“For me right now, I feel like God sent me here for a purpose. Nothing’s happened to me, not a scrape. I’m doing all these things. I thought when I’d see blood I’d pass out. I’m not. I’m carrying dead bodies. I’m pulling people out with my own hands. I feel like I’m in a war basically.”
— Richardson Innocent, Delmas 33, Jan. 15
These powerful words from our friend and colleague Richardson Innocent — relayed directly to our ears and onto our pages this week via cell-phone— tell the story. Haiti is under siege. It is battered, bloodied and bent.
It is not defeated.
Haiti will survive because of people like Richardson. It will rise again because of the neighbors in Delmas and Petionville and Carrefour and Leogane and Jacmel who refuse to let their nation descend into the night. Not without a fight.
The international community is essential right now. The relief workers, doctors, nurses, firefighters and soldiers pouring in from all points of the compass are heroes. So too are the reporters and cameramen bringing back the images and stories that have fueled what has been one of the most remarkable charitable fundraising efforts in human history. Here in Massachusetts, our community has been cradled and cheered by our allies and strangers who have rushed to provide comfort, prayer and dollars.
Ultimately, though, the help that Haiti needs most will come from Haitians — both in Haiti and in the dyaspora. This is the crucible moment in the Haitian American experience. How we respond to this crisis — in the hours, days, weeks and months to come— will define our place in history.
There are hopeful signs that Haiti’s sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters will step up in this time of incredible need. Previous generations have often been hampered by divisive politics, a lack of communication and the demands of finding a foothold here in a new land.
Today’s Haitian dyaspora looks, feels and sounds quite different. They are united on Facebook and e-mail and Skype and cell phone. They can move quickly to rally friends and allies, combine forces to avoid duplication of efforts, and make nearly instantaneous connections across state and national boundaries.
Still missing, however, is a national voice, one that can instruct our government in Washington, D.C. on just how we want to proceed— and how we expect them to follow through on our behalf. A nascent network of elected officials —launched just last year by our own Marie St. Fleur— has begun that work. But she and her colleagues will need the collective action of all Haitian-Americans to be heard.
Until this earthquake hit, Haiti was not sufficiently on the radar screen of our president and his cabinet. That has changed— for the moment.
We must have every confidence at this moment that our President — Barack Obama—and his team will follow through on his well-received pledges to help Haiti for the long-haul. It will be up to us to hold our government accountable. If he takes his eye off the ball, the Haitian dyaspora and our allies need to put aside our devotion to him and his administration and find another leader who will.
President Obama needs to start by working directly with our elected officials across the country to develop a coherent road-map to recovery and long-term revitalization in Haiti. Our nation’s role in that multi-national effort needs to be led by Haitian-Americans who can plug into a well-organized network of activists in every community in our country.
Let’s get to work.
The trauma inflicted on Haiti and its people this week is the most difficult story that our news organization has ever confronted. The Reporter is particularly grateful to our staff and affiliates at the Reporter Newspaper family who all pitched in to aid our reporting efforts both online and for this special edition. Special thanks goes to Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub for his technical assistance in quickly retro-fitting our website — bostonhaitian.com— to be a useful resource for the community. Thanks too to Tu Quyen Bui and Tom Mulvoy who worked extra hours to produce this print edition. The Forry family is forever grateful.