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Haitian-Americans pray, worry about country

By Brian E. Muhammad | Last updated: Jan 19, 2010 - 9:41:18 AM

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Carolyn Rush, wife of Rep. Bobby L. Rush comforts Haitian Consul General Lesly Conde with help Lionel Jean-Baptiste, of the Haitian Congress. Photo: Richard B. Muhammad
( - “Well, so far the first news that I got last night, I lost six family members,” lamented Maeva Renaud of the Haitian American Emergency Relief Committee, based in Miami, in a telephone interview with The Final Call.

Ms. Renaud was able to make contact with a family member who spoke to four other family members in Haiti who reported they were ok, one cousin was still missing.

“So, we have bad news and some good news and we are still hoping that we hear some good news for my other cousin,” Ms. Renaud said.

Such stories are familiar coming from the Haitian-American community in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated the small nation and caused the world to take notice.

Rallies, prayer vigils and remembrances were held across the country, from Miami to Chicago to New York and places in-between and both coasts.

When Atlanta resident Jennifer Muhammad heard about the quake, her initial feeling was concern about “death” and “destruction.” Her uncle, Jacques Rodriguez, traveled to Haiti on vacation one week before the tremor and had not been in contact with his family. Ms. Muhammad, who is a member of the Nation of Islam, and her family reached out to various news and humanitarian organizations, hoping to get word through about him. They heard back that he was safe.

Ron Daniels, of the 15-year-old Haiti Support Project, wants a global plan to rebuild Haiti. Photo: Lem Peterkin/The Final Call
The earthquake was Haiti's worse disaster in 200 years and comes after years of recent natural disasters, political turmoil and instability—often fomented by U.S. policy and support for dictators. The tragedy opened the door for humanity to shine through with good will efforts and acts of charity from around the U.S. and the world.

“I'm hearing people who are just crying wanting to find their families. It's hard to just see a whole community to be devastated but there are still those who are just like, ‘ok, let's do something,'” Ms. Renaud said.

Among the outpouring of solidarity with the Haitian people are national organizations from the Nation of Islam, NAACP, the Urban League, Black churches, Black colleges and universities, Black nationalists, entertainers and everyday folks organizing and mobilizing.

“I haven't experienced what is going on right now since the organizing of the Million Man March,” said Lyle Muhammad, Student Protocol Director of Miami Muhammad Mosque 29. The mosque membership is 40 percent Haitian, according Nation officials, and is a hub for relief efforts.

“The response has been overwhelming,” observed Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Haitian Women of Miami.

New Jersey-based Councilman Joseph Champaign, who also has family members still unaccounted for, highlighted the need for monetary assistance to support credible charities and financing the logistics to handle the barrels and boxes of peoples generosity stored around the country.

“People have done the automatic response which is collecting clothes and can goods but the logical next question is getting the items to Haiti,” Councilman Champaign said. “The encouragement is helping to provide monetary assistance rather than tangible goods.”

Haitian Counsel General Lesly Conde, second from left, leads rousing song at end of prayer vigil organized by Rep. Bobby L. Rush, second from right. Photo: Richard B. Muhammad
Since the calamity struck, musician Wyclef Jean's foundation Yele Haiti has had one of the highest profiles as a trusted charity to get involved with to aid the Haitian people.

“We're doing what we do as human beings supporting the cause and coming to the rescue of other human beings,” said Haitian spoken word artist MECCA aka GRIMMO to The Final Call from the Little Haiti section of Miami, Fla.

MECCA'S foundation FEPOULI-Creole, meaning “do for them,” has collaborated with Yele Haiti to assist in the crisis.

In Virginia Beach, Va., Haitian advocate Calherbe Monel told The Final Call, “We are mobilizing our organization called Christians United for Haiti.” Mr. Monel said that the organization will, collect financial contributions, medical and hygiene supplies and offer prayer and counseling support for people who are affected emotionally with the situation in Haiti.

“I give President Obama credit for that, because he took the helm and said okay, that's what must be done. This is the first time that an American government mentioned Haiti as a neighbor,” said businessman Erick Hyppolite-Muhammad.

Haitian-American leaders echoed one another in their gratitude for the vast amount of support from the U.S. government and the rest of the world, however some observers are also thinking about Haiti's sustainable future. There is the concern to prevent the current efforts from being only a global band-aid.

“Right now we are doing immediate relief,” said MECCA. “This is one of the disasters that's going to take years to recover from.”

Haiti has to be rebuilt and that is “bitter sweet” in some ways, continued the artist. “I am glad that Haiti will be rebuilt; I want to know by whom and who will be in power at that time,” MECCA said.

It would take time and resources to help Haiti reconstruct the infrastructure in such a way that such destruction doesn't repeat itself, observed Mrs. Bastien.

“We are asking the United States to relieve Haiti debts; erase it and whatever money is being given there for rebuilding, that it is a grant and not a loan that our children and grandchildren will spend years in eternity to repay,” Mrs. Bastien said.

Reflecting on the magnitude of the structural and human damage, MECCA added, “The infrastructure from the grassroots level have to be rebuilt, it's almost like the people will have to be rebuilt.”

Jennifer Muhammad agrees, along with re-establishing the country, there has to be a restoration of the people, recognizing that the ingredients already exist in the souls of Haitians. Haitians must re-embrace the fundamental principle of unity as stated on Haiti's National Flag, “l'union fait la force”—where there is unity there is strength, she said.

“Yes there is a lot of unrest; yes there is political instability; yes there are a lot of issues but those issues have never exhausted the spirit of the people; it has never exhausted the hope of the people. That same resilience and that same determination that resulted in the independence of 1804 are in the hearts of the people today,” she said.

“The resilience, the hope is palpable, something you can touch and feel,” Ms. Muhammad said.