The Freedom to Succeed 

by Dani Settle 

All we want is make us free… 

The quote is from a young captive aboard the 19th Century cargo ship Amistad. What does that have to do with me? Well, presently I am the chef, storyteller, and creative designer on the Freedom Schooner Amistad, a recreation of the original vessel. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

I was born in Chicago, the product of a broken home. My father was an alcoholic. My mom was a strong capable woman who put herself through beauty school and nursing school. She was a nurse for over 25 years. My mother left my dad and me at a time when women stayed in bad situations. She took my older sister and left me in care of my aunts, who loved me dearly. As time passed I came to understand why and what she did but the experience was deeply traumatic. 

As a young woman I was part of the hippie movement, SDS, civil rights, peace, love, and psychedelics. But something was missing in my life — love. I wanted to be wanted. I tried equating sex for love and drugs were great for awhile. But the come-downs left me feeling empty and deepened my depression. 

During this time I had a daughter. We moved to Hawaii in 1975 — a major turning point in my life. While selling puka shells outside a Waikiki hotel, a flood of women and men in blue and white aloha shirts and muumuus came piling out of buses. I had seen tourists before but there was something different about this group. Now I know it was all of those Buddha natures shining through! I was attracted to their positive spirit and talked to as many people as I could.  

One woman I will never forget was Karen Dennis, an accomplished university track coach, who told me of her challenges and the benefits she received from chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I started to chant and the sales on my table increased that very day! I connected with SGI in Hawaii and received my Gohonzon on Aug. 10, 1975. That’s when my life really changed. 

My daughter Kim and I have been greatly protected by the practice. Kim was in a car accident that broke her pelvis in two places and the doctors said she would never have children. Well, I now have two fortune baby grandsons, aged five-and-a-half years old and 3-months-old. Kim runs a thriving business with her husband Tom. 

I am a cook by passion; I’ve cooked in restaurants and run my own catering company. While cooking on a schooling vessel for young boys at risk, I met Eliza Garfield. In 2004 Eliza became captain of the Freedom Schooner Amistad and asked me to be their chef. At the time I was running the kitchen in a jazz club in Richmond, Virginia, working six nights a week. Though I had connected with a wonderful SGI group in Richmond, due to my schedule I wasn’t as active as I wanted to be and my life condition showed it. I was fed up with the night life and decided to take the job with Amistad. 
 
In 2005 we were invited by the Bermuda government to celebrate its 500th anniversary, and share the story of the Amistad captives. While there, I had the fortune to connect with members there and further realize my mission for kosen-rufu. 

For the past two years, Amistad has created an activity for Black History Month, here in Mystic, Connecticut, at the Mystic Seaport Museum where the Amistad recreation was built. My idea was to reproduce an African village to show how the captives lived before the uprising. This meant designing, making a model, ordering materials, and putting pieces together for the exhibit. 

At times I didn’t believe I could actually pull it off. There were many challenges but I was determined to maintain a feeling of joy and appreciation no matter what and not be swayed. I chanted lots of daimoku for every aspect of the project and met up with local SGI members who helped keep me going. 

All the staff members of the seaport became my shoten zenjin as we put the exhibit together. I received wonderful reviews. I had an epiphany after reading the “Eight Winds” Gosho; I was never swayed during this process. I had a wonderful feeling of accomplishment and understood with my life that daimoku is the key to everything. 

The Freedom Schooner Amistad has been invited to England for the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Wilber-Force Treaty, which abolished international slave trade. I will be gone an entire year but I am sure I will have many more adventures to share because I plan to connect with as many members as I can along the way. The tour ends at the dedication of the Slavery Museum in Washington, DC, in 2008. Like the captives aboard the original Amistad who won their freedom, I feel that we are emissaries for kosen-rufu.  

As a bodhisattva of the earth, I have a mission to create victory for kosen-rufu and share the power of this Buddhism with many others. I won’t let my spirit stay down or make a place in my life for negativity. Because of my practice, I am the happiest woman in the universe. I am outrageously successful. Daimoku is the key to everything. 

A Hui hou (Hawaiian for until we meet again) 

Con Amistad (with friendship) 

Dani can be reached at: dolton@hotmail.com or visit www.Amistadamerica.org