Pilgrimage to Haiti: An historic cruise for people of African descent

The weeklong cruise organized by the Haiti Support Project is more than your typical summer sail from Miami to the Caribbean on a Royal Caribbean ship. Conceived in 2001, the Aug. 14-21, 2004, ?Cruising Into History: A Pilgrimage to Haiti? event will be a veritable international Black arts and cultural festival, celebrating on sea and on land the 200th anniversary of Haiti?s successful revolt against French rule. It will highlight the heroic and historic contribution of the Haitian people to the global struggle for freedom of people of African descent, says Ron Daniels, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, founder of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and founder of the Haiti Support Project, the primary sponsor of the cruise.

?The cruise will be an extraordinary event because it will give people of African descent an opportunity to reconnect,? Daniels said at a recent luncheon in New York where he made an appeal for sponsorship support. Daniels and his team expect 1,750 people to join the ?pilgrimage? aboard Royal Caribbean?s new, luxurious Navigator of the Seas. En route to Haiti, the cruise will stop for ?Salute to Haiti? ceremonies in Nassau, Bahamas; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. ?Literally hundreds of people will come out to watch this pilgrimage unfold,? Daniels said.

The concept has garnered the support of the Haitian government and of such luminaries in the African-American community as entertainer-activists Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte, the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, U.S. Congressional Representatives John Conyers, Maxine Waters, Charles Rangel, Gregory Meeks and Sheila Jackson Lee; Martin Luther King III, poets Haki Madhubuti and Sonia Sanchez, radio talk show host Bev Smith and Essence Communications Inc. Vice President Susan Taylor. The festival aboard ship will feature top artists from the United States, Africa, Haiti and the wider diaspora, including Glover, Belafonte, South African troubadour Hugh Masekela and Haiti?s Tabou Combo. The live programming runs the gamut of performing arts from dance, theater and film to jazz jams, poetry slams and blues. There will be Caribbean and Latin American tributes, New Orleans Creole renditions, hip-hop, gospel, Negro spirituals, forums on women?s issues and health, a symposium on the state of the Black world and continuing education workshops.

In Haiti itself, an official welcoming ceremony will be followed by a wide-ranging menu of ground and air tours to key cultural and historical sites, including a visit to the ruins of the Sans Souci Palace, the residence of King Henri Christophe, and to the Citadel, the mountaintop fortress built by Christophe to safeguard Haiti from invasion after the revolution.

?This event has captured the imagination of the Black world. There is a buzz about this bold vision, about this very creative execution of support for this neighborhood,? said networking guru George C. Fraser, who joined Daniels at the New York luncheon. Fraser, president and CEO of Frasernet Inc., said the cruise is one of the hottest tickets for power networking. ?If you want to power network, cruising is the best way to do it. Some of the most important relationships, the most powerful contacts I have ever made, came through cruises,? he said. He noted that participants in this particular cruise are ?older folk, educated folk, moneyed colored people. They are leaders, opinion makers, movers and shakers, the key influentials in our community. For those who are selling products to the Black world, it is a strategic place to eloquently place yourself,? he said.

The cost per cabin, based on double occupancy, ranges from $3,690 for an owner?s suite to $1,840 for a deluxe ocean view stateroom to $1,490 for an inner stateroom.