St.Lucia Ottawa Association celebrates 39 years of independence
by Toni Francis
On March 3rd the Saint Lucia Ottawa Association (SLOA) Executive Committee, under the patronage of the Consulate General of Saint Lucia, hosted a celebration of the 39th year of Saint Lucia’s Independence. Guests entered a venue full of foliage and bright Saint Lucian colors. Interior Designer and Decorator Belle Choze created an inviting space for all who entered; the room, filled with blue, yellow, and white, was elegant and inviting. Past SLOA Executive, now musician, Alex Eloise set the tone as his musical interlude welcomed our guests. Saint Lucians were reminded of their island home; with appetizers in hand they were seated at tables named after various regions on the island. The stage was set for an evening of warmth, laughter, only necessary formalities and an intimate exchange about everything Saint Lucian.
Chef Carlton of Island Grill treated guests to a Caribbean meal that met with rave reviews and each proclaimed satisfied their palate. As the weight of second helpings settled guests were entertained by young musician, Jada Eloise. From a page uniquely her own, Jada’s passion for music filled the room. Her rendition of Leon Bridges Daisy Mae and Squid Nbelua’s Richochet revealed the makings of an artist who will readily light the path she sets for herself as brightly as any one path that may unfold as her talent evolves. Embracing the message that true independence relies on interdependence and the power of key collaborations, the SLOA invited Haitian dance troop Esans Kreyòl to perform. The rhythm of rich Haitian folkloric drum filled the room and through choreographed movement Loissa Georges and Gasline Deslouches told the story of an incredible legacy of a people who emancipated themselves and became the first independent Black country.
Consul General Cheryl Francis, the first female to be appointed to the Consulate, greeted guests with an emboldened and passionate speech which held news of the growth and advancement that our small Caribbean island will undergo in the years ahead. She spoke of the promise of development that will continue to keep Saint Lucia at the forefront of the Caribbean landscape and, excitedly, will and should draw Saint Lucians, in the diaspora, home. Her message also contained an important recognition of the challenges faced by Association Executives and commitment of her support to ensure they hold steadfast to their objectives.
Under the theme “I am Saint Lucia” the evening unfolded with an ease that served to reveal the Executive’s goals to highlight the details of numerous accomplishments, to thank its membership, partners, key collaborators, to honour the cultural heritage of Saint Lucians, and to seek engagement for ongoing needs of Saint Lucia and its people. A key focus of the evening was the call to honour the legacy of the late Saadia Byron. Thirty year old Saadia Byron was sexually assaulted and found murdered this past November in a shallow stone grave in Saint Lucia. Her violent death reminds us that we cannot afford to be comfortable or become desensitized when we hear stories like Saadia’s. The family and stories that framed the life of this young woman deserve the support of those who are able. Saadia, a single mother, leaves behind three young children, who are at the beginning of where her story ends.
With a call to action from fellow Saint Lucian, Ferdin John, the SLOA challenged its guests to support its plan to donate all funds raised to a trust fund established for Saadia’s children. The SLOA would make its own donation to ensure that the Saint Lucians in Ottawa made a mark in the community that was our original home. In keeping with the evenings theme and the key message that Saint Lucians helping Saint Lucians can and will result in effective change for our home island, our guests responded to the call. Proudly, as the formalities came to a close the Association presented Ms. John with a cheque for $1655, for the children of Saadia Byron.
The evening moved towards a close and held the sound and feeling of expressed gratitude to, not only the Saint Lucian community but the entire Afro-Caribbean community with whom we have collaborated over the past year. Our success over the year culminated in a donation to three young Saint Lucians who will need us to work as a collective to keep them in memory, as they struggle to hold on to their memories of a mother with whom they needed much more time. With the formalities ended and with evidence of the marked generosity of our community DJs Hypnotix Soundz and Silver Mic took our guests in hand. Whether you were “born Lucian” or not, you simply needed to take it all in and share in the moment.
About the writer: Toni Francis is President, St.Lucia-Ottawa Association.