By Ron Daniels
Twenty must be the magic number.
Twenty years ago – on June 5, 1995 – I set foot in Haiti for the first time, leading a delegation of 20 African Americans eager to learn about the history, culture and state of development in the first Black Republic in this hemisphere.
October 14-18 of this year, the week after the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, plans are to organize a select delegation of African American and Haitian American civil rights/human rights, education, cultural, faith, labor, business and youth leaders, elected officials, opinion-makers and interested persons for a Pilgrimage to Haiti to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Haiti Support Project (HSP).
The goal of the Pilgrimage is to expand support for HSP’s “Model City Initiative” that seeks to utilize cultural-historical tourism as a means to promote people-based social and economic development in the lovely town of Milot in the northern region of the country near Cap Haitien. Though there will be visits to other important cultural and historic sites, the highlight of the Pilgrimage will be a tour of the Citadel, the magnificent mountaintop fortress that stands as one of the great beacons of freedom and self-determination in the Black World
We arrived in Haiti 20 years ago at the invitation of Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the leader of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) with whom I had become acquainted through my work as executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
During my conversations with Chavannes, I discovered that MPP, the largest peasant movement in Haiti, had very few contacts and relationships with African Americans. In 1994 I invited him to attend the first “State of the Race” conference at Sojourner-Douglass College in Baltimore for the express purpose of introducing him to African American leaders from around the country. Chavannes reciprocated by inviting me to organize a delegation to visit Haiti and I accepted.
Much of the humanitarian assistance was provided by predominantly White charities. And, progressive White organizations, artists and entertainers were among the most prominent faces in the opposition to the Duvalier regime.
I will never forget the words of a priest who welcomed us to Sunday service: “We have seen many people who have come to support us in Haiti, but this is the first time we have seen Black Americans come with a group to support our people.”
The Haiti Support Project was founded on the premise that people of African descent must pay a debt of gratitude to Haiti for standing tall for the race. We have a collective Pan African duty to assist the Haitian people to finish the unfinished Haitian Revolution! For the past 20 years HSP has singularly focused on this vision/mission and historical imperative. As a small, unfunded, non-profit initiative of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW), HSP has raised millions of dollars in humanitarian and development assistance for social, educational and economic development for organizations and projects throughout Haiti. When the disastrous earthquake struck, HSP raised more than $300,000 via Black Talk Radio and appeals to Black organizations and agencies to provide relief and developmental and capacity-building assistance to scores of organizations on the ground.
Equally important, more than any other organization, HSP has been in the forefront of educating and creating greater awareness about the first Black Republic among African Americans. We have led numerous fact finding and support delegations to Haiti and high profile Pilgrimages to the Citadel as part of the Model City Initiative. Indeed, Cruising Into History, the effort which eventually mobilized 500 African Americans, Haitian Americans and friends of Haiti to journey to Haiti via a Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship to Commemorate the 200thAnniversary of the Haitian Revolution, involved a massive promotion/marketing campaign that educated hundreds of thousands if not millions of African Americans and people of African descent in the U.S. about Haiti!
HSP continues to support some 4,000 children every year by providing school supplies, and with the support of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity we hope to build a Model School to provide a 21st century education to produce a generation of Haitian-centered, servant leaders. We have funded a micro-credit lending program to make small loans to local venders and entrepreneurs, many of whom are women, and a jobs-generating greenhouse reforestation project to grow saplings to be purchased by tourists to plant in the National Park which houses the Citadel and Sans Souci Palace.
The commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the Haitian Support Project will afford those who join the October 14-18 Pilgrimage an opportunity for a cultural-historical immersion with the Haitian people and an opportunity to witness the work of HSP via the Model City first hand. It will be a life altering experience.
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 andwww.northstarnews.com . To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, he can be reached via email at email@example.com.