Thursday, September 18, 2014

20th Anniversary Celebration of UNESCO Slave Route Project

On 10 September 2014, UNESCO celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage.


A full day of discussion, musical interludes, and commemoration took place at La Maison de l'UNESCO, 125 avenue de Suffren, in Paris' 7th arrondissement. Highlights included a roundtable at which UNESCO’s contribution to the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) was discussed and the inauguration of the exhibition "Africans in India: from Slaves to Generals and Rulers."

Africans in India
© Discover Paris!

French Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, author of the 2001 law that recognizes slavery as a crime against humanity, spoke at the closing event of the day:

The challenge today is to understand the globalization that divides people to better exploit. This globalization can be replaced by universality, one in which we meet the Other, so that the Other is not seen as a good to be sold.

Justice Minister Christiane Taubira
Screenshot from YouTube video

The United States Permanent Delegation to UNESCO sponsored the evening reception. The new U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO, Crystal Nix-Hines, delivered a passionate speech about the lessons to be learned from the practices of slavery in past centuries and reminded us that modern-day slavery (human trafficking and forced labor) is just as atrocious a scourge in society today.

Ambassador Crystal Nix-Hines addresses the crowd
© Discover Paris!

Ambassador Nix-Hines' husband, David Hines, then sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

David Hines
© Discover Paris!

Finally UNESCO Artist for Peace and spokesman for the Slave Route Project, Marcus Miller, regaled the audience with numerous artists who joined him on stage for an incredible jam session that lasted far longer than anyone anticipated.

Marcus Miller
© Discover Paris!

Jam session
© Discover Paris!

View clips of the day's activities here:



Among the achievements cited by UNESCO for the Slave Route Project is the Permanent Memorial to Honor the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade at the United Nations building in New York.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Black Writers at Festival AMERICA



Festival AMERICA is an event that features the literature and culture of North America. It is held in Vincennes, an eastern suburb of Paris, once every two years.

This year, several black writers from the United States, Haïti, and Canada will sit on numerous panels to discuss their publications.

UNITED STATES

The French translation of long-time Paris resident Jake Lamar's book, Postérité (English-language title: Posthumous), was released by Rivages on September 10, 2014. Jake received the prestigious Centre National du Livre award for this book. The English-language version has not yet been released.


Photo of Jake Lamar © Giles Plazy - Opale - Éditions Payot Rivages
Collage © Discover Paris!

Because Jake has participated in the festival multiple times, I asked him to comment on the event. He said the following:

This is my fourth invitation to Festival AMERICA since 2004. I’ve participated in lots of book festivals, all over France, and Festival America, in my experience, is maybe the best of them all. The list of writers is always very diverse. The organizers clearly put a lot of thought into the grouping of writers in different panel discussions. And the public is always very engaged and enthusiastic.

Philadelphian Ayana Mathis' first novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, was released in French under the title (Les Douze Tribus d'Hattie) by Gallmeister in January 2014. It is a New York Times Bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year 2013.

Photo of Ayana Mathis © Elena Seibert
Collage © Discover Paris!


Jesmyn Ward is a former Stegner fellow at Stanford and Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Her novels, Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, are both set on the Mississippi coast where she grew up. The French translation of Where the Line Bleeds was released in French under the title Ligne de Fracture in May 2014.

Photo of Jesmyn Ward © Tony Cook
Collage © Discover Paris!


HAITI

Port-au-Prince native Dominique Batraville studied in Belgium and France before returning to Haïti in the aftermath of the fall of the Duvalier regime. His first novel, L’Ange de charbon, will be featured at the festival.

Photo of Dominique Batraville from Festival AMERICA Web site
Collage © Discover Paris!


Louis-Philippe Dalembert received the RFO book prize for his novel, L’autre face de la mer, in 1999. He will discuss his most recent novel, Ballade d’un amour inachevé, at the festival this year.

Photo of Louis-Philippe Dalembert © Stephane Haskell
Collage © Discover Paris!


Henry Kénol is a prolific writer of novels, poems, and essays. His novel, Le désespoir des anges, is "inspired" by the armed gangs that ruled the streets of Haïti's cities during the 2000s.

Photo of Henry Kénol from Festival AMERICA Web site
Collage © Discover Paris!


Journalist, screen writer, and essayist, Dany Laferrière now spends most of his time in Montreal, Canada. He describes his book, L'Art presque perdu de rien faire, as "an autobiography of my ideas." Laferrière is the first black since Léopold Sédar Senghor to be elected to the Académie Française.

Photo of Dany Laferrière © Jf Paga Grasset
Collage © Discover Paris!


Yanick Lahens is a professor of literature as well as a novelist, essayist, and documentary filmmaker. She was awarded the title of Officer of Arts and Letters by the Ambassador of France in Haiti this year. Her latest book, Bain de lune, tells a story of passion, voodoo, and politics.

Photo of Yanick Lahens from Festival AMERICA Web site
Collage © Discover Paris!


Anthony Phelps' Nomade, je fus de très vieille mémoire is a personal anthology of poems written between 1961 and 2011. Phelps was a political prisoner of the Duvalier regime. Forced to leave the country after his release, he emigrated to Montreal, Canada. He has written over twenty books (short stories, novels, essays, and poems) that have been translated into seven languages.

Photo of Anthony Phelps © Setkafilms
Collage © Discover Paris!


CANADA

Ryad Assani-Razaki was born in Cotonou, Benin in 1981. After studying computer science in the United States, he settled in Montreal. He now works as a computer scientist in Toronto. His first collection of short stories was awarded the Trillium in 2007. La Main d'Imam, the novel that is featured at the festival, received the Robert-Cliche prize in 2011.

Photo of Ryad Assani-Razaki © Fatou Binetou Kone
Collage © Discover Paris!


The 7th edition of Festival AMERICA will take place from September 11 through September 14. A youth festival, several photographic expositions, and films and concerts will complement the literary events at the festival.

The primary venue is the Centre Culturel Georges Pompidou, 142 rue de Fontenay, 94300 Vincennes. Several events will take place in additional sites nearby.

For more information, visit the official Festival AMERICA Web site (text in French).

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Black Paris Profiles™ II: Elizabeth Milovidov - Part 2



Last week, I presented Part 1 of this Black Paris Profile™ on Elizabeth Milovidov - an attorney whose passion is protecting the rights of children around the world.

Today, I bring you Part 2 of Elizabeth's profile, which features details of her professional activities in Paris, Brussels, and the European Union at large.


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Elizabeth Milovidov
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Milovidov

When Elizabeth moved to Paris, she had already completed a BA in Economics / International Area Studies at UCLA, an MA in Political Science at UC Davis, and a JD at UC Davis. Her decision to pursue yet another two degrees (MBA and MA in International Trade at European University) was a strategic decision that allowed her to obtain a French visa. Because she has always loved school and the academic environment, this was not burdensome.

The MBA opened several career options for her:

While completing my MBA / MA, I went to the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris and ordered the listings of all the American companies doing business in France. I sent out over 700 resumes. Yes, you read correctly – seven hundred. And I received more than 690 rejection and “we’ll keep your resume on file” letters. But the French subsidiary of one American company, Rockwell Automotive, decided to give me chance. I was hired in October 1997 as Administration Manager in the Paris office, with European responsibility. It was a chance in a lifetime, but I do believe the underlying reason why I was hired was because I was an attorney who was seeking new challenges.

But 5 degrees still were not enough!  She decided to pursue a PhD in International Relations and Diplomacy - in English - at American Graduate School: International Relations in Paris.

When my last position as General Counsel in a French company in the South of France transferred the headquarters to the United States, I knew that I wanted to stay in France. I was newly married and realized that my business and legal skills were more marketable in Paris, so my husband and I moved back to Paris. Once I was laid-off from the company, I enrolled in the PhD program and began my Parisian job search. Within a year of completing my course work, I was offered another position in a French company in Paris as General Counsel – Operations. I then juggled my job, arrival of two sons and completing my thesis – which also explains why it took me so long.

While her law degree proved invaluable by opening doors and providing credibility that her other degrees did not, and her MBA provided a business angle to her legal background, Elizabeth's PhD allowed her to establish herself as a professor in France and teach at several universities. Because her dissertation on International Child Rights was on a subject related to International Law, she is able to teach at top caliber French law schools.

The degree took six years to complete: one year of coursework followed by five years of research and writing. The research and writing was done in spurts and flurries, but by 2011, she had a 4-year old, a 2-year old, and a completed and defended doctoral dissertation. While her French is fluent, she says she had more polished professional French when she was working in French companies. As a child rights consultant and law professor, most of her days are now spent speaking in English.

The combination of her PhD and her JD landed her a position at the University of Geneva this summer, where she taught Child Rights Law and Internet Safety.

Elizabeth became passionate about children's rights in 2003, when she married and began thinking about having a family. She wasn’t quite sure what direction to take, but she kept reading and researching and learning. In 2005, when she started her PhD program, it was clear that she wanted to do my dissertation project on children’s rights.

She began to focus on Internet safety for children when she realized that she loves the law, children, and the Internet and technology. The last two companies that she worked for in France were high-tech Internet companies, so it was easy to combine her interests. Still, it took her 3 years to focus exclusively on Internet safety.

She founded Crossing Guard Consulting because she wanted to work in this burgeoning field that was also her passion. What better way to work on exactly what she wanted to do than to create her own company?


It was a real challenge for Elizabeth to create a digital identity - The Crossing Guard: protecting children on the digital highway - and then become that persona. She used a blog, Facebook and Twitter to help with her outreach. She finds it enriching to see people "liking" something she shared and writing in to request help.

Now she is focused on writing free eBooks to empower parents in the digital age:

So many parents are frustrated and scared of technology, but my purpose is to tell them: "You’ve got this. Use your offline parenting skills online. Don’t panic,  Parent!"  Even with all of this new technology and ever changing social media challenges, parents can do it.

Crossing Guard Consulting is a small, global organization through which Elizabeth is currently providing child rights and internet safety consulting services to the European Commission. She has projects pending with the Council of Europe and the UK. She also guest blogs for Family Online Safety Institute (US) and the OECD while maintaining close contacts with some of the leaders in Internet safety in the US and in Europe. She has staff contributing from the United States and France.

As Facebook and Internet.org target the African market for new clients, Elizabeth anticipates that Crossing Guard Consulting will become active in Africa. She says there is an even greater need to protect children in Africa and that her organization can easily do so with all the lessons learned in the past 10 years.

Elizabeth has already had the pleasure and privilege of utilizing her considerable skills and experience in Africa through the US State Department. Stephanie Bombrun (creator of the successful blog "La Mom"), who is a good friend and who is also very committed women’s empowerment, counseled Elizabeth on social media practices and is a true believer in the Crossing Guard. When she learned that Elizabeth was speaking at the American Library of Paris and at French schools on Children’s Rights and Internet Safety, she introduced Elizabeth to Sara Devlin, director of Africa Regional Services (ARS). Devlin immediately proposed some speaking engagements and video series for Elizabeth.

Stephanie Bombrun (left), Elizabeth Milovidov (center), and Sara Devlin (right) at Africa Regional Services
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Milovidov

ARS is working under President Obama’s initiative to improve human rights, women’s rights and children’s rights in Africa. Enter the Crossing Guard.

In July, ARS sponsored a trip to Senegal where Elizabeth led two 2-day training session / workshops on Gender, Leadership and Women's Empowerment. These were co-sponsored by the US Embassy and an association of women professors. The first was held in St. Louis (former capital of Senegal when it was a French colony) and the second was in Dakar, the current capital.

Panel discussion at U. S. Embassy event in Dakar, Senegal
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Milovidov

Elizabeth described this as:

... an awesome experience bringing together women professionals from academia, medicine, law and more, but I think I was the one who reaped the most benefits as I noted that women in France, in the US, in Senegal all juggle the same issues: how to create a satisfying balance between family, work and social activities.

Elizabeth still belongs to the California and DC bars. She says there are hundreds of American attorneys in Paris: some practicing law "in-house" at law firms, others in companies, and still others are teaching. She says it's important to note that American attorneys cannot litigate in France unless they take the French bar.

For US and other non-French attorneys who would like to live and work in Paris, Elizabeth has the following advice:

Learn French. Understand the cultural norms. Take the Paris or Versailles Bar. Work in an international law firm in your own country that has offices in France. Attend conferences in Paris. Create your network – used LinkedIn. Create a social media profile that demonstrates your desire to come to France or work internationally. Have a strong support system. Be patient.
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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Black Paris Profiles™ II: Elizabeth Milovidov - Part 1


I first met Elizabeth Milovidov in March 2013, when she attended the Discover Paris! Big Bang Boom Bloggers' Meet-up and Tweeps' Tweet-up. She stole the show that evening by winning the prize for naming the "Guess the Fesses" mystery sculpture contest that we hosted.

That evening, I learned that Elizabeth is an attorney and that she has a passion for children's rights and Internet safety for kids. Little did I know how deep that passion ran!

Fast forward to summer 2014, when Elizabeth graciously consented to be interviewed for a Black Paris Profile™. I'm pleased to present her fascinating story to you here. Part 1 addresses how she came to Paris and established a full and successful life here.


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Elizabeth Milovidov
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Milovidov

After graduating from UCLA in 1988, Elizabeth Milovidov and a girlfriend strapped on their backpacks and hit Europe for two months. The trip was a definite eye-opener - full of history, cultural exchange and dreams. Though they visited several European capitals, Paris was the number one place on Elizabeth's list and in her heart.

It was Elizabeth's first trip out of the United States. She and her friend visited England, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg before arriving in France. She was enamored with Paris from the start:

We had planned the trip so that we would spend my summer birthday in Paris and we did. Champagne and nibbles on a picnic blanket under the Eiffel Tower. It really was amazing!

My inspiration for visiting Paris was the Paris lifestyle. The stereotypical ideals of Paris: chic women, stylish cafés and bistrots, coupled with the historical realities of how Black Americans like Josephine Baker, Nina Simone, Richard Wright and James Baldwin were received in Paris, provided a wonderful backdrop to my idea of one day living in Paris.

After completing her law degree and going to work in a San Francisco law firm in 1991, Elizabeth came up with a simple plan to relocate to the City of Light. She sent resumes from her San Francisco home base in an attempt to integrate into a French law firm. There were no takers. She then realized then that the best way to get her foot in the door was to be physically present so that she could knock on doors. And she saw that the quickest way to do so was to become a student and obtain student visa allowing her to stay in France. At that time, she already had 3 degrees under her belt and to her parents' dismay, she was quite happy to add two more (MBA and MA in International Trade). She baptized her idea "The Student Plan."

After her first year in Paris (1995), Elizabeth realized that she was getting nowhere. She could not speak French and did not know French law. She had all the right language books, but she wasn’t making a serious effort to speak. So after 10 months of frustration, she went to the American Church in Paris and looked at the housing boards.

American Church in Paris
© Discover Paris!

She found a French student roommate and immediately moved in with her. Her life changed dramatically as she began living a French experience and no longer exclusively hung out with international students. It was a defining moment.

She spent a summer at the Sorbonne taking intensive French lessons, 5 hours a day 5 hours a week. Those lessons, plus the interaction with her roommate, provided an intermediate level of French that facilitated being hired at a French company. Her French is now fluent.

To anchor her future here, Elizabeth put ego aside, rolled up her sleeves, and taught English and babysitting to earn money while attending an English-language MBA program. Some of the people that she met years ago while giving English conversation lessons are remain good friends today. She still advises new arrivals in Paris to offer conversation courses or even simple conversation exchanges as a way to meet interesting people and earn pocket change while doing so.

After having lived in Paris for 19 years, Elizabeth still believes that moving here was the best decision she could have made. When she looks back on that first, fateful trip to Europe, she fondly remembers her visit to French-speaking Belgium. She says that though she found the Belgians to be quite welcoming and Brussels to be historically impressive, her heart was still drawn to Paris. Ironically, she now does consulting work in Brussels and marvels at how the European train system allows her to live in one country, while working in another.


When Elizabeth finally landed her first position, she found that the French corporate world is a very different environment than what she expected:

When I started working in my San Francisco law firm, the first week and even the first day were filled with welcoming activities: lunches, happy hour drinks and so forth. When I started working at my first French company (a subsidiary of a large American company no less), I was surprised at my welcome. Everyone treated me with courtesy of course, but I ate lunch alone for the first several weeks and needless to say, Happy hour was out. It was over two years before I was invited to a colleague’s home.

But none of this is a criticism of the French! It is but a mere illustration of how things can be different. In France and in the French corporate environment, you have to prove yourself, you have to endure, you have to realize that things are done differently - not wrongly, but differently. You are not instantly welcomed "just because," you are welcomed over time and after substantial contribution.

Oh and by the way, I am still friends with my French colleagues from that first corporate experience in 1997. It may have taken a while to create the links of friendship, but once they exist, they are strong bonds.

Because she believes that expatriates need a stronger support system than do locals, Elizabeth has created several networks in Paris. She joined Message for her children (play dates with other Americans) and found herself drawn to Message Entrepreneurs and other subgroups. She has a network of African-American women network, a Child Rights network, and even a professor network. With the exception of Message, none of them are “official” - rather, they are groupings of like-minded individuals around a particular subject. The bottom line is that they all serve to support.

Elizabeth's favorite place in Paris is...

the Eiffel Tower!

Eiffel Tower
© Discover Paris!

I have lived here 19 years and I love so many things in Paris. I wish I could name some little hidden gem tucked away on a cobblestone street, but honestly my favorite place is still the Eiffel Tower. When I first arrived in Paris, I lived in the 15th arrondissement within a 15-minute walk to the Eiffel Tower and I could never get enough of seeing the symbol of Paris. Every time I see the Eiffel Tower, it reminds me of that young attorney who dared to dream big enough.

Elizabeth is married to a Russian citizen and has two sons who were born in France. They are growing up just like any other young boys in Paris, but Elizabeth wants them to grow up being aware of their tri-cultural origin as well:

I try to ensure that have a normal life in Paris, with a blend of my American culture, their father's Russian culture and of course their native country of Paris. It can be a challenge, since they are enrolled in a French bilingual school and I do not always understand the system. But I try to make sure that they have play dates in all three of their languages, while overseeing their education.

Tough stuff, I am not kidding you. Give me the good ol' PhD days anytime. Being an American with children in the French educational system can be another one of those challenges that I mentioned earlier. Different, not wrong, but different.

I just asked my boys what they like to do in Paris and they responded "Disneyland, Playmobil park, Centre Pompidou and the trampolines in the Jardin de Tuilieres." But that's today. If we ask them tomorrow, I'm sure it will be something else. Which is exactly the beauty of Paris and raising children here.

Part 2 of this Black Paris Profile™ features Elizabeth's professional life in Paris.

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Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

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