By Gloria Dulan-Wilson
I have never met Wyclef Jean, even though, quite often we’ve been in the same room, at the same event, at the same time. Though I’ve never met him, I am an admirer of his. Not only for his music, but for the love, passision and dedication he has for his homeland of Haiti. He has been a supporter and an example for Haitians at home and abroad long before the deadly hurricane and the devastating earthquake.
I had the pleasure of living in Haiti for 6 months, in the 70’s during Papa Doc Duvalier’s “reign”. I was a kid, fresh out of college, touring with an African American dance troupe, and had the great good fortune to have been booked for an extended tour there (as well as in Guadaloupe, Martinique and St. Lucia).
My visit to Haiti absolutely changed my life! Never had I ever been in a place where Black people actually worked together without arguing, regardless of how big or small the job happened to be. And I was absolutely fascinated by the Tantanmecoute, the police/soldiers that enforced Papa Doc’s rules, and, by the way, kept white exploitation at bay, in Haiti.
I met Katherine Dunham there. She had expatriated to Haiti long ago, and was so happy there, I considered moving there permanently myself. Ms. Dunham was the reason I wanted to learn African dance and culture, and the reason I started college with a major in Cultural Anthropology (but after one year, I switched to Sociology - too much work!!)
I am saying all that to say that Haiti was often called “Little Africa”, because so much of Africa’s tradition remained intact there. According to history, Haiti is comprised of five African tribes that were brought there by the French during the transatlantic slave trade.
But unlike her neighboring Caribbean islands who likewise had Africans taken as slaves to work the plantation, Haiti did not stand for the cruelty visited upon them. Haiti has the distinction of being the only self liberated country in the Caribbean, having righteously kicked the French’s butts in 1804, and causing them to pull out the colonization business in that hemisphere -- couldn’t handle it.
[NOTE: That, by the way,is what sparked the Louisiana Purchase, where the French sold their rights to all the land they confiscated in America to President Andrew Jackson's administration. It is also what prompted the subsequent Trail of Tears that saw the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Indian and Black families, who were then sent on the long march with small pox infested blankets to Oklahoma Territory - sorry, I'm a history buff, can't help it.]
Thanks to Toussaint and Dessalines, not to mention the thousands of Haitian Africans who walked through the ring of fire the French set to try to intimidate and destroy them. It must have really put the fear of God into them, because they turned tail after seeing all those Black men and women walk through that fire (I would have loved to have been there to see their faces -lol).
Despite the economic conditions Haiti found herself in, owing to Franco-American embargos, Haitians continue to maintain their autonomy from outside dictatorship.
While some have called Papa Doc a dictator, I didn’t find that to be the case during my stay. (Yes, I did meet him and his family. And he was well aware of racism in America. He was a very smart man). He merely didn’t want to happen to Haiti what had happened in the US Virgin Islands, Guyana and countries in the Caribbean where Blacks were also brought to work the land.
In the 20th century Black Caribbean people couldn’t grow or harvest their own produce, because foreign interest were taking them and selling them for their own profits. I remember going to a store in the USVI and finding tomatoes, that grow in plenty on the island, for $3.00 a pound! Duvalier didn’t want Haiti set up so that Europeans were able to go to places Haitians who lived and worked there couldn’t go to - which was the case in Martinique back in the day, where they were more French than Black, and spoke Patois - and looked down on those who spoke Creole. (similar to the brainwashing we face here in the US)
Haiti was economically poor, true. Not because they didn't have the industriousness and the wherewithal to create. I used to go to the Mahogany Mart and watch them make furniture, dishes, rugs, drums, by hand. They were economically disadvantaged because Papa Doc wouldn’t let Europeans come in and exploit the country, run it for their own pleasure, their benefit, with Haitians taking a subordinate position, in their own country. Papa Doc was "president for life" for a reason. It was a benign dictatorship.
The unfortunate truth is that Haiti’s problems really started, or escalated, when Papa Doc died and his son, Baby Doc was subsequently made “president for life.” From that point the country went to hell in a hand basket. (I often wonder what happened to Pa pa Doc's daughter, Jean, who was such a brilliant woman, and should have really succeeded her dad to lead the country).
It was so sad to watch the country devolve, with so many Haitians leaving, seeking asylum, in the US. Seeing Haitians become boat people, trying to escape the devolution of their country, and US Coast Guard often intercepting and sending them back; or so many drowning in vessels totally unfit to carry human lives.
My love of Haiti has continued unabated over the last 30+ years, thru Cedras, thru Aristede, to now. Essence Magazine, in 2003 had announced a cruise to Haiti in 2004 to celebrate their 200th Anniversary of Self Liberation, and President Bush found an excuse to have him removed from his office. We all knew it was to prevent Black people in Haiti and the US from coming together to celebrate and consolidate our unity and love for each other. None of us were truly surprised -- outraged, yes -- surprised? No. We’ve long been aware of efforts to prevent the Eclectically Black Community from communicating and uniting. Just as we are aware of their trying to conceal Haiti’s self-liberation from African Americans. However, our DNA, our interconnectivity, through what Prof. Len Jeffries calls “The African Holy Ghost” overcame their machinations. We always look upon Haiti with love, pride and awe.
And now Brother Wyclef Jean is running for president of Haiti Cherie! How wonderful! How appropriate! He can bridge so many things for Haitians, Haitian Americans, African Americans and Africans. He has done so already. He’s had the opportunity to learn and experience many things through his craft, through his celebrity, that he can now share with Haitians in helping them once again establish their autonomy.
The political thing is a “non issue” in the grand scheme of things. It’s the human condition that trumps politics, particularly no. It’s the insight he has gained from having had the opportunity of stepping outside the situation, living in a foreign country, learning about resources and recourses that can be applied appropriately. In 2008 I was so happy to see him and the Haitian community participate in the West Indian Day Parade (WIADCA) for the first time. I was even prouder when he got on the loud speaker and announced that Haiti was in the house, and then chanted so that it was heard throughout Brooklyn and the world OBAMA! OBAMA! OBAMA! None of the other participants had done so until he did it. He is a leader in the true sense of the word.
Leadership is about about wisdom, compassion, but above all, discipline. It’s about insight and his ability to separate the needy from the greedy. If he can surround himself with the appropriate people, both from Haiti and other areas, to move his country from devastation to developed; from striving to thriving, and include mainstreet and upcountry Haitians in the process as well, then he and Haiti‘s got it made in the shade.
Can he do it? As one Black man said, when he ran for President of the US -- Barack Obama: YES HE CAN!!!
Below is the copy of Brother Wyclef’s statement emailed to me from The BlackList. I am sharing it with you, so you can likewise be informed. I’m already hearing some of us say that he should not run for President because he lacks experience. Which I found ludicrous, considering the fact that the son of a former president here in the US just recently took this country to wreck and ruin (and he had experience via association). So, my peeps, I am sharing this with you, as I said earlier, so that you may likewise share this with those among us who are residual negroes, and still have the view that we lack - whatever. It's time to put that madness to rest.
Brother Wyclef has my full and total support. "Haiti Cherie, le plus belle payee des mon freres" has my full and total support. Just as my people -- the Eclectically Black Community - has my full and total support in everything positive and empowering we do individually and collectively to move ourselves closer forward, and at the same time, closer together regardless of where on this planet we happen to have landed.
Brother Wyclef Jean's Statement:
My Vision for Haiti
We need to cultivate our rich culture of entrepreneurship by increasing the availability of microcredit and simplifying laws and bureaucracy.
By WYCLEF JEAN
I was nine years old when I left Haiti for New York City, taking with me memories of long days spent playing with cousins and friends. We were happy-go-lucky kids even though we were surrounded by poverty and deprivation. As I grew up, I realized that my childhood was like Haiti itself: full of optimism despite storms of economic, political and environmental adversity.
I am running for president because this little nation with big problems and even bigger heart can no longer wait to turn a corner. After the January earthquake, people around the world were glued to their TVs, awed by the grace, dignity and hope of the Haitian people as their capital crumbled around them. And while I don't pretend to be a miracle worker, I wholeheartedly believe that at this important time in Haiti's history, I am the right person to put the country on the road to the brighter future it so desperately needs and deserves.
Some will question my lack of political experience. I will tell them that being a nontraditional candidate is one of my greatest advantages. My only loyalty is to the well-being of the Haitian people; my only agenda is to help the country I love grow and prosper. And while running for office may be new to me, my commitment to Haiti is part of my DNA.
Throughout the world, my efforts on behalf of Haiti are as well known as my musical accomplishments. Yéle Haiti, the NGO I co-founded in 2005, has given me a unique opportunity to work side by side with Haitians from all walks of life, to hear their concerns, ideas and dreams, and to see their daily challenges with my own eyes.
Though the needs are many, I believe there are four basic but urgent priorities we must address first in order to begin transforming Haiti socially, politically and economically.
Security: People cannot even consider building better lives unless they feel safe. In Haiti, more than a million earthquake victims are still living in tents and other temporary encampments. The harsh and unsanitary living conditions increase the risk of injury, disease and crime. Though the ultimate goal is permanent housing, of course, we must at a minimum put people in secure shelters as soon as possible.
International aid: Foreign governments pledged $5.3 billion to Haiti after the earthquake, but only 9% of it has shown up. Haiti needs a president who can turn promises into reality—someone who will crisscross the earth and convince world leaders to deliver on their promises to the Haitian people.
Job creation: Haitians need jobs, and there are jobs to be done in Haiti. We must train a generation of engineers, tradesmen and carpenters who can improve our roads, water, sewers and other infrastructure while supporting themselves and their families. We also need to cultivate Haiti's rich culture of entrepreneurship by increasing the availability of microcredit and simplifying laws and bureaucracy.
Education: Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, yet 90% of students must pay for school after first grade. Moving forward means changing education from a privilege to a birthright, and establishing schools to teach technology and other 21st-century skills.
I have already begun to make progress in all of these areas. Since the earthquake, Yéle's emergency relief and community programs have distributed about 500,000 gallons of water per month and fed between 4,500 and 7,000 people every week. Yéle's scholarship program has put thousands of children in school. As Haiti's goodwill ambassador—a position to which I was appointed by Haiti's president in 2007—I have tapped my contacts, recognition and resources to bring money and publicity to Haiti. The presidency is a springboard to do even more for Haiti's nine million people.
The presidency will also give me a chance to help redefine Haitians' role in the political process and empower them to take a more active part in shaping their future. The most valuable lesson I learned from running Yéle is that Haiti's greatest asset is the energy of its people, at home and throughout the diaspora. By turning government of the people into a movement by the people, I know we can overcome challenges that may have seemed impossible in the past.
There is a reason why our national motto is "L'union fait la force"—"Strength through unity." There are no instant fixes or easy solutions, but there are plenty of creative new approaches to explore as we work together to make Haiti better.
Mr. Jean, a Grammy Award-winning musician, is co-founder of the Yéle Haiti Foundation.
TheBlackList for All-Points-Of-The View
Now you know. What now?
Both the Blacklist for All-Points-Of-The View and I would love to receive your feedback. Tell us what you think, and what, constructively can be done to help Haiti move forward?
Stay Blessed &