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the Decade for People of African Descent

At its 2016 General Assembly, the Organization of American States (OAS) approved the Plan of Action for the Decade of Afro-Descendants in the Americas (2016-2025), in recognizing that people of African descent in the Americas are descendants of millions of Africans who were forcibly enslaved and transported as part of the inhumane transatlantic slave trade between the 15th and 19th centuries.

The Plan of Action outlines a series of key activities to promote awareness of the situation of people of African descent in the Americas and to ensure their full participation in social, economic and political life.

In celebration of the International Decade for Persons of African Descent in the Americas, the OAS is highlighting the influence of Afro-descendants in shaping our societies by profiling historically renowned figures who have excelled in their national or hemispheric contribution to Arts and Culture, Sports, Politics, Human Rights, and Science or who through their labor have made a significant contribution to their nations or their region.

The celebration takes place within the framework of the United Nations General Assembly resolution, which proclaimed 2015-2024 as the Decade of People of African Descent, citing "the need to strengthen national, regional and international cooperation in relation to the Full economic, social, cultural, civil and civil rights enjoyment of Afro-descendants and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society."

 

Adalberto Ortiz Quiñonez

Adalberto Ortiz Quiñonez

Place of Birth: Esmeraldas, Ecuador
Date of Birth:
February 9, 1914

Storyteller, poet and painter, representative of Ecuadorian black ethnicity, his works explore the world, culture and problems of this country's ethnic minority. He completed his studies at the Normal Juan Montalvo, where he graduated as a Normalista Professor in 1937.

In 1938, after reading the "Mapa de la Poesía Negra Americana” by the Cuban, Emilio Ballagas, Adalberto exclaimed "I have also been a poet". Immediately, he composed his first poetry, "Jolgorio", letting flourish the rhythms and black cadences that he had always had within him. After digging into the Afro American literature, Adalberto Ortiz developed the idea of writing about the Afro Ecuadorian people. He started writing Juyungo in 1939 and finished it in 1941. In 1942 he won the National Novel Competition with his work “Juyungo.”

He held diplomatic positions in Mexico, Paraguay and Argentina, where in 1951 he was appointed Secretary of the Guayas Nucleus of the House of Ecuadorian Culture. In 1954, he began making oil paintings; and in 1959, he obtained the First Honorary Mention in the "Salón de Octubre" in Guayaquil.

He worked as a Cultural Counselor for the Embassy of Ecuador in Paris, and as an Ambassador in Panama and the Dominican Republic. He died on February 1, 2003; by then he had concluded the collection "La Niebla encendida".

 

Alex Curling Delisser

Alex Curling Delisser

Place of Birth: San Jose, Costa Rica
Date of Birth:
September 3, 1908

Alex Curling was born in San Jose, Costa Rica. He was the descendant of Jamaican immigrants. During times of discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and intolerance, he became a defender of human rights, fighting for Afro-Costa Ricans to obtain their citizenship.

Some of his most important struggles include the confrontation against the political class that promoted Law No. 10 of 31.12.24 prohibiting the direct hiring of black workers in the banana fields of the pacific. They had ignored the protest of more than 100 black workers. Thanks to Curling’s effort, the Founding Assembly of the Second Republic abolished the law.

He became a congressman and promoted the Curling Law which gave nationality to afro descendants and their offspring born inside Costa Rica. Due to his work, the Legislative Assembly declared him Distinguished of the Homeland and the Afro-descendent community “Father of Legal Equality.”

 

Alonso de Illescas

Alonso de Illescas

Place of Birth: West Africa, currently the Republic of Senegal
Date of Birth:
Circa 1528

Considered the greatest hero of the Afro Ecuadorian freedom, Alonso de Illescas led the creation of the "Republic of the Zambos" against a long resistance of the Spanish power. He was born circa 1528 in West Africa, captured at age 10, he came to serve in Spain as a slave of the merchant, Alonso de Illescas; this experience equipped him with the knowledge and skills that made him the leader of a large region. At age 25, he survived, along with 23 other slaves, a shipwreck on the coasts of Peru, allowing him to establish alliances, with the natives, against the Spanish conquerors. He overcame rivalries to assume a leadership role, moving towards the conservation of a territory free of imperial control and the machinations of tribes dissatisfied with their leadership. The resulting cohesion between black people, Indians and Zambians concluded in a multiethnic society free of colonial control, in which the authority of Illescas eminently arose.

Despite conflicts between Illescas and the Mangache community, also descendants from the enslaved circa 1553, they managed to overcome their differences to consolidate dominions and extend the possession of other specific spaces: the Illescas in Cabo Pasado, to the south, and the Mangache in the bay from San Mateo, to the north. The Spanish did not stop trying to retake control of these lands, and despite their initial resistance, Illescas sought alliances with the Crown concerning the maintenance of autonomy and leadership in their territories. In 1577 Miguel Cabello Balboa was commissioned to christianize the afro descendants, Indians and Zambos of that region and to open a road between Quito and Esmeraldas. Cabello arrived at the head of the Atacames River in September at the historic meeting where he delivered to Illescas the document with the royal provisions, through which he was granted the king's pardon, thus recognizing his freedom and naming him governor of those lands. In 1997, the Parliament of Ecuador designated October 2 as the National Day of Afro Ecuadorians and officially declared Alonso de Illescas a national hero.

 

Brian Charles Lara

Brian Charles Lara

Place of Birth: Santa Cruz, Trinidad & Tobago
Date of Birth:
May 02, 1969

Brian Lara is a colossus of Test cricket who is regarded by many as the king of modern batsmen and embraced at home as the Prince of Port of Spain. It is a fi­tting tribute to this outstanding left-hander that the impressive array of records he has held over the years is unlikely ever to be broken by any one batsman. He was awarded the Nation’s highest award – the Trinity Cross, in 1994 and Order of the Caribbean Community in 2008.

Lara is widely regarded as one of the ­finest batsmen ever. He earned a place on the regional team just a few years before the fortunes of the world-beating West Indies squad of the late Seventies and Eighties began to wane. So outstanding were his individual achievements that Lara was inducted into the ICC’s Hall of Fame in 2012; received the prestigious BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year and earned himself the Wisden Leading Cricketer in the World Award in 1994 and 1995.

 

Dr. Edgar Adams

Dr. Edgar Adams

Place of Birth: St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Date of Birth: September 03, 1932

Dr. Edgar Adams, affectionately known as Doc, was a Vincentian optometrist and cultural stalwart who passed away on February 13, 2019.

Doc was instrumental in facilitating the creation and improvement of Vincentian artwork by providing both moral and financial support to local artists. Additionally, he was custodian of significant collections of local writings, including unpublished works of several local poets. His contribution as a businessman was also significant. Parts of the “Volcano Suite” were penned by his good friend Shake Kean at one of his restaurants. Vincentian Jazz piano player, Monk Waldon was another artist who frequented and composed in that space.

The life of Doc Adams will be remembered by many including the constant line of students who sought his knowledge, the cultural practitioners who sought his counsel, and his many friends who sought his company.

 

Ellsworth McGranahan “Shake” Keane

Ellsworth McGranahan “Shake” Keane

Place of Birth: Kingstownm, St Vincent
Date of Birth: May 30, 1927

Ellsworth McGranahan “Shake” Keane was born on May 30, 1927, and died on October 11, 1997. A musician from the age of six, he was taught to play musical instruments by his father. Eventually he rose to fame in international jazz circles as a trumpet and flugelhorn player. Born into a family of musicians in his native St. Vincent, he was a part of The Keane Brothers and also a member of one of the island’s leading dance bands, Ted Lawrence and His Silvertone Orchestra. He also became a pupil-teacher in the island’s grammar school in 1944, where he taught music and French.

But poetry was equally his passion. L’Oubli, his first collection, was published in 1950, when he was 23 years old, followed by Ixion in 1952. He went on to publish three more collections, One a Week with Water: Rhymes and Notes and The Volcano Suite, both in 1979, and Palm and Octopus in1994.

Shake eventually moved to England where he began to consider himself a jazz musician. He played with the Joe Harriott Quintet, the Michael Garrick Quintet, and later, in a move to Germany, with bands led by Kurt Edel Hagen, Francy Boland, and Kenny Clarke.

In 1972, Shake took up an offer to return to St. Vincent as director of the National Department of Culture. He later returned to secondary school teaching and resumed his poetry. In 1979 he was awarded Cuba’s Casa de las Americas.

 

Elston Nero

Elston Nero (AKA King Ellie Matt)

Place of Birth: Newtown, St. Kitts
Date of Birth:
January 23, 1953

Ellie Matt began his musical career at the age of 8. He is a self-taught musician and has composed over 100 songs. He dominated the musical landscape of St. Kitts-Nevis for over two decades by winning the Senior Calypso competition ten times and the Road March title seven times. In 1973, his musical band, the GI’s Brass International, won the Caribbean Brass-O-Rama competition. He has taught music, wrote songs for many artistes, and produced several bands throughout the Caribbean. He was the Mighty Sparrow’s musical director during a tour of Japan and Europe.

His songs have inspired generations to uplift themselves and develop a sense of national pride. In 2008, he was inducted into the International Soca Awards (ISA) Hall of Fame, and was awarded the Medal of Honour by the Government of St. Kitts-Nevis for his outstanding contribution to music and culture. He has been described as one of the Caribbean’s most gifted and celebrated musical icons.

 

Eric Williams

Eric Williams

Place of Birth: Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
Date of Birth: September 25, 1911

Dr. Eric Williams wears the mantle of the Father of the Nation of modern Trinidad and Tobago. Over an unbroken period of 25 years, from 1956 until his death in 1981, he led the Government, ­first as Premier and subsequently as Prime Minister, guiding the country from colonialism into Independence in 1962 and to the status of Republic in 1976. Dr. Williams was a historian whose seminal work, Capitalism and Slavery (1944), challenged the prevailing orthodoxy by identifying the role of West Indian slavery in fi­nancing Europe’s Industrial Revolution and its economic development and progress. In 1948, Dr Williams made an impact on the colony’s political life, attracting huge crowds to his public lectures at the place he christened The University of Woodford Square.  Dr. Williams also played an instrumental role in the formation of CARICOM. In 2002 he was awarded the Nation’s highest award – the Trinity Cross. Dr. Williams led the People’s National Movement (PNM) until his passing.

 

Frankétienne

Frankétienne

Place of Birth: Ravine-Sèche, Haiti
Date of Birth: April 12, 1936

"I am the blackest white man in Haiti", is a quote that perfectly defines this intellectual and cultural icon of Haiti. Teacher and multifaceted artist (writer, painter, musician) who despite his clear skin and green eyes is a faithful representation of the Haitian cosmovision and its African roots.

Famous not only for his great literary work that has earned him important and numerous recognitions both at home and abroad, including the Nobel Prize nomination, he writes in French and Creole. The latter language, he uses mainly in his theatrical production, which has earned him the recognition of the public of oral tradition. In the period of great social repression and cultural obscurantism, he did not abandon his country nor his principles.

UNESCO named him Artist for Peace as part of Haiti's cultural reconstruction program following the devastating effects of the January 12, 2010 earthquake.

 

Joycelyn Sawyers Royal

Joycelyn Sawyers Royal

Place of Birth: Puerto Limon, Costa Rica
Date of Birth: October 1, 1940

Joycelyn Sawyers Royal grew up in very tough social and economic conditions in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.  She studied in Costa Rica and Mexico. She has been a teacher and a university professor, as well as founder of an ethnic orientation school. She won the Mauro Fernández Acuña National Award as distinguished teacher. As congresswoman she promoted the reform of the First Article of the Constitution in order to declare Costa Rica a multiethnic and multicultural country; she led the proposal to declare Alex Curling Distinguished of the Homeland. She also achieved the approval of the National Day for Ethnic and Linguistic Diversity. She endorsed the opening of a traveling ethno historic museum, which promoted the creation of the Museo de Limón.

 

Lida Melba Benavídez - Lágrima Ríos

Lida Melba Benavídez - Lágrima Ríos

Place of Birth: Durazno, Uruguay
Date of Birth: September 26, 1924

Lida Mela Benavidez is recognized for being one of the principal advocates for afro culture in Uruguay and as the only black singer of Rioplatense tango. She took an important representative role in the Afro-Uruguayan community as president of Mundo Afro.

She is known as Lágrima Ríos who stood out for her candombe chants. She is also known as “the black pearl of tango” and the “lady of candombe.” It is said that she “represents the noblest essence of mixed race and black singing.” She had a strong voice, as she herself stated: “we blacks have vocal chords a bit thicker than whites.”

She debuted as a singer in 1942, interpreting folklore and tango songs. She is recognized internationally for her excellent quality and musical strength, as well as her talent as an actress. She was also president of Mundo Afro organizations and she stands out for her efforts against racism, xenophobia, and intolerance.

 

Louise Bennett-Coverley

Louise Bennett-Coverley

Place of Birth: Kingston, Jamaica
Date of Birth: September 7, 1919

Louise Bennett had her first poetry published by the Sunday Gleaner in 1943. As Louise’s work began to be noticed, she became the first black student to be awarded a scholarship by the British Council to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. While in England, Bennett worked with different repertory companies, while hosting two radio shows on the BBC, “Caribbean Carnival” (1945-1946) and “West Indian Night” (1950). After returning to Jamaica, Bennett worked for the Jamaica Social Welfare Commission, teaching classes on folklore and drama at the University of the West Indies. She continued to share her talents both on radio and television, through “Miss Lou’s Views” and “Ring Ding.” Along with her performing talents, she also wrote many books and poetry in Jamaican Patois, which helped to bolster it as the “national language” which is accepted for literary expression. Bennett was praised for her ability to present the Jamaican language and culture to the wider world, while also portraying a unique perspective on the everyday life of working-class, postcolonial women.

 

María Elena Moyano

María Elena Moyano

Place of Birth: Barranco, Peru
Date of Birth: November 23 1958

Afro-Peruvian, social fighter, and local leader of the district of Villa el Salvador. Known as “Mother courage”, she represented one of the most notorious personalities of opposition to the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso, an organization that between 1980 and 2000 raised in armed conflict against the Peruvian State. From her role as president of the Women’s Federation of Villa El Salvador, she stood against Sendero, and in defense of human rights and the construction of a culture of peace, mobilizing the population of her district and having great influence in the rest of the country.

On February 15th 1992, while going to an activity of the club “Vaso de Leche”, she was assassinated by a command of annihilation of Sendero. Moyano represents the rise of Peruvian women to positions of leadership and political power that until then, had been few or non-existent.

 

Nicomedes Santa Cruz

Nicomedes Santa Cruz

Place of Birth: La Victoria, Peru
Date of Birth: June 4, 1925

Nicomedes Santa Cruz was one of the most notable Afro-Peruvian intellectuals, whose presence transcended the artistic sphere and was projected onto the terrain of social criticism and politics. He was one of the most active Peruvian intellectuals of his generation: he published hundreds of articles in newspapers and magazines over several decades, and academic articles on different aspects of history, culture, religion, poetry and oral traditions of the afro-descendant community. He also recorded a dozen albums, directed radio and television programs, represented Peru at various international festivals and lectures at home and abroad, and offered recitals of poetry at solidarity festivals and literary events in several countries, among many other Artistic activities that honored the Peruvian nation.

In honor of his birth, our country commemorates the 4th of June of each year, as the “Afro-Peruvian Culture Day”.

 

Papá Roncón

Papá Roncón

Place of Birth: Borbón Esmeraldas, Ecuador
Date of Birth:
September 10, 1930

Guillermo Ayoví Erazo known as "Papá Roncón", has demonstrated during his artistic career a strong and deep sense of belonging to his people and his traditions. Roncón represents a source of cultural energy and his activity evidences a conscious obedience to the ancestral mandates and to his status as a guardian of the marimbera tradition, since him and the marimba are part of the cultural identity of Afro Ecuadorians.

He is aware of his enslaved descendants and that in that context the marimba fulfills a social function; that is why his music is an expression of joy, happiness, a loud cry of freedom and cultural resistance.

In 1981, Papá Roncón founded the marimba school called "La Catanga", which for over fifty years has taught the children and young people of Esmeraldas how to build and play instruments and how to dance. In 2011, he was awarded the "Eugenio Espejo National Culture Award" for his work in preserving Afro-Ecuadorian culture, through the practice and teaching of the Marimba.

 

Philip Akin

Philip Akin

Place of Birth: Kingston, Jamaica (Canadian Citizen)
Date of Birth: 1950

Philip Akin is a Canadian Citizen born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1950. He has been acting and directing for over 40 years. In 2000, he was a founding member of Obsidian Theatre, Canada’s leading black theatre company, and has served as its Artistic Director since 2006. In this role, he has worked tirelessly to provide opportunities and guidance for emerging artists. In 2002, he was part of the team that launched the Obsidian Mentor/Apprentice Program, a one-of-a-kind program that has so far helped 61 black artists embark on exciting careers as directors, dramaturges, producers, production managers, lighting, set and costume designers with some of the most established performing arts companies nationwide.

 

Quince Duncan

Quince Duncan

Place of Birth: San José, Costa Rica
Date of Birth: December 5, 1940

Doctor Honoris Causa, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.  Writer and educator with a Bachelor of Arts in Latin American Studies, Literature and Linguistics.

He is a state and retired professor at the National University and visiting professor at Alabama, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Purdue Universities.

Duncan authored more than 50 books on history, literary criticism, ethnic issues, and a dialogic essay on black history, the afro-descendant community, as well as manuals on education and fictional writings.

He has been awarded Costa Rica’s Editorial Prize in 1978, and the National Literature Prize in 1979.

Duncan is a researcher and activist on human and ethnic rights, he has been part of international programs focused on fighting racism and promote knowledge on African culture and afro-descendants. Duncan has also presented literary and ethno-racial topics on Africa, Australia, Europe, Canada, the United States, Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean.

 

Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley

Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley

Place of Birth: St Ann, Jamaica
Date of Birth: February 6, 1945

Robert “Bob” Marley is recognized as one of the world’s greatest singer-songwriters/musicians. In the mid-1960s Marley joined “the Wailers” with Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. The original Wailers broke up in the early 1970s and Marley continued recording under the name “Bob Marley & The Wailers.” In 1975, Marley began to make his mark internationally with his hit “No Woman, No Cry,” followed by his breakthrough album “Rastaman Vibration”. He not only had personal professional success but also made the Jamaican music form, Reggae, world famous. His songs were of social consciousness, human rights and justice. He used his music to advocate for racial equality, freedom from oppression, decolonization and the decriminalization of marijuana (a religious rite of Rastafarians). Despite an attempt on his life in 1976, Marley continued to create hit music until his death in 1981. His last studio album, released posthumously, included hits such as “Redemption Song” and “Forever Loving Jah.” Bob Marley’s legacy lives on, including his belief in rastafarianism and pan Africanism.

 

Rose McCartha Linda Sandy Lewis (AKA Calypso Rose)

Rose McCartha Linda Sandy Lewis (AKA Calypso Rose)

Place of Birth: Bethel Village, Trinidad & Tobago
Date of Birth: April 27, 1940

Calypso Rose began her career at 15 in the then male dominated arena of Calypso emerging to win the national carnival Road March title in 1977 and first Calypso Monarch title in 1978 after holding the Calypso Queen title for five years. In a class by herself, Calypso Rose holds awards both nationally and internationally having most recently been awarded Best Album in the World at the Victoires de la Musique (French ‘Grammys’) in February 2017.

Included in her volumes of music are varied themes from political commentaries to jammin’ party songs and rhythms while also raising our awareness of current conditions and taking a stand on women’s rights.  Calypso Rose is still expanding her horizons, fusing the rhythms and melodies of Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean. Besides being a vibrant and exciting performer and composer, Rose’s world-wide recognition has made her one of the most awarded and honored figures of the Caribbean music scene.

 

Usain St. Leo Bolt

Usain St. Leo Bolt

Place of Birth: Trelawny, Jamaica
Date of Birth:
August 21, 1986

Usain Bolt holds the title of “Fastest Man in the World” and became the first track & field athlete to achieve the “Triple Treble,” which is the winning of three gold medals in three different Olympic Games. On his rise to stardom, the world renowned athlete’s talent made an impression at different youth competitions and on the track & field world, which led to his shining moment at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. These Olympic games set the stage for Usain’s historic legacy, as he set the world record for the 100m with a time of 9.69 seconds, for the 200m with a record time of 19.3 seconds and was a part of the 4x100 meters world record Jamaican men’s relay team with a time of 37.1 seconds. At the 2009 World Championships, Bolt was able to once again break his world records in the 100m and 200m, with times of 9.58 and 19.19 seconds, respectively. Bolt defended his undefeated records at the 2012 London Olympics, the 2016 Rio Olympics, and many World Championships in between. Usain Bolt is recognized across the world as the “Greatest Sprinter of all Time.”

 

Winston Anthony Eddy

Winston Anthony Eddy

Place of Birth: Basseterre, St. Kitts
Date of Birth: July 16, 1969

Born and raised in the little twin island paradise of St. Kitts & Nevis, Winston Eddy always had big dreams. Being the eldest of four maternal children, his mission was to set a positive example for his younger siblings. A lover of sports from a tender age, he was a member of local soccer teams and various athletic clubs, which enhanced his love for sports. Although he participated in several sporting events, track & field was his all-time favorite and ‘Eddy’ later became a trail blazer in athletics in his beloved country. He represented St. Kitts and Nevis at several CARIFTA and OECS Games and is a former OECS/Leewards Islands 100m and 200m record holder. He also earned a record 3 gold medals at the OECS Texaco championships held in St. Kitts in the year 1990 and was awarded a full athletic scholarship the same year for his athletic prowess.

 

Zab Maboungou

Zab Maboungou

Place of Birth: Paris, France (Canadian Citizen)
Date of Birth: April 6 (unknown year)

A choreographer, dancer, philosopher and writer of French and Congolese origin, Zab Maboungou is the artistic director of Zab Maboungou/Compagnie Danse Nyata Nyata, a contemporary dance company founded in 1987 and based in Montreal. Zab continues her studies in philosophy, a discipline that she teaches and aims to provide theoretical dimension to her reflections on dance, arts and culture.  She has written several articles on dance as well as a book, Heya Danse! Historique, poétique et didactique de la danse africaine (2005).  Her professional and artistic achievements have inspired the African Affairs committee at Harvard University, where she was a keynote speaker at the conference entitled African Dance Diaspora: A Symposium on Embodied Knowledge.

She was the 2013 recipient of the Charles Biddle Award and, in 2014, of the prestigious Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award bestowed by Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop.  In February 2014, Zab Maboungou/Compagnie Danse Nyata Nyata received the 30th Grand Prix du Conseil des arts de Montréal dance award for Mozongi, remounted to celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary.