Since the inception of the Haiti Support Project in 1995, the concept of “socially responsible” economic business investment and development has been a central part of our mission. I recently wrote an article entitled Implanting a “Black Footprint” on an Economic Renaissance for Haiti in which I provided the historical context and cultural framework for people of African descent being engaged in the reconstruction and resurrection of Haiti after the devastating earthquake. As I prepare to leave for the 16th Annual New York Carib News Multinational Business Conference in Jamaica, where Haiti’s recovery post-earthquake will be a major focus, I thought it would be important to elaborate on the vital role African Americans can play in building a brighter future for the first Black Republic.
I contend that African Americans and other people of African descent in the U.S. should be the vital “third leg” in Haiti’s development. Obviously the first responsibility for any nation’s development is its own people. Therefore, the people of Haiti must always be in the forefront, the “first leg,” of shaping the development and destiny of their country. The “second leg” is Haiti’s vast and incredibly talented, experienced and relatively prosperous Diaspora, a resource which contributes nearly $2 billion in remittances annually and is energetically engaged in a multitude of humanitarian and development projects in Haiti. But, there is potentially a “third leg,” African Americans who should be cultivated as a major partner in Haiti’s development. This is the niche the Haiti Support Project (HSP) has vigorously sought to fill over the past 16 years, as a troubadour relentlessly touting Haiti’s history, culture, the necessity for a relationship with African Americans and the need for African Americans to become a vital partner in enriching the process of democracy and development.
As an independent Black nation, Haiti was the bright beacon of hope and promise for Africans in America struggling to break the yoke of generations of enslavement, southern apartheid and de facto segregation. Because Haiti was so important as a symbol of possibilities for Black people everyone, leaders of the NAACP and other civil rights organizations vigorously protested the U.S. occupation of Haiti (from 1915 – 1934) and consistently advocated for constructive engagement to develop the nation. For decades African American churches and civic associations have contributed to humanitarian assistance and sponsored charitable projects in Haiti. And, for a time the first Black Republic was a favorite destination of African American tourists. However, largely due to negative images of Haiti, African American tourism has dwindled to a trickle. This is a trend which can and must be reversed.
George Fraser, President/CEO of FraserNet, the largest network of Black professionals in the world, continually reminds us that despite stubborn vestiges of racism and discrimination, African Americans earn enough aggregate income to be considered the richest Black nation in the world. The civil rights movement has produced a thriving middle class with millions of Black professionals, hundreds of high profile and well paid artists, athletes and entertainers and a small but growing sector of Black millionaires and billionaires! African Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on tourism, much of it to travel to the sunny shores of the Caribbean. Given these assets, the historical affinity and relationship between African Americans and Haitians should be the basis for attracting thousands upon thousands of African Americans to Haiti as tourists. In addition, African Americans should also see Haiti as a prime market for economic development/business investment. Indeed, through the Model City Initiative in Milot in the north near the magnificent Citadel, HSP is actively working with local officials and the Local Development Committee to encourage cultural-historical tourism as the foundation for people based economic/business development. We say that every person of African descent should visit the Citadel at least once in a lifetime.
To fulfill this vision/mission, HSP conducts annual Pilgrimages to the Citadel and other important cultural/historical sites so that African Americans can be inspired by an immersion with the Haitian people and see a side of Haiti seldom portrayed in the news media. Over the past few years, HSP has exposed hundreds of African Americans to Haiti, including prominent leaders and personalities like Congressman Gregory Meeks (the first member of the Congressional Black Caucus to visit the Citadel); Oklahoma State Senator Constance Johnson; former Massachusetts State Representative Marie St. Fleur; George Curry, former Editor of Emerge Magazine; Bev Smith, American Urban Radio Networks; Gary Flowers, Executive Director, Black Leadership Forum; George Fraser, President/CEO, FraserNet; Warren Ballentine, Radio-One and SIRIUS/XM Radio; Hazel Trice-Edney, former Editor-in-Chief, National Newspaper Publishers Association; Omarosa, actress humanitarian; Joe Madison, “The Black Eagle,” Radio-One and SIRIUS/XM; Richard Muhammad, Editor-in-Chief, Final Call newspaper; Herb Boyd, Staff Writer, Amsterdam News, Reporter, Free Speech T.V.; Edward Harris, award-winning Filmmaker; and Kango Kid, the first Haitian American Hip Hop Artist. Once Pilgrimage participants have experienced the first Black Republic, they return to the U.S. as “Ambassadors of Hope for Haiti!”
The African American market is a gold mine waiting to be tapped. First, it is important for African Americans to get beyond the myths and stereotypes propagated about Haiti to be willing to visit and invest. HSP is focused on attracting visitors to the Citadel to nourish the economy of the Milot/Cap Haitien Region and to identify individuals, organizations and corporations interested in investing in tourism related enterprises. In that regard, we are preparing to launch a Haiti Investment Fund as a vehicle to attract and leverage investment dollars for business ventures in Milot as part of the Model City Initiative. We are also prepared to function as a facilitator for African Americans interested in investing in other regions and sectors of the Haitian economy. There are enormous opportunities waiting for investors to step up to the plate. Why not African Americans?
In order to maximize the potential of African Americans at the vital third leg in Haiti’s development, however, the Government of Haiti and the private sector must prioritize and take special steps to encourage investment from Black America. HSP has stressed the need for the President, Prime Minister, Ministers of Government and key leaders from the private sector to take advantage of the Black Press in the U.S. to clearly express interest in African Americans visiting and investing in Haiti. HSP has had some success in arranging interviews for Haitian leaders on Black Talk Radio but much more needs to be done. The Government and the private sector should actually devise a strategy for cultivating African American tourism and investment. HSP has recommended that such a strategy include an African American Advisory Commission for Tourism and Investment. Thus far this recommendation has fallen on deaf ears. Hopefully, this will change under the Martelly Government. Moreover, agencies within the U.S. Government like USAID and international bodies such as the Inter-American Development Bank should also focus on devising strategies to encourage African American tourism and investment in Haiti. Finally, the Clinton Foundation and Clinton-Bush Initiative should be exploring ways to engage African Americans as major partners in Haiti’s development post-earthquake.
At this juncture, the fact that African Americans could be an incredible source of tourism and investment does not appear to be on anyone’s radar screen except the Haiti Support Project. Unless this changes, Haiti will miss a golden opportunity to utilize the ties that bind people of African descent in the U.S. to Haiti as a bond that could yield substantial dividends. HSP is determined that this opportunity not be lost. January 17-21, 2012, we will lead yet another Pilgrimage Delegation to Haiti to underline the importance of cultural-historical tourism and socially responsible investment. And, the Pilgrimage of Hope Humanitarian Cruise originally scheduled for this year that was postponed due the Cholera epidemic is now slated for 2013. We hope somebody is listening and taking notice. Africans in America can be the vital “third leg” in Haiti’s development!
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 www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com.