December 27, 2011 | 6:00 am | Print
Bahamian native Chris “Kazi” Rolle was touring with a film and music group focusing on developing the creativity of young hip-hop artists. What began as a developmental programme became something else, as Rolle began engaging with the artists about more than music. What Rolle found was that a number of issues common to kids in the programme all connected to the failures of romantic relationships between their parents. Through his own journey of self-discovery, Rolle, who has been featured on VH1, CNN and the Oprah Winfrey Show, saw a future in the work of discussing these issues toward greater understanding, founding Together Apart, a New York-based relationship academy. Now, what began in small, casual groups is a discussion forum that regularly brings hundreds of people to talk about the relationship issues in their lives. This week, Rolle returns to the Bahamas, bringing Together Apart’s “Straight Talk, No Chaser.” pogramme to Nassau on Thursday, which he will co-host with Leah Rose, a media personality and marketing consultant in the Bahamas and seven panelists. To learn more about his story, Caribbean Journal talked to Rolle about Together Apart, the lessons he learned about his own life, and the importance of relationships.
What was the common thread that drew everyone together in your experiences?
They were all kind of dealing with similar issues, and different issues. But they were all connected somehow to the failure or the romantic relationships between their parents. I was engaged to be married, but never made it to the altar, and I found it was because I had issues that – mother issues, because my mother abandoned me as a child. I grew up in foster care, so fast forward to being in a relationship, those issues came up. So when I went back to why my mother left, I found out that she and my father didn’t work out – so I started to see this consistent pattern with me, and people I would run into, people I work with. At the time, I became aware of something called social entrepreneurship, where, as an entrepreneur, you can start a business that actually helps the community, that actually impacts the world.
How did that develop?
I realized that was what I had done organically with my last project, the Hip Hop programme, that culminated in a film – Bruce Willis and Queen Latifah were executive producers – and it made sense to me – wow, you can make a living giving back and empowering people. So I said, well, maybe I could start another business that strengthens the romantic relationships between men and women, and that’s kind of how I started. Initially, couples would hire me to be part of a community, and this community would come to my home and I would hold workshops there where couples could come and engage and share what works and what doesn’t work, and anonymously deal with issues. It evolved in a forum for singles and couples, and started with maybe 30 people, and now we have about 300 people, 400 people that show up. So that’s how I created this startup company, and we’re thriving. So I am going on the road with these large-scale forums, and what better place to bring it than the place where a lot of my issues started!
Talk about the meaning of the Bahamas for you.
The Bahamas is a great place, and there’s a certain place that I learned by being a Bahamian. I was talking to a friend about seeing a black individual on money – what that does to you. Because when you live in America, sometimes you don’t feel that sense of this land is yours, or feel oppressed, and in the Bahamas, I could definitely say, I didn’t realize what racism was. I didn’t have a sense of being “less than” until I came to America. So there’s a certain pride that I think I have, and a spirit I have learned from the Bahamas. But at the same time, that’s a place where a lot of my challenges also came. I always think of my mother – what could have provided my mother when she was going through her time about learning about relationships that would have made my life better. So that’s why I’m focusing this event I’m doing in the Bahamas on the women first. So I would love to do a series of events down there – but this would be the first, focusing on young women, or even middle-aged women who want to better understand the men they are with.
When you live in America, sometimes you don’t feel that sense of this land is yours, or feel oppressed, and in the Bahamas, I could definitely say, I didn’t realize what racism was. I didn’t have a sense of being “less than” until I came to America. So there’s a certain pride that I think I have, and a spirit I have learned from the Bahamas.”
Is there anything you see as unique to Bahamian relationships?
I definitely would say that marriage seems to be stronger in the Bahamas. The Bahamas is like a lot of places, but I think the strong sense of religion and church – regardless of anybody having issues with religion, I would say that the things I find that the respect level of the young people – the best word I could use is morality. Maybe it’s because I live in New York, where all things are possible. So that’s part of why I’m doing this event down here, because I’m developing a new documentary, and it will follow this journey to understanding the differences in relationships according to geographic location. So the verdict is still out on that question. But from what I’ve seen so far, I think marriage is stronger. You see a lot more family in the Bahamas, and I think it might be because of the size of the island. But I would say it’s the morality, and the principles that I find in the Bahamas are stronger than a lot of other places I’ve been.
Is there a root cause of the problems you see in relationships?
I would say number one is that tradition is part of the problem. There’s a certain way you may have seen relationships, or ideas that you inherited, that don’t work. But because they were handed down, you may need to revisit those ideas. For instance, in slavery, the slaves were given a particular part of food that they turned into a delicacy – but when you look at the health of people of African descent, their health issues are compounded partly because this food is rooted through tradition. We don’t want to, in a sense, change it, because it has this emotional connection, as opposed to inventing something new. So it’s the same thing with some of our relationship structures. We may need to revisit these ideas about our roles in relationships, because they just don’t work. The second thing is, men and women talk totally different languages, and we persecute each other for being the way we are, as opposed to appreciating the differences. So that’s one of the things that I hope the event would be highlighting – to help us grow our empathy, so that we can better understand each other. The third thing is, we have to be willing to meet each other half way. We have to be willing to better listen and try to understand the other person. Sometimes that’s what the fight is all about – everybody wants to be understood. If you start with that, they’ll be open to the other 50 percent.
As a social entrepreneur, I realized this was my way of giving back. I realized that people needed it, and it aligned with my own story. I believe the Creator gives us a mission in life, and it’s up to us to figure out what that mission is. One of the rules is the gift and talent and story that you’re given.”
What gives you optimism about the work you’re doing?
I think the fact that people are coming. I was originally doing this because I wanted to have a successful relationship, so I was just doing research in finding out how to make my relationship better. I realized that there was no place that was focused on strengthening relationships. Church was one, but there were so many issues inside the church. For example, one thing they call “shacking up,” when people live together before they are married – so if I were shacking up, I may not go to church to talk about how to make things better. Also, in the community there’s a stigma about therapy – black men especially are not open to going to therapy. So I saw folks needed this, which didn’t exist for me, and didn’t exist for other people. So as an entrepreneur, when you realize there’s a need, there’s an ability to provide the service. As a social entrepreneur, I realized this was my way of giving back. I realized that people needed it, and it aligned with my own story. I believe the Creator gives us a mission in life, and it’s up to us to figure out what that mission is. One of the rules is the gift and talent and story that you’re given. So I looked at my talents and abilities, and the story I had, and I realized this was a great way to change that. So I’m optimistic. I see people are coming and giving me testimonials about what it’s providing for them, the tools and resources that are helping them strengthen their relationships – so that’s mission accomplished. Just the fact that people are asking me to come to their states and folks want to work with me in the Bahamas to do this event and the other services I provide, all those things keep me optimistic about this work.
“Straight Talk. No Chaser.” Takes place Thursday, Dec. 29 at the Sheraton Hotel Cable Beach in Nassau. For more information, contact Keisha Oliver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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