Dear Mr. Michael,
I hope this letter finds you well. This is Steeve Colin, and I wanted to take the time to express my deep thanks for the training you gave on community film-making, and explain why it held a special importance for me.
I was raised in Cite Soleil, Haiti’s largest slum and its most dangerous ghetto. For more than a decade, our community has been plagued by gang violence. In 2004, 2005, and 2006 our community was literally a war zone, with UN soldiers and barricades and helicopters surrounding us. But then, as now, the violence and the gangs were just a small but powerful corner of our community. The vast majority of people in Cite Soleil are good, honest, hard-working people, just trying to make a living for their families. There are even a few among us, like my friend Robi from the documentary, who are actively working for peace, and risking their lives doing it. But despite that, we seem unable to shake the stigma that those few violent years have given to us. Everywhere young men like me go, as soon as we say we come from Cite Soleil, people think we are gangsters. Everyone seems to want that image: politicians and NGOs use images of poverty from the worst slums to ask for money for their budgets, the Haitian media is only interested in coming to Cite Soleil when there is a scandal or violence, and the international media only wants the sensational, Hollywood gangster stories they can find here.
And this narrative has to change – it’s suffocating us. All of the young leaders like Robi, myself, and the men and women I work with in the social movement Konbit Soley Leve feel like we are suffocating under the weight of this single, negative story. It’s not that this story isn’t true – we still have gangsters, and innocent people dying every week. It’s just that it’s not the only story, and for young leaders to bring peace, they have to be able to tell their stories. They have to be able to show that they exist. They have to be recognized.
This is why this training was so important for me – it gave me a chance to tell my community’s story myself. It gave me a chance to share the story of my friend Robi, someone who is fighting for peace. It gives people like me the chance to change the narrative about my community -to make it more complex, deeper, richer. And that is a power that I don’t take for granted, because it is rare that someone from Cite Soleil is given the tools to build our own narratives. So thank you for the knowledge, thank you for the training, and thank you for trusting me with my community’s story.
I know this is not an easy task and that it has its own complexities, but I hope this program grows. I hope that you get to bring this to other marginalized communities around the world, and that you can continue to give others the tools to build their own stories. And I hope that one day you come back to Haiti. I know my country can be challenging, but we somehow keep struggling and keep fighting. I hope you do too.