and infrastructure, washing away homes, livestock and vehicles.

Damaged home

The southernmost districts of Vieux Fort and Soufriere, home to Hewanorra International Airport, the famous Pitons and the world’s only drive in volcano, were most heavily impacted by the strong winds and heavy rainfall. I know Soufriere and Vieux Fort, but couldn’t recognize them once Tomas had left them disfigured, hardly recognizable. I cried.

Soufriere endured the brunt of Tomas’ rage, getting cut off from the rest of the island as chunks of the major artery of roadway circumventing the island were washed away.  The town could only be reached via boat following the storm and residents were trapped without fresh water or electricity as authorities struggled to address the threat of waterborne diseases. Locals were advised not to consume meat off dead cattle and to boil all drinking water. The John Compton Dam was also severely damaged and roads leading to the dam were impassable, cutting off access to any and all water supply. In the end, there were fourteen confirmed deaths, including one American whose vehicle ran off a road and fell down a precipice. The Prime Minister, Stephenson King, described the island as a “war zone” and damages are estimated to be in the amount of $100 million US dollars after an air survey was conducted.

I followed all this online and was lucky enough to talk intermittently to my mother.  She stays in the north of the island and managed to remain safe throughout it all.  Landlines were down but we could still reach each other via her cell phone until the battery died. The family home suffered minimal damage due to flooding, but my aunt wasn’t so lucky, she lost part of her roof to the strong winds.

Doing laundry after the storm

I was still very affected by all the information coming out of the island when I returned to campus the following week but was somehow unaware that I was carrying the weight of it around with me. I felt helpless, hopeless, and something of a traitor for not having shared the experience with my people and was deeply saddened by the idea of not being able to offer any help from all these thousands of miles away. It was a typically beautiful Southern California day when I emerged from my apartment and returned to campus. The sight of all the smiling young people, students, going about their business as usual, seemingly without a care, struck me as tragic. I felt alone, like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. It was in that moment that I realized how everyone around me was unaffected by this serious, devastating incident in St. Lucia. The news hadn’t made any ripples in America because a small island like St. Lucia does not get a lot of attention in the international media.

It was then that I decided to do whatever was within my power to help. Because I couldn’t afford to send food, water or money home, I approached Patrick Fuery, the Chair of Chapman University’s English Department about the possibility of hosting a fundraiser. Dr. Fuery’s reaction was positive and encouraging, and as a result, the fundraiser, Poetry, Music, Art: A Celebration to Benefit St. Lucia, is scheduled for April 5th at Chapman University.  I am therefore extremely thankful Dr. Fuery and the English department, Catherine Keefe, a Chapman alum, and editor of dirtcakes, for sponsoring the poetry contest, Dr. Anna Leahy of Tabula Poetica, for being my mentor and working with me on planning this event. To Lynne Thompson, thank you for agreeing to read your poetry. Donna Grandin, much love for your donation and photographers Chester Williams and Bill Mortley, and Stephen Paul, thanks for allowing me to share your images. My sincere thanks to poets, Kendel Hippolyte, Jane King Hippolyte and Travis Weekes. It feels good to know there are people willing to lend a hand.