Margaret Mitchell Armand believed that everyone was an artist. As her family notes, “she grew up to the sounds of Haitian compas music, the aromas of country living and cooking and the warmth of a nurturing local community.”
As such, she exposed her four grandchildren to plays, musicals, cultural events and taught them to paint and sculpt. For Mémère — as they called her — it was all about initiating pride in a culture that gave her so much.
As a child in Haiti laying in my bed, I heard the Tams Tams of the Vodou drums beating all nights, Armand wrote in her book Healing in the Homeland: Haitian Vodou Tradition, part autobiography and part history of an oft-misunderstood religion. These beats were telling the stories of my African ancestors, of their struggles, and their survival, their self determination and resistance to domination to keep their dignity.
Armand, a teacher, artist, activist, initiated Vodou Manbo, or priestess, and psychotherapist, died March 17 of complications from the flu at 65.
Born Nov. 14, 1950, in Haiti, Armand was the first Haitian-American certified teacher to be hired by Broward County Public Schools in 1980, a year after settling in Plantation. She taught English as a second language. Armand was an advisory board member at Nova Southeastern University and the Broward Cultural Affairs Council. Also, chair of the Cultural Diplomacy Partnership, board member of the State of Florida’s School Readiness Coalition and Employment Discrimination Outreach and Multicultural Community Task Force.
Among Margaret Mitchell Armand’s honors: the Broward County Community Award, 2014; Spirit of Justice Award Latin Americans United Inc., 2010; Haitian-Women Community Award, 2005; and South Florida Political Achievement Award, 1998.
Armand ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Broward School Board in 1996, but her daughter, Bernadette Armand, said her mother found the political experience “empowering.” In 2012, she earned her doctorate degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from Nova. She contributed to the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival and the Old Dillard Museum Foundation.
As an artist, and collector of Haitian art and Vodou symbols, she turned her Plantation home into a small art gallery. Her essays and lectures explained Vodou beliefs and traditions.
“My mother was a formidable and accomplished woman,” said her daughter. “Her life was a vibrant and bold exhibit. She did everything with all she had. She wasn’t afraid to make waves, to the benefit of many. She was inspired by her love for her family, her culture and the belief in her own voice. When her children were grown, she went back to school to earn her Ph.D. I learned from her that life is always just beginning. She would want people to know that Haitian culture and history is rich, deep and relevant to all.”
In addition to her daughter, Armand is survived by her husband Lucien Armand; son Alain Armand, and grandchildren, Imani, Akinle, Anacaona and Ashoka Armand. Services were held.
Howard Cohen: @HowardCohen