For those who haven’t received word, Marie Marcelle Buteau Racine left behind her failed body and mind yesterday, July 23. It is my hope that she flew her beautiful self away to a place where exist the principles, love, and dignity that she worked so hard for on this planet.
I don’t need to tell anyone who knew Marie how kind, selfless, committed, integrity-filled, impassioned, indefatigable, and spiritually evolved she was. It has been my humble honor and joy to have known her since 1984, where we met at a demonstration in Washington against the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier. I knew her as co-founder of the University of the District of Columbia, which opened in 1977. Marie dedicated herself to co-creating and co-leading the only public institution of higher learning in DC, a historically Black university, because she was committed to African Americans having equal access to education. I knew her as director of the linguistics department, linguistics professor, and dean of students at UDC; summertime teacher to peasant children in the mountains in Haiti; assistant to President Aristide during the coup d’état of his first, hopeful term; board member of the Lambi Fund, Center for Economic Justice, and so many other organizations; co-author (with Kathy Ogle) of the beautiful book, Like the Dew that Waters the Grass: Words of Haitian Women. I knew her as someone deeply troubled by the injustices of the world, causing her and her beloved husband to flee into exile with their family in 1966, because they couldn’t bear to raise their young children under the moral corruption and inhumanity of the François Duvalier regime, and causing her to work endlessly on behalf of a more just, equitable, and humane homeland and world. I knew Marie as the mother and best friend of DC’s Attorney General, Karl, who is shaking Trumpland up in brilliant and innovative ways. I knew Marie as “pa ka pa la,” cannot not be there, someone who always showed up to help and support, or simply to lend the strength and solidarity of her presence. I knew her as connoisseur and collector of Haitian and other African diaspora art; exquisite orator and singer; divine dancer who moved with the fluidity of water; lover of peoples and cultures. You, gentle reader, may have known her in other of her extraordinary capacities.
We shared many things: deep friendship, trust, love, and respect; passion for a transmuted world; long collaboration in a number of progressive non-profits and political initiatives; travels all around the US, as well as to Haiti, Mexico, Cuba, and – if long-term memory serves – Mali and Brazil; elation, rage, and devastation as Haiti, its people, and dreams for its transformation rose and fell; adoration of Rev. Antoine Adrien, Haiti’s preeminent liberation theology leader and spiritual rock of the popular movement, who was also her uncle and my greatest mentor… I could go on for a long time about our shared existence and experiences. I learned much from Marie, and am very grateful to her for so many things.
To Marie’s son, daughter, three grandchildren, and sister, all of whom she adored: my extremely deep condolences. To Marie: Byen fèt, cheri. Chapo ba pou tout sa ou te bay, tout sa ou te fè, pou moun ou te ye a.
I attach below a photo of Marie with our friend Berta Cáceres, Honduran indigenous and territory rights leader who was slain in 2016. We were in a Zapatista village in Chiapas in 2000, where Berta, other comrades, and I co-led the first international gathering of the Convergence of Movements of Peoples of the Americas (COMPA); Marie joined and participated enthusiastically. Berta’s daughters found the photo in their mother’s home after her murder.
Very much love to all,