GUSTAVIUS RENWICK

WRITER DIRECTOR

True Olympic Spirit Cannot be Contained

I am Bahamian-American, a citizen of both countries, and culturally, a mutt: an unspecified combination of the two.  Although I’ve never met former Trinidadian Olympic champion and NBC broadcaster Ato Boldon (only three other men in history—Usain Bolt, Frankie Fredericks and Carl Lewis—have won as many Olympic individual event sprint medals) I could tell he was proud of his Caribbean heritage. At the end of the women's 400m final on Monday night, NBC audiences waited with bated breath for Ato to announce the winner. Then, with the results confirmed, Ato shouted out, “ I think she got it!” It was a fascinating moment, the intersection of culture, migration and citizenship all in one.  I knew right away that the “she” my Caribbean brother was referring to was Shaunae Miller from the Bahamas, and not my fellow American Allison Felix and I too rejoiced even before he announced the winner by name. Ato showed NBC, which has been rightfully critiqued for its biased focus on US athletes at the world’s greatest sporting event, that American audiences are deeply diverse with wide-ranging global ties and the true Olympic spirit cannot be contained by a script.

If This Life Is All We Have

My conversations with author and activist Louise Meriwether, the co-star of my upcoming documentary Playing the Numbers, have exposed me to a cadre of artists/activists. Here is a poem by one of her former colleagues Dennis Brutus. He sounds like someone I could have an old fashioned cocktail with. 

Below is an excerpt from his Wilkipedia page and pic.  Dennis Vincent Brutus (28 November 1924 – 26 December 2009) was a South African activist, educator, journalist and poet best known for his campaign to have apartheid South Africa banned from the Olympic Games. Born in Harare, Zimbabwe (then Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia), to South African parents, Brutus was of indigenous Khoi, Dutch, French, English, German and Malaysian ancestry. His parents moved back home to Port Elizabeth when he was aged four, and young Brutus was classified underSouth Africa’s apartheid racial code as "coloured".[1] Brutus was a graduate of the University of Fort Hare (BA, 1946) and of the University of the Witwatersrand, where he studied law. He taught English and Afrikaans at several high schools in South Africa after 1948, but was eventually dismissed for his vocal criticism of apartheid. He served on the faculty of the University of Denver, Northwestern University and University of Pittsburgh, and was a Professor Emeritus from the last institution. In 2008, Brutus was awarded the Lifetime Honorary Award by the South African Department of Arts and Culture for his lifelong dedication to African and world poetry and literary arts. Brutus was an activist against the apartheid government of South Africa in the 1960s. He learned politics in the Trotskyist movement of the Eastern Cape. Although not an accomplished athlete in his own right, he was motivated by the unfairness of selections for athletic teams. He joined the Anti-Coloured Affairs Department organisation (Anti-CAD), a Trotskyist group that organised against the Coloured Affairs Department, which was an attempt by the government to institutionalise divisions between blacks and coloureds. Brutus was arrested in 1960 for breaking the terms of his "banning," which were that he could not meet with more than two people outside his family, and he was sentenced to 18 months in jail. However, he "jumped bail and fled to Mozambique, where Portuguese secret police arrested him and returned him to South Africa. There, while trying to escape, he was shot in the back at point-blank range. After only partly recovering from the wound, Brutus was sent to Robben Island ... for 16 months, five in solitary." He was in the cell next to Nelson Mandela's. Brutus was in prison when news of the country's suspension from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, for which he had campaigned, broke. Brutus was forbidden to teach, write and publish in South Africa. His first collection of poetry, Sirens, Knuckles and Boots, was published in Nigeria while he was in prison. The book received the Mbari Poetry Prize, awarded to a black poet of distinction, but Brutus turned it down on the grounds of its racial exclusivity. He was the author of 14 books. Source Wilkipedia    

Below is an excerpt from his Wilkipedia page and pic. 

Dennis Vincent Brutus (28 November 1924 – 26 December 2009) was a South African activist, educator, journalist and poet best known for his campaign to have apartheid South Africa banned from the Olympic Games.

Born in Harare, Zimbabwe (then Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia), to South African parents, Brutus was of indigenous Khoi, Dutch, French, English, German and Malaysian ancestry. His parents moved back home to Port Elizabeth when he was aged four, and young Brutus was classified underSouth Africa’s apartheid racial code as "coloured".[1]

Brutus was a graduate of the University of Fort Hare (BA, 1946) and of the University of the Witwatersrand, where he studied law. He taught English and Afrikaans at several high schools in South Africa after 1948, but was eventually dismissed for his vocal criticism of apartheid. He served on the faculty of the University of Denver, Northwestern University and University of Pittsburgh, and was a Professor Emeritus from the last institution.

In 2008, Brutus was awarded the Lifetime Honorary Award by the South African Department of Arts and Culture for his lifelong dedication to African and world poetry and literary arts.

Brutus was an activist against the apartheid government of South Africa in the 1960s. He learned politics in the Trotskyist movement of the Eastern Cape.

Although not an accomplished athlete in his own right, he was motivated by the unfairness of selections for athletic teams. He joined the Anti-Coloured Affairs Department organisation (Anti-CAD), a Trotskyist group that organised against the Coloured Affairs Department, which was an attempt by the government to institutionalise divisions between blacks and coloureds.

Brutus was arrested in 1960 for breaking the terms of his "banning," which were that he could not meet with more than two people outside his family, and he was sentenced to 18 months in jail. However, he "jumped bail and fled to Mozambique, where Portuguese secret police arrested him and returned him to South Africa. There, while trying to escape, he was shot in the back at point-blank range. After only partly recovering from the wound, Brutus was sent to Robben Island ... for 16 months, five in solitary." He was in the cell next to Nelson Mandela's. Brutus was in prison when news of the country's suspension from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, for which he had campaigned, broke.

Brutus was forbidden to teach, write and publish in South Africa. His first collection of poetry, Sirens, Knuckles and Boots, was published in Nigeria while he was in prison. The book received the Mbari Poetry Prize, awarded to a black poet of distinction, but Brutus turned it down on the grounds of its racial exclusivity. He was the author of 14 books.

Source Wilkipedia

 

 

By Eric Koch / Anefo - Nationaal Archief, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27924949

By Eric Koch / Anefo - Nationaal Archief, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27924949

We All Let Haiti Down

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley's report on the American Red Cross' spending of taxpayer funds in Haiti. According to the report, The American Red Cross spent a quarter of the nearly $500 million donated after the 2010 Haiti earthquake on its own internal expenses. In addition to this bombshell, there is also no verifiable accounting of just how much of the money that was granted to all foreign aid agencies to improve the lives of Haitians actually benefited Haitians after the earthquake. Grassley’s report is an embarrassment to the Red Cross, and indirectly to all of us who participated in, or benefited from, that disaster directly or indirectly.

My first trip to Haiti was in 2012 with a diverse group of well-heeled Americans between the ages of 35 and 45. Self-financed, we came to Haiti in our own special way to see how we could put the country back together, even though the puzzle of our own lives was a work in progress. My personal mission was to gift the Haitian people a narrative screenplay that I believed portrayed Haiti not as a place of desperation, but one of perseverance and hope the way that only film can do. I am from the Bahamas, myself a descendant of enslaved Africans; part of my motivation stemmed from my desire to create a connection to the place and the people that had wrested their freedom from the enslavers.

Upon my return to New York, I sermonized to anyone who would listen about how much Haiti and its people had given to me. I practically became one of those annoying Caribbean born again preachers on the subway. I eventually secured my first commercial client in Haiti, a big deal for a struggling filmmaker, and I produced a critically acclaimed commercial for a private Haitian insurance company. Haiti had given me more than I could have imagined.

So what was my contribution to Haiti? I produced a series of commercials with a production crew from Ciné Services, the professional arm of the country’s only film school. The filmmakers I worked with were smart, hardworking and desperately wanted to learn. While we worked together on these spots, I was increasingly inspired by the crew that had overcome way more obstacles to become filmmakers than I. They gave me great work, camaraderie and inspiration in return for a good paycheck. If my start-up production company could figure out the value in hiring Haitians to complete jobs in Haiti, why couldn’t an international organization like the Red Cross staffed by people trained at the top colleges in America not figure this out? Change in Haiti can come from Haitian hands if we hire them instead of interloping foreigners. Ultimately, I learned from this experience that a job was the only thing of real value I had to offer to Haitians.

After the earthquake, Haiti was filled with Americans of every ilk – Republican contractors, liberal-minded students, laborers, trainers for the police force, and of course, the American missionaries (some of whom decided the best place for Haitian children was with them and not their parents). Donations fueled this influx of Americans to Haiti - donations from people who hoped their money would make a difference in a shattered life. To me however, the contrast between the American foreigners and the local people was stark.

By 2012 CNN and Anderson Cooper had long left Haiti. Haitians were sick of the cameras - they would cover their faces or angrily wave their hands at us. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves and didn’t want to be the subject of our poverty tourism. Life was marching on in Haiti. With muscular physicality, Haitians expressed their distrust of their foreigner “helpers”; their feelings were similar to what James Baldwin describes in his essay “Journey to Atlanta”, of the perception African Americans have of politicians: “they have been best trained to expect nothing from them.”

When I think back to the piercing looks we got from men hustling to carry bags outside the airport, to the female merchants on the street selling their wares among the debris, to the waiters at the fancy restaurants, it was clear to me they thought I was just another visiting foreigner, coming to take more than I would ever give, and living a life far removed from the reality of most Haitians. Haiti is no better off today than it was before the earthquake, despite all our aid workers, missionaries and billions of dollars spent. The Red Cross did not make a difference in Haiti. I’m not sure any of us did. And if you still think Haiti needs your help, then become a tourist, create or support jobs, but don’t think you have any answers. As this report clearly illustrates, your dollars won’t make much difference if you don’t put them in the hands of the Haitians you hope to help.

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