Mattress Drive Supports Haitian Refugees in Tijuana

On Jan. 17, San Diego residents Terry Sivers and Prince Graham made a trip down to the Mexican border with a truck full of 20 mattresses to donate to a shelter housing between 300 and 500 Haitian refugees. The mattresses were collected in a drive that they promoted on Facebook. After being turned away at an initial border crossing, Sivers and Graham were starting to doubt if they’d make it across with the much-needed mattresses. However, in a turn of events that Sivers described as “the ancestors working in their favor,” they were able to get through.

“One of the customs agents said we couldn’t ever do this again, but ‘put the money on the seat and we’ll let you through,’” Sivers recalled.

The trip was one of many for a group of San Diegans, including Adisa Alkebulan and Amelia Del Pilar Prado Hurtado, have made to offer support and aid.

After the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, many Haitians fled the country on work visas to go to Brazil. Over the past few years, the Brazilian economy has recessed, leaving many people stranded. The Haitians started migrating north to try to get to the United States on refugee status, only to be met by closed boarders. An estimated 5,000 refugees have been living in Tijuana ever since.

Sivers said that the dynamic has changed in Tijuana with the influx of Black people in the region.

“The Mexican government has helped some during this time, converting churches into shelters,” said Sivers. “Other independent organizations have been doing their part as well.”

Despite the uncertainty and harsh living conditions that the Haitian refugees have endured, Sivers noted that their spirits remain strong.

“They’ve picked up three languages on the way to [Tijuana]; English, Portuguese and Spanish,” said Sivers. “It’s not like they’re defeated. It harkens to the spirit of Haitians being the first independent African nation in the west.”

Looking forward, Sivers plans to document the personal stories of some of the refugees in an effort to inspire more people to support them and also to educate people about what’s going on at the border. He’s also looking for someone who speaks Creole and has a passport to help translate.

“It’s important for us to embody Pan Africanism and link Black people here in the U.S. to people across the diaspora,” said Sivers. “Letting people know that there are Black people in the U.S. who support them and reconnecting us as a people is important.”

If you’re interested in donating clothing to the refugees or know someone who speaks Creole or French to help with translation, email Sivers at

The San Diego Voice and Viewpoint is a member publication of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Learn more about becoming a member at

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