Black professional and business organizations are rallying behind Haiti as the island digs out from the wreckage of a catastrophic earthquake and embarks on what likely will be a long, arduous journey of rebuilding.
The support pouring in from Blacks in the United States is more than a humanitarian response and show of ethnic kinship. In an historic sense, it is a payback to the world’s first post-colonial independent Black nation, whose 1805 constitution offered no-questions-asked citizenship to any person of African descent who arrived on its shores.
When news of Haiti’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake reached the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CACCI) Inc. on Jan. 12, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based organization immediately established the local Flatbush Caton Market as a drop-off point for water, medical supplies and non-perishable foods. Many Haitian-American business owners are members of CACCI, and more than two dozen vendors at the Flatbush Caton Market are of Haitian origin.
“It is reassuring to see the community response and the steady stream of relief items such as nonperishable food, water and emergency medical supplies such as wheelchairs and crutches that are pouring into the market,” says Roy A. Hastick Sr., the chamber’s president.
The National Medical Association, the oldest and largest organization representing Black physicians nationwide, is asking members to donate to its Global Health Response Fund to finance emergency medical care and long-term support in Haiti. “We will ensure that 100 percent of your donation is distributed to organizations with operations on the ground in Haiti and report the progress periodically,” NMA President Willarda V. Edwards, M.D., says in a statement on the association’s Web site, reflecting the concern in Black communities that donations may not reach the most needy earthquake victims.
Dr. Edwards’ statement urges members who wish to contribute their medical expertise to submit their name, contact information and period of availability to firstname.lastname@example.org. It also provides information on how to immediately volunteer time in Haiti through the U.S. Coast Guard, which will be transporting doctors and nurses to and from Haiti over the next several weeks.
The Empire State Medical Association, the NMA’s New York affiliate, and the Association of Haitian Physicians Abroad implemented a joint plan to send doctors to Haiti and to collect and ship specific medical, personal hygiene and food supplies to the island. Under the plan, some 200 physicians will travel to Haiti in rotating teams. Daniel Laroche, M.D., president of the Empire State group, said a second team of 50 physicians, nurses and other medical personnel has already left from New York.
“The teams go out every week with about four or five physicians who are deployed to different locations in Haiti, depending on the need,” Dr. Laroche told The Network Journal. “We don’t want to exhaust our physicians because this is a long-term commitment on our part. The work in Haiti is very hard and they can get burnt out easily.”
The joint plan also calls for relief shipments to bypass Haiti’s main airport in Port au Prince, the capital, where a bottleneck is blocking aid flow. Dr. Laroche, a Haitian-American who is also a member of the Haitian physicians group, wants local, state, and federal politicians and congressional leaders to use their influence to have additional ships with relief supplies and helicopter drop offs sent to locations outside Port au Prince, such as Carrefoure, Leogane and Jacmel.
Cap Haitien International Airport in the north of Haiti is being used, he said, and the tiny airport at Jacmel is being expanded to allow supplies to enter from the south. “We have 80,000 pounds of water sitting on the airport in Newark, [N.J.] but we can’t get it to Haiti. We’re trying to secure military planes from USAID and hopefully we will get something in the next week,” Dr. Laroche said.
While relief efforts must continue, steps should be taken immediately to “re-stimulate” the economy, he said. He urged physicians to put pressure on the various organizations that have raised millions of dollars, “including the UN and all military relief groups, to hire and pay Haitians to assist with relief distribution, transportation, body disposal, reconstruction, etc., to help re-stimulate the Haitian economy.”
In addition, “Haitian government officials and locals must be trained to become part of the leadership as relief and reconstruction efforts continue,” Dr. Laroche said.
The National Black Chamber of Commerce, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is also looking beyond relief. “Things are starting to jump concerning the contracting activity towards the rebuilding of Haiti. We will be meeting with the State Department and [U.S. Small Business Administration] on February 2 and will hopefully piece together the format for information and competition,” Harry C. Alford, president and CEO, said in an e-mail to NBCC members. “Some of you are already assembling your teams and identifying projects – go for it!”
The NBCC reaches 100,000 Black-owned businesses through affiliate chapters in the United States, the Bahamas, Brazil, Colombia, Ghana and Jamaica.
The National Minority Business Council, Inc., which in 2009 partnered with The Network Journal and Bank of New York Mellon to launch an Entrepreneurship Boot Camp series for new and early-stage entrepreneurs, says it will incorporate the boot camp concept into a broad plan for assisting in Haiti’s reconstruction.
“It’s our contention that small and minority entrepreneurs, including Haitian-American entrepreneurs, must be factored into any reconstruction assistance program that the United States draws up for Haiti. We cannot have a repeat of what happened in Kuwait and Iraq, which effectively saw no involvement by small and minority owned companies in the rebuilding of those countries after the disasters of war in the last decade,” says John F. Robinson, the council’s president and CEO.
“Regardless of what Washington does, however, we will have a comprehensive plan for the participation of these important business sectors in Haiti’s rebuilding efforts. The NMBC would welcome partnerships with any other business group of like mind or mission in the long-term and short-term reconstruction efforts for Haiti,” Robinson said.
The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) and its non-profit arm, The NOMA Foundation Inc., launched Service in Solidarity, to collect tents donated by members and arrange for them to be shipped to Haiti for distribution by relief agencies on the ground. Beyond rescue and retrieval support, NOMA said it will focus on providing technical assistance, planning and development efforts to Haiti.
“What is particularly meaningful about the National Organization of Minority Architects is the unique solidarity that we, as people of color, including those members who are themselves Haitian, share with the Haitian people of the Diaspora. We fully respect the dignity of the Haitian people and are willing to serve at the express invitation of the Haitian government and its people, most immediately,” the organization said in a press release on Wednesday.
NOMA says it is ready to provide services and expertise in the rebuilding efforts, including urban design and planning, and will utilize members who have specific experience with design in disaster-stricken areas and in seismic regions. The organization has begun to gather and inventory available human, material and monetary resources from among its members.
“In times of crisis, I believe design and designers are meant to provide solutions, be forward thinking and create change,” says NOMA member Atim Annete Oton, co-owner of Calabar Imports in Brooklyn, and co-creator of the Black Designers Network.
Oton, who is an architect by training, is pressing the network into action. “BDN is a creative hub to develop joint projects, exchange ideas, share expertise across disciplines, and geographic borders in new ways to benefit public interest,” she says.
The network brings together Black professionals in all disciplines of design, including architecture, graphic design and fashion design.