Note: The disastrous earthqake in Haiti has obviously overtaken this very positive report -- I am in Miami and was scheduled to leave for Haiti at 6:45 tomorrow/Wednesday morning -- We are moving to re-institute the Hiati Support Pronect's Haiti Relief Fund to accept contributions on our website www.ibw21.org -- which should be up by 12:00 noon Wednesday. I will be doing several interviews tomorrow to discuss the situation and call for Marshall Plan to rebuild Haiti -- and challenge African Americans and other people of African descent to mobilize to support our Haiti sisters and brothers.
January is an important month in the life and times of people of African descent globally. January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation which freed enslaved Africans in states that were not actively engaged in belligerency against the Union. January 1, 1804 Jean Jacques Dessalines declared Haiti the first Black Republic in the world. Though these historic events were decades apart, there was definitely a connection between the Haitian Revolution and the Black Freedom Struggle in the U.S.
The awesome achievement by the Haitian revolutionaries of defeating the Spanish, British and finally humiliating the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte shattered the myth of white supremacy and gave African people back our dignity in the face of the European conquest of our homeland.
The Haitian Revolution gave hope/inspiration to enslaved and oppressed Africans everywhere. If Denmark Vesey had succeeded with the elaborate revolt in Charleston, S.C., his plan was to sail to Haiti with thousands of emancipated Africans. Black abolitionists, most notably Frederick Douglass, looked to Haiti as proof that African people could achieve freedom, independence and self-governance. African people everywhere owe a special debt to Haiti for being a beacon of hope at the height of the “MAAFA,” the nadir of our history. Unfortunately, the first Black Republic has been marginalized, stigmatized and punished ever since, denying her people the fruits of the Revolution up until the present. As long as Haiti can be mocked as the ‘poorest nation in the western hemisphere’ it is an insult to African people everywhere -- hence the imperative for people of African descent to repay our debt to Haiti.
In that spirit, for the past fifteen years the Haiti Support Project (HSP) of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century has been dedicated to mobilizing/organizing African Americans and other people of African descent in the U.S. to partner with our Haitian American sisters and brothers to strengthen the process of democracy and development in Haiti. Every year HSP sponsors a Haitian Independence Month Forum/Celebration in New York to focus attention on contemporary issues and galvanize support for the Model City Initiative which we have launched in the Milot/Cap Haitian region to promote cultural/historical tourism as a strategy for people- based economic development and socially responsible investment in Haiti.
Organized around the theme Finishing the Unfinished Haitian Revolution: A Pan African Project, this year’s Forum/Celebration at the historic House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn featured a Report Back from HSP’s October 2009 Pilgrimage to Haiti by Richard Muhammad, Editor-in-Chief of the Final Call Newspaper; Betty Dopson, Co-Founder of CEMOTAP; and Kangol Kid, the first Haitian American Hip Hop artist; stirring cultural performances by Voix et Tambours d’Haiti, DJA RA RA and SUICIDE; and, a very informative keynote presentation by Ambassador Lesly Voltaire, Liaison to the U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti. Speaking as he showed a series of stunning photos from the Pilgrimage, Richard Muhammad heralded the storied history of Haiti’s revolution and told the audience that as descendants of Africa, “we are one people,” and urged them to vigorously support HSP’s work in Haiti;. Betty Dopson and Kangol Kid shared moving reflections of the Pilgrimage as an experience that was memorable and inspirational.
In his keynote presentation, Ambassador Voltaire traced the history of Haiti from its status as the richest colony in the French empire to the heroic struggle which produced the first Black Republic and the concerted campaign to denigrate, isolate and marginalize the new nation. The U.S. occupation from 1915 – 1934, support for the brutal dictatorship of the Duvaliers and complicity in the coups which ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide were part of a longstanding resistance to respecting Haiti as a sovereign Black nation. However, Ambassador Voltaire sounded an optimistic tone that, under President Rene Preval and with the appointment of former President Clinton as Special UN Envoy, a more hopeful chapter of Haitian history may be unfolding. Though huge challenges remain in dealing with poverty, education, health and environmental degradation, under the current Government there are positive signs in the manufacturing sector, animal husbandry, green economic initiatives in wind, solar and bio-fuels and significant progress in the tourism sector.
As it relates to tourism, Mr. Voltaire cited a recent article in the Miami Herald which discussed a “new boom” in hotel investment in Haiti including the decision of Choice Hotels to partner with SIMACT in developing two major properties in the lovely seaside city of Jacmel in the southeastern region of the country (SIMACT is an impressive organization of Haitian American professionals founded by Dr. Lesly Kernisant who attended the Forum/celebration). The airport in Cap Haitien is also scheduled to be completely renovated -- a development which will spur increased tourism to the northern region of the country. In concluding, Ambassador Voltaire expressed appreciation for the consistent support for the struggle for self-determination in Haiti by African Americans, from the unflinching support of Frederick Douglass, America’s first Ambassador to Haiti, the stanch support of the NAACP in the early part of the 20th century to the strong embrace of Haiti by civil rights/human rights leaders, the Congressional Black Caucus and HSP in most recent times.
As founder of the Haiti Support Project, I was pleased to use this joyous occasion to outline HSP’s ambitious agenda for the Model City Initiative in Milot for 2010. The objective of the Model City Initiative is to transform the town of Milot, which is located at foot of the Citadel, into a Mecca for cultural-historical tourism and people-based economic development. HSP’s humanitarian and developmental assistance is designed to facilitate achieving this objective. In 2010 HSP plans to raise funds to break ground on the Wayne C. Thompson Empowerment and Cultural Center – which will house a visitors center, stage for cultural performances, school, computer stations, offices for the micro-credit lending program and low power radio station; increasing the number of students who will receive school supplies from 2,000 to 4,000; offering more scholarships for needy students; and expanding the micro-credit lending program that will assist small entrepreneurs, especially women, to enter or grow businesses.
Finally, we announced that HSP is vigorously exploring the prospect of organizing 300 African Americans, Haitian Americans and friends of Haiti for a Benefit Haitian Heritage Cruise October 3-10 via Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas with a one day Pilgrimage to the Citadel – the largest group to visit the Citadel in recent history. With the support of Radio Talk Show Host Warren Ballentine; George Fraser, President of FraserNet; Kangol Kid; Richard Muhammad and Ambassador Joseph Beasley; Southern Regional Coordinator, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the intent of the Haitian Heritage Cruise is to definitively demonstrate that our sisters and brothers in Milot have the capacity, skill and will to efficiently and securely take large groups of tourists to visit the Citadel. It will be a great day for Haiti. However, for this Initiative to move forward, it is imperative that we receive deposits from 300 prospective participants by February 15th. This will enable IBW/HSP to have a strong position in discussing an agreement with Royal Caribbean. If an agreement with Royal Caribbean is not reached in a timely manner, all deposits will be returned. Looking on the brighter side, HSP fully expects to have an incredibly successful year in 2010, climaxed by an extraordinary Haitian Heritage Cruise with a Pilgrimage to the Citadel! We look forward to your support and engagement!
Note: People interested in making reservations for the Haitian Heritage Cruise and/or volunteering to support various components of the Model City Initiative should visit the website www.ibw21.org, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718.429.1415.
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website and www.northstarnews.com . To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at email@example.com.