The Coolest Black Family in America, No. 20: The Marcelin-McCallas

The Coolest Black Family in America, No. 20: The Marcelin-McCallas

Poet Michèle Voltaire Marcelin and Haitian activist Jocelyn McCalla prove love springs eternal in the golden years

Alexandra Phanor-Faury

by Alexandra Phanor-Faury, July 08, 2013

The Coolest Black Family in America, No. 20: The Marcelin-McCallas

For many couples, flirting, touching, caressing and kissing are central ingredients to build a dynamic relationship. But when it comes to couples of a certain age, public displays of affection can be deemed unbecoming (even taboo) by society. For renowned poet, writer, artist and actress Michèle Voltaire Marcelin—whose fans include Maya Angelou and Edwidge Dandicat—and her human rights activist husband Jocelyn McCalla, being over 50 hasn’t put a halt to their desire for intimacy.

“It may be rather uncomfortable to see at our age, but we are extremely affectionate,” Michèle says about expressing their love through non-verbal communication. “Physical displays of affection are important, and I don’t mean in a lustful way. We hold hands constantly, we walk closely, and it’s painful when we are at a dinner party and they sit us apart. I think there is trouble in a relationship when there is no touching.” Jocelyn agrees: “It’s a reaffirmation of what I feel for her, and it affirms to me that she welcomes the touch.”

The Haitian pair unapologetically captures their tender moments in photographs taken on their many travels from Istanbul, Italy to Haiti. “Some may ask how we can be so silly at our age,” Michèle says. “They say we should be settled and serious. But I say, serious and settled is what I witnessed growing up, and that was not what I wanted.”

Michèle was in her early teens in Port-au-Prince when she realized what she did not want in a relationship. A young Michèle longed for a mutual exchange of affection, tenderness and respect. In short, she was already in search of her soulmate, and what she observed from her parents and the adults in her life, she says, “was what people called dutiful, responsible relationships but not elated, happy unions.”

“To me, what was most important was to have someone you can give all your love to and be equals with emotionally,” adds Jocelyn, who was raised in a household full of women after his father passed away before his birth. “With respect to living in Haiti, Michèle and I did not fit those norms. We were both rebels in search of more.” Their quest for love spanned over decades of unsuccessful marriages and relationships until, at 53 years of age, they started dating in New York.

Michèle and Jocelyn both found their way to the States as teens. Jocelyn left Haiti at 13 during the Duvalier regime—along with his brother and sister—to reunite with his mother, who had already immigrated three years earlier to Kew Gardens, Queens. At 16, a self-described loner and misfit who lost herself in books, Michèle felt suffocated by the island’s social expectations and fled to Chile in hopes of discovering herself. (Her brother was studying, and later teaching, political science in Santiago.) Before she finally settled in Brooklyn, Michèle lived through Chile’s 1973 coup d’état.

Michèle’s family, considered Salvador Allende sympathizers, were rounded up and taken to the sport stadium that was converted into a torture and killing camp. “Perhaps had they not found photographs of Che Guevara and Allende in our house, and my brother was not a political science teacher with lots of books on politics in the house, we might not have been taken,” Michèle explains. “But it does not take much more than that to become a suspect.” She was released after three days, and would finally move to New York City at 19 to live with her aunt and cousins.

In New York, she would go on to study acting and write her first book, La Desenchantée. She taught herself how to paint following a trip to Mexico. “Painting just developed organically,” she recalls. Her captivating artwork has been exhibited at the Art Museum of the Americas of the Organization of American States in D.C., the Cork Gallery at Lincoln Center and at the National Museum in Haiti.

For Jocelyn, a trip back to Haiti at 21 would ignite the flames of activism in him. “I was deeply shocked by the inequality that existed between the well-off and the poor in the country. It got me very upset,” he Jocelyn. As a result, Jocelyn led a of number community groups such as the Association of Haitian Workers and the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees, and was able to achieve some meaningful success that granted legal residency to 40,000 Haitian refugees—thus giving birth to several Haitian communities in the U.S.

Although Michèle and Jocelyn ran in the same Haitian circle in New York for 20 years, the two only started building a friendship and dating five years ago. “She likes to say when she would see me she’d run away,” jokes Jocelyn. “He just seemed to be so serious and looked way too intense,” shares Michèle. “I would pass by him at events, and he was always in a deep conversation

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