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Interview of

Nekita Lamour

Frère Buteau (Brother Tob)
For The National Center

February 2010

Nekita lamour

Nekita Lamour is an educator, a teacher of the faith who lives in Boston. She holds a master’s degree in theological studies (MTS) from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge that merged with Boston College in 2008. She is also a current student at Xavier University in New Orleans. Nekita has generously agreed to answer some questions for the readers of the column “Religion and Society” of the Newspaper Haiti Observateur and for friends of The National Center.
Good Morning Nekita, Could you tell us of your childhood and the influences that led you to pursue a graduate degree in theology?
Good Morning Brother Tob.

Two nuns –Sister Bernadette and the late Soeur Agnes as well as a lay teacher Melle Marie Therese Gibbs had influenced me since I was a child. I learned to love teaching and continue learning about the Word of God since fourth grade I would say. 

The Sisters of Wisdom (Les Sœurs de la Sagesse) in my hometown Petit Goave entrusted me to teach a class of a third or fourth graders when I was a member of a group called (“Croisée”). Last time I talked with Sr. Agnes in Port-de-Paix, she said she was going to look for that book I used when I taught the Croisée group. Unfortunately, I never spoke with Sr. Agnes again and learned of her passing recently.
Please tell us of your experience at Xavier University in New Orleans.

I first became aware of the Black Catholic Institute at Xavier University when I was doing a research in 1998 for a presentation on the "History of Haitian immigrants in the United States." When I had to present at Seton Hall for the Haitian National Apostolate over a decade ago, I learned for the first time of Mother Lange, Pierre Toussaint, Sr. Maxis Duchemin and the contributions of many other Catholics of Blacks or Haitian descent to the Catholic Church.

 However it wasn't until 2002 when I attended Congress IX in Chicago that I obtained some literature from Dr. Sr. Jamie Phelps, the director of the Institute. She had brochures available in her workshop. I took some and have wanted to attend the Institute since. Given that I was studying at Weston Jesuit while working as a public school teacher, I could not enroll in any more programs. I started at Xavier in 2006 when the Institute was held at Notre Dame University in Indiana because of the Katrina aftermaths.

Tell us about your studies at Weston Jesuit School of Theology.

Teaching in the field of ESL ( now referred as ELL, English Language Learner), Bilingual and Multicultural education had brought me to Weston Jesuit which merged with Boston College in 2008. I have been puzzled by my elementary age students' life being centered around church. As a person of faith and an educator who should expect a child to bring his or her homework in the morning, I did not know how to respond when a Hispanic, Brazilian, Haitian, or African child told me, “I was in church and could not do my homework last night."  Though I have had numerous courses during my undergrad and graduate studies in Education, the pedagogical books did not have the answer(s). There is hardly any communication between the schools and the churches. When I wanted to tell the ministers to have a place for the children in the church, they are not too approachable. I started reading the Bible and keep reading books and newspaper articles on religion for a response. The more I read, the more conferences I attend, the more questions I have and still don't know how react educationally to a child who doesn't do his/her homework because she was in church with his/her parent (usually the mother). I could not keep these kids for recess or after school, or double or triple the homework like most teachers will do. I could not find the answer in any books. I went to Weston Jesuit to learn how to relate to my students who come from different parts of the world and of various religion persuasions.

I ended up learning that Education is not getting a degree, have a profession and live a better life for yourself and your family. Being educated is to be of service to your community, your country and preparing citizens for a better future and society. By teaching others, as Christian you are continuing Jesus, the Rabbi's earthly ministry and accomplishing God's will on this earthly kingdom. If ministers were ministering to Haitians or other ethnic minorities with Jesus' earthly ministry in mind, the children would have a place in church to do their homework, or be provided resources for homework help, or have shorter services on week nights so the children could go home, or a babysitting ministry within the parish itself.

It seems that the situation in our motherland Haiti is like a nightmare. What you think should be done to give hope to our brothers and sisters in Haiti?

After  studying  and writing about several aspects in Haitian history and observing my fellow Haitians' behaviors, I could simply say, let's raise another generation with new ideas, new experience, so in 20, 30, 40 years, we would see another Haiti. I think Haiti's situation is in educating and transforming the mind and hearts of our people.

Please give us a brief description of the Haitian Catholic community in Boston, including some of its biggest problems and challenges.

Brother Tob, I have been a member of the Haitian Catholic community since her inception in the early 1970s. As a teenager in a new country, the church was the place where I can speak Creole and be with my small Haitian community in Cambridge, Massachusetts at that time. My 2 young adult children received their sacraments of baptism and first Eucharist in the Haitian church. I was married in the Haitian church by the late father Jeannot. I have been in the church since Day 1. Now the biggest challenge is having a Catholic community where those who were born when I arrived here in the l970s, as well as those who were born during the mass migration of the l980's and the 1990s could be evangelized within a context of their Afro- Haitian culture and their exposure to other cultures in the United States, notwithstanding the educational level, the socio cultural milieu and society that this generation is being raised in.

My observation is that the ministers who are ministering to the United States did not have the training to minister in a highly educated society. A training to minister to the poor is not the same as preparing missionaries and/or leaders to serve the poor. As a result the majority of Haitian Catholic and Protestant professionals don't attend the Haitian churches or they go to American churches. Some Haitian parishes in New York, Long Island, and Florida had managed to have professional Haitians in their midst.  However, in  most Haitian ministries around the country, you can count on your fingers the number of Haitians with college degrees who are active members of the Haitian churches-both Evangelical Protestants and Catholics.

Nekita, could you tell us of your interaction with the Haitian community in Boston?

Brother Tob, I have to tell you, since Our Lady of Pity closed and moved to another parish in  2003, I have not been active in the Haitian churches. I go to all of them once a while. But I don't sit in any committee. My interest which is teaching the faith and working with this new generation born in the United States is not supported. Hence, I am another Haitian -American professional who does not have a space to share her gifts and talents in the Haitian or Black community.

You are probably better educated theologically than many of those you meet in the community. How does this affect your relationships?

I believe the lack of the ministers' understanding that as baptized, we are all prophets, priests, and kings is hindering the church's lack of progress. It's not a question of possessing theological knowledge, it's a matter of everyone, every profession, like computer scientists, lawyers, accountants, psychologists, artists,  historians, those in the medical professions, elected officials, writers, journalists, or skilled men and women like carpenters, dressmakers, cooks, putting their gifts in the Church for the glory of God, not the glory of any man or woman. Even the parishioners who did not go to school in Haiti would enjoy learning from any one willing to share their talents. However, in many instances the ministers don't want anybody to share their talents in the church. Like the author of John 11:4 wrote, “We need to worship not only in Spirit, but in truth”. In the context of faith formation and passing the faith to the next generations growing up in the United States, it is essential that ordained and non ordained ministers update their theological formation to better evangelize the generation of brethren being raised in North America.

Could you tell us how theologians, educators, lay and ordained ministers can work together to improve the life of the youth on Earth?

I would say we need to be life long learners who listen and learn from each other. Ministers can also take classes or even get another degree in youth ministry, youth development and the like. Ministers need to understand that they are not God. They are black and minorities living in a predominately Euro American country. Outside the sanctuary’s halls when they are not with the Haitians, they don’t see them with any sort of superiority  than the Haitian parishioners. In other words, the outside world puts all of us in the same basket.  All of us Haitians need to work together to change the image that the world has of us. All Haitian ordained and non ordained ministers have to work for the common good, not simply enjoy the privilege that the Church provides to them.

It seems that some of our youth are facing problems as newcomers in this society: Too many are dropping out of school and becoming involved with drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy, and even jail. What do you think the Spiritual Leaders of the Haitian Catholic community should do to accompany our children in this situation and prevent others from going in this bad direction?

I think spiritual leaders should invest in training themselves and send their youth ministers to comprehensive youth development trainings. After those trainings, they should continue to learn, go to conferences, read books, magazines, and articles on youth. Reading Youth magazines is one way to see the world in the youth's eyes.

Boston is the third largest Haitian community in the diaspora, with more than 100,000 Haitians. According to our information, it seems that only about 1,000 of our brothers and sisters attend Creole Mass on Sundays. Could you tell us how Father Gabriel Michel could use his important position as the coordinator of the Haitian apostolate to encourage more unity in the Haitian Catholic community in Boston and motivate more of our brothers and sisters to attend Creole Mass?

Father Gabriel is a nice and pleasant priest. The job of bringing 3 generations of Haitian-Americans back to the Church should not rely upon him exclusively. He could take the leadership to ask for help. For instance, he may suggest to the archdiocese to hire a qualified minister to help him evangelize three generations of Haitian-Americans. Evangelizing is not only Father Gabriel's job. As I said, every baptized Catholic is an evangelizer.  Jesus had made us all “fisher of men," as the evangelist wrote. However, we need to learn the skills to do so. Evangelizing methods in the poorest country in the hemisphere will not work in one of the richest country on planet earth. A change of mind, of hearts, and attitude of all lay and ordained ministers from the priest, to choir members, to members of different committees, to those of us on the pews is necessary to minister to 3 generations of Haitan-Americans. Proper training and skills is also an imperative to "bring back the lost sheep".  I was reading an article where the diocese of Phoenix had used the media. Maybe using the Haitian media and the media that those who don't go to church use like the internet could be a way to do outreach. Once the new generation goes back to church, we could provide a culturally relevant ministry to keep them. Black people are naturally spiritual. They like church. They would stay if they are in the right environment. I have two young adult children who are always looking for a church. They go to a different church almost every Sunday. Having spent their first 14 years in the Haitian Catholic church, none of these churches they go to are appealing to them. If they found a culturally relevant Catholic spiritual home, they will go to church. Let’s envision a multilingual/ multicultural, service oriented ministry. Our current monotonous Sunday liturgies, sensational charismatic and the newly added Jericho praise and worship services seem to be the high points of the Haitian ministry. Four decades of such perfunctory practices had not kept an estimated 1 million Haitians in the Haitian Catholic church. The Apostolate organizes conferences. However, when one returns to his or her parish, the same routine continues. Adolescents, young people and professionals need something new and different all the time. Repetitive routines tend to bore them.

Could you tell our readers the relationship between the Spiritual Leaders of Haitian community in Boston and other Haitian spiritual leaders of other Christian denominations, and what should be done to create greater unity among all Haitian Christians?

I believe as human beings living in a global society, we should communicate with one another. Unfortunately many church ministers including Haitians tend not to communicate with each other. So the community looses. We loose resources that could improve the Haitian- American community’s lives.
I believe someone with higher authority could call for a dialogue. I wonder as the church does with the Jewish –Catholic dialogue if they can take the initiative to call upon Haitian of other Christian faiths to dialogue.

I have seen Haitians organize ecumenical praying services together during hardships in Haiti like hurricanes. I have also seen a nice Thanksgiving service for Michaelle Jean when she was selected as Governor General of Canada.

I am now proposing that we come together to ask for some funding from the stimulus package to develop centers and educational programs for youths, ESL, civic education for everyone. We have to come together as Christian.  Other wise three generations of Haitians will regress like the country of Haiti. Eating three meals a day, having a house driving a car don't contribute to building the future of a community and preparing contributing citizens to society. We have to plan together for our future regardless of our religious persuasion. The  word “catholic" means universal. We have to practice our faith by being a universal person reaching out and dialoguing with and servicing everyone.

Do you have a woman you consider as your model in your life? If yes, tell us about her.

I admire women in leadership positions around the world. But the woman I like the most is my mother. She raised five of us by herself and she kept the Catholic faith.

What are the challenges and problems facing Black women in this century?

Though Black women have reached higher academic level than Black men, it is still difficult for them to reach the glass ceiling in the professional or corporate world. Black women face prejudices in the Black community as well. Many Black men can not accept professional Black women as knowledgeable individuals who have something to contribute in society and in the family. As a result of their education and higher social status, one finds a high number of single or divorce professional women and high number of single head of households. I have written and presented on Black women and Singleness.  It will take me a long time to talk about Black women issues in Church and society.

How can you use your pivotal position as a theologian-educator to support our Haitian youth in Boston?

I think once the stakeholders recognize that  I possess the skills to make a difference in the Haitian community, they would find a way to support me so I could help the community.I Some other ethnic groups I work with can not conceive why the Haitian community can not hire me to work with them. Many leaders know that I have been unemployed since June 2007.

Do you have a message for our youth?

I would say to the youths, "Stick to your books even when you graduate. Most of what will shape your worldview, your perceptions and understanding of life is not learned in the classrooms. Education is a base to start learning about life and the world around you. It’s not the end of your learning career. Whether you drop out or graduate from high school, or college, make a library your favorite place, the daily paper and the Bible your favorite reading materials."

Thank you, Nekita for taking time to answer our questions.

You are welcome. That was a lot.

Frère Buteau (Brother Tob)
For The National Center

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