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Miami youth sing: ‘Happy birthday Fidel!’

Published Sep 1, 2010 6:04 PM

It was a hot summer night, like most regular humid evenings in South Florida. Most people who are familiar with Miami would be surprised to find themselves in the midst of a crowd of young people singing, “Happy birthday” to Cuban socialist leader Fidel Castro. “Happy birthday Fidel. Happy birthday Fidel. Happy birthday Fidel Castro. Happy birthday to you!”

We celebrated Fidel’s birthday that Aug. 14 night at the grand opening of The Underground Railroad, the city’s newest poetry hangout. No, it was not just a case of “Saturday night fever.” Instead, it’s a clear indication of the changes brewing in the Cuban community here.

Scores of youth expressed their solidarity with the Cuban revolution and praised its rebel commander, who had just turned 84 years old the night before. Poet after poet took the floor that night, filling the hall with spoken word poetry full of audacious verses and conscious rhymes, reflecting the radicalization occurring among the young people of today. The angry words pierced the night, retelling tales of the horrors of capitalism: imperialist wars, foreclosures, unemployment, police brutality, lack of health care and no opportunities to advance or attend college.

The venue’s host, Malik Shabaaz, a Nuyorican poet who has been a popular fixture in Miami’s spoken word scene for almost a decade, set the mood. Malik is an activist with the Republic of New Africa (RNA) and the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA).

Shabaaz was born to a Puerto Rican family in New York’s South Bronx. His father joined the Nation of Islam — inspired by the teachings of Malcolm X.

Under the stage name “Prophet,” Shabaaz recites with fiery diction and wit, easily conveying his message of Puerto Rican independence and overall revolutionary change to the audience with persuasive and passionate lines. As coordinator of the open mic, Prophet has offered Miami FIST (Fight Imperialism, Stand Together) a weekly spot on the program and has given the youth organization a platform to reach out and introduce the ideas of Marx, Lenin and Che to those who show up and spend the evening.

Revolutionary-minded youth of all types made up the fervent audience and included members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and its national chairperson, Camilo Mejía. Many ideas on how to overthrow the profit-driven system of exploitation were exchanged, including a segment discussing the term “white supremacy” and what those words meant to everyone present.

Far from being a one-time event, this new poetry spot is programmed for every Saturday night starting at 8 p.m. and opened its doors just in time for the “back to school” season, attracting college and high school age working-class youth, even though it was noted that many could not afford the tuition and costs necessary to go back to school this year.

Martinez is an organizer with Miami FIST.