Miami-Dade students face off in 10th Haitian History Bee
Students from across Miami-Dade County got to test their knowledge of the world’s first Black republic this week.
The Haitian History Bee has grown significantly over the past decade, giving kids from elementary school on up a chance to celebrate Haitian heritage — which advocates say isn’t taught enough in public schools.
On Wednesday morning, dozens of students and their families filed into the Miami-Dade County Commission chambers — the ceremonial center of power in the county — to the sounds of a Haitian tanbou drum.
The emcee of the event, Mecca Grimo Marcelin, revved up the crowd wearing the uniform of a Haitian revolutionary.
“When I say 18, you say 04,” Marcelin said, calling out the year Haitians declared their independence from the French.
“18!” he chanted.
“04!” the students cheered.
The event, which was hosted by County Commissioners Marleine Bastien and Keon Hardemon and the group Sons of Little Haiti, is in its tenth year.
Teams of students faced off in front of an attentive audience of parents, teachers and county officials. They sat at a pair of tables draped with the Haitian flag as Marcelin fired off round after round of questions, while a panel of judges looked on.
“I was a slave from [the] plantation of Duclos who later became the first emperor of Haiti. Who am I?” Marcelin asked two teams of students from Gratigny Elementary School.
Students smashed the buzzers on the table in front of them.
“Umm … Jean-Jacques Dessalines,” one said.
“That is correct!” Marcelin responded as the audience applauded.
“The reason why I like learning about history is because I was born in Haiti. So I want to know more about the past of my culture.”Gratigny Elementary student Carl Pierre
A nation forged through the successful revolt of enslaved people who overthrew their white European colonizers, Haiti’s history, language and culture is alive with the spirit of resistance and resilience.
“No matter what's going on in Haiti today, [students] can be proud because they come — their parents came — from a nation that is considered the mother of democracy,” said Bastien, who’s the first Haitian American woman elected to the board.
The competition got fierce at times, with students slamming their buzzers so hard that Marcelin joked they might break the table.
“Let me make sure the legs on the table are still good,” Marcelin said as audience members laughed.
This was the second year in a row that Gratigny fourth grader Carl Pierre competed in the event. “I felt … kind of nervous and excited at the same time,” he said.
Carl says he studied hard with his dad the day before the Bee, going over page after page of a Haitian history study guide.
“The reason why I like learning about history is because I was born in Haiti,” Carl said. “So I want to know more about the past of my culture.”
This year’s event comes at a time when state officials are restricting how issues like race, identity and history can be taught in public classrooms. In January, state education officials rejected an Advanced Placement course in African American studies — claiming it pushes a political agenda.
“History is important because through history, we learn what happened in the past and how not to repeat it. And I think this is something that should be encouraged, not stifled,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.