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Building the New Haiti

Ron Daniels | 5/31/2010, 10:56 a.m.

Creating a Place for African-Americans at the Table

As President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW) and Founder of the Haiti Support Project (HSP), I have just returned from leading a team to Haiti to allocate the first contributions from the IBW/HSP Haiti Relief Fund. A total of $56,000 was distributed to nine community-based/grassroots organizations including women's, youth and peasant groups for relief and capacity-building.

Deeply concerned about the plight of Haitian children orphaned by the disastrous earthquake, our team also visited orphanages and assessed the progress of the Oasis Institute, an ambitious initiative designed to relocate orphans and extended family members from tent communities to an interim camp with safe/secure environment, post-traumatic stress counseling and a world class education.

The ultimate goal is to construct a permanent campus as home for the orphans. Though adoption may be necessary as an option of last resort, Oasis Institute is designed to keep the vast majority of Haitian children in Haiti to be nurtured and educated within their own culture so they can become the new engaged citizens and leaders of the world's first Black Republic.

This Initiative has the potential to become a model to significantly impact Haiti's system of social welfare as it relates to orphans. As such, it is a major priority of HSP and the IBW Black Family Summit Task Force on Preserving Children and Families in Haiti. Taken together, the commitments above are consistent with HSP's mission of providing humanitarian and developmental assistance as part of the reconstruction effort in Haiti.

Another goal of our team's visit was to vigorously explore avenues to mobilize/organize African- American administrative and technical skills, entrepreneurial expertise and investment capacity to effectively contribute to the short, medium and long term process of building the new Haiti.

Because of a 15-year history of building a constituency for Haiti in the U.S. with a principal focus on educating and organizing African-Americans, HSP has received numerous inquiries about opportunities to secure contracts, to invest and/or to start business ventures in Haiti. Clearly Haitians will take primary responsibility for the reconstruction of their country in conjunction with the Haitian Diaspora -- which contributes nearly two billion in remittances annually as well as other valuable resources to the homeland.

But, HSP believes African Americans and people of African descent in the U.S. can be an invaluable third leg in the reconstruction process. Black America has an estimated 800 million to one billion in consumer power and a large reservoir of business and professional people who can potentially be tapped to play a significant role in building the new Haiti. The question is whether there will be a place at the table for African-Americans.

Our experience over the past 15 years suggests that there is no resistance to African-Americans investing and starting businesses in Haiti. Indeed, we have encountered many Haitians in the Government and the private sector who have welcomed, even pleaded with us to encourage African- Americans to invest in the economic development of the country.

This posture was emphatically re-enforced when our team, which included representatives of the Atlanta-based Joe Beasley Foundation (JBF), met with Patrick Delatour, the minister of tourism, who has been designated to be the director of reconstruction by President Rene Gracia Preval. Minister Delatour not only welcomed the idea of African American investment and business development in Haiti, he views it as an extension of the long relationship between African-Americans and Haitians in terms of the historical struggle for freedom and self-determination.

He outlined a range of investment opportunities, especially in the tourism related sector in the Cap Haitien/Milot region of the country where HSP has launched the Model City Initiative.

Tourism was a major component of the development plan for Haiti prior to the earthquake and has become even more important in its aftermath. HSP devised the Model City Initiative to encourage African-Americans and friends of Haiti to visit the Citadel, a magnificent mountaintop fortress built by King Henri Christophe after the Revolution to deter further invasions by the French.

It is one of the great symbols of freedom and hope in the Pan African world. Working collaboratively with the Destination Haiti Foundation, HSP's principal partner on the ground in Haiti, the goal of the Model City Initiative is to transform the lovely town of Milot, which is nestled at the foot of the mountain where the Citadel stands, into a Mecca for cultural-historical tourism.

We believe cultural-historical tourism will be the foundation for people-based economic development in Milot and the northern region of the country. There are huge opportunities for African Americans to invest and develop businesses in this region.

Minister Delatour not only agrees with the goals of the Model City Initiative, developing Milot as a tourist destination is a priority within his plan for the northern region. Hence, we have been working together to make this vision a reality. Accordingly, he was pleased to meet the representatives of the Joe Beasley Foundation, which has substantial skills and resources to contribute to the development of Milot and the north.

In fact, he agreed to accept an invitation to travel to Atlanta as a special guest of HSP and the Beasley Foundation to participate in George Fraser's Power Networking Conference which brings upwards to 3,000 - 4,000 Black businesses and professionals together for three days of extraordinary skill development workshops and inspirational plenary sessions.

Minister Delatour will address the Town Hall Meeting, which is the kick-off event for the conference and make a presentation on investment opportunities in Haiti at an information session immediately following the Town Hall Meeting. Minister Delatour's visit definitively underscores the interest of the Government of Haiti in enlisting African-Americans to play a leading role in building the new Haiti.

Minister Delatour's visit is also an expression of support for HSP as an organization with a proven track record of promoting the first Black Republic in Black America to engage people of African descent in the process of democracy and development in Haiti.

Dr. 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 and www.northstarnews.com .