In an effort to mobilize the Haitian diaspora, numerous Haitian influential figures gathered together for a two-and-a-half hour webinar on Friday to discuss how the Haitian-American community can strengthen ties between the diaspora and people in Haiti.
Titled “Building Bridges for Collective Empowerment,” the seminar, organized by the Haitian-American Alliance of New York (HAA) and The Haitian Times, featured Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste of Illinois’ Cook County Judicial Circuit Court, New York State Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn and Haitian Times founder Garry Pierre-Pierre, among others.
“We need to empower Haitian-Americans in social, political and economic endeavors,” said Yolette Williams, CEO of the HAA. “Only when we are strong and organized can we affect changes in Haiti.”
Among the proposed solutions for the diaspora to enact include connecting with Haitians both in the U.S. and back home, collaborating with various institutions to develop a core of people who will work together to help Haiti and lobbying in Washington, D.C. to demand a fair share of tax dollars for Haitian-Americans.
“We need to mobilize ourselves in the diaspora to help develop Haiti by making positive contributions,” said Jean-Baptiste in his keynote address. “If we are not for ourselves, we cannot expect anyone to be for us.”
Key issues for the diaspora to focus on mentioned last year’s treatment of Haitian asylum seekers at the Del Rio border, which stands in stark contrast to the way Ukrainian asylum seekers are currently being treated upon arrival to the U.S.
Jean-Baptiste also spoke to the importance of addressing divisions within Haitian society, referencing a 2021 column by Pierre-Pierre.
“Our society is fighting to the death and we can’t have an all-or-nothing proposition,” he said. “We have to have operational unity and build coalitions with the masses.”
A panel moderated by Pierre-Pierre followed, in which he spoke to prominent Haitian-American journalists about the dangerous stereotypes perpetuated in mainstream media about Haiti. He also asked the panelists about the role Haitians could play in influencing coverage about Haiti.
Jacqueline Charles of The Miami Herald, whose coverage focuses primarily on Haiti, addressed her experience seeing journalists from other countries descend upon the country following last year’s assassination of president Jovenel Moïse.
“I listened to journalists that were parachuting in who were not knowledgeable about safety in Haiti,” said Charles. “It was an eye-opener because I saw how people approached Haiti in simplistic terms: either as not bad or really bad.”
Renowned novelist Edwidge Danticat spoke about the importance of having Haitian experts ready to engage with mass media, as well as the need for mainstream discussion about Haiti not to focus primarily on tragedy, but also cultural contributions like literature and film.
Also present was CBS News correspondent Vladimir Duthiers, who talked about how he is actively working on changing the narrative about Haiti present in mainstream coverage.
“I found that ‘poorest country in the Western Hemisphere’ was used frequently in the news, so I asked why not instead recognize Haiti as the first independent Black country in the world,” Duthiers said. “Representation matters in newsrooms, especially for Haitians.”