Featured image by Divine and Conjure Enterprises, Pictures by Cy White.
On Thursday, Oct. 1, Queen Mother Dòwòti Désir Hounon Houna II Guely arrived in Austin. Fifty people were granted an audience to celebrate her arrival.
My life has been filled with experiences and instances of pure magic that I can’t describe properly. On Thursday, Oct. 1, I got the privilege to be in the presence of that magic once more. Austin activists, community leaders and hip-hop artists Riders Against the Storm, more commonly known as RAS, honored me with an invitation to welcome Her Majesty Queen Mother Rev. Dr. MA. Dòwòti Désir Hounon Houna II Guely to Austin. A very small group of 50 was blessed to have an audience with the Queen Mother. It was a moment beyond comprehension.
Surreal. That’s what it was.
First there was the food. Heavy hors d’oeuvres and an open bar. Then the music, selections from several countries in Africa and the Caribbean. A steady pulse, a heartbeat that each one of us felt in our limbs. When it was time to finally meet Her Majesty, we were ushered into a room that looked fit for a sermon. Instead there was a throne surrounded by plants, candles and tributes to the Queen Mother. White…everything draped in white. Even in the darkness of the encroaching evening, there was a pervasive brightness.
Once the presentations begin, the audience is unified as a single consciousness. There is music, so much music. Words from poetry. Shouts of “Ashe!” punctuating several moments of every presentation. The Yoruba term for “So it is.” An amen exclamation that manifests spirit and energy into words and actions. At the end of the final performance, an inspiring ballet piece performed by children from Austin’s Ballet Afrique, every one of us, including the Queen Mother, has tears streaming down our faces. The emotional weight of the moment spreads over every one of us. A warm, healing balm to ease the hurts of a long and turbulent year.
The Queen Mother stands, elegance and grace in the presence of our small group. For a moment, she’s at a loss for words. “Is it unbecoming of a Queen Mother to cry?” She smiles, tears of genuine joy still spotting her face. She speaks of love. “This world that we’re in forces us to understand the importance of love. We have to embrace it. We have to find the courage to tell each other that we love one another. That we want to protect one another.” Ashe! She speaks of Austin, how those gathered in her presence are the heart of this city.
“Ustedes son el corazón del pueblo.”
She speaks of the journey her ancestors took to Cuba and Haiti, of coming home and healing. “And with that I repaired myself.” Ashe! She speaks of the children she wants to help. “No they’re not Christian, and no they’re not Muslim. They belong to an older tradition. And they have the right to be educated.” Ashe!
When she finishes and we all bow our heads as she walks past us, the room remains warm. Her aura continues to radiate, and we are all one heart, breath, consciousness.
Of course many want to speak to her. They do, for 20 minutes or more. All I want is five minutes. Just five minutes to embrace her greatness. I sit across from the Queen Mother. There is no intimidation. No fear. “I don’t want to take much of your time,” I say. “I just want to say thank you.” There is warmth in her gaze; there is love. Yes, her presence takes my breath away. But her humanity makes it so easy to speak. In the few moments I share with her, I feel a monumental shift in my demeanor, in the very way I understood myself. The Queen Mother sparks inspiration, ingenuity. Her very mission is to help children find the genius and greatness in themselves in spite of odds that tell them they lack it.
That is the power of a Queen Mother.
That was the impact Her Majesty had on me.
I’m reminded of the poem written for Oprah’s Legends Weekend. “We speak your name.” Her Majesty Queen Mother Rev. Dr. MA. Dòwòti Désir Hounon Houna II Guely. Each syllable a rhythmic tribute. As if a mantra or prayer. Every time Qi Dada said her name, it felt like a prayer. Regardless of any religious affiliations or lack thereof, there was something genuinely holy about the experience. Holy in that it elevated the spirit away from the heartache, the pettiness, the darkness of the world. For those two hours in Her Majesty’s presence, we were all above the harshness of the world. Instead we were enveloped in love, peace and an honest desire to uplift one another.