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Op-Ed

The Haiti Support Project: 20 Years Later

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Ron Daniels

By Ron Daniels
NNPA Columnist

 

Twenty must be the magic number.

Twenty years ago – on June 5, 1995 – I set foot in Haiti for the first time, leading a delegation of 20 African Americans eager to learn about the history, culture and state of development in the first Black Republic in this hemisphere.

October 14-18 of this year, the week after the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, plans are to organize a select delegation of African American and Haitian American civil rights/human rights, education, cultural, faith, labor, business and youth leaders, elected officials, opinion-makers and interested persons for a Pilgrimage to Haiti to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Haiti Support Project (HSP).

The goal of the Pilgrimage is to expand support for HSP’s “Model City Initiative” that seeks to utilize cultural-historical tourism as a means to promote people-based social and economic development in the lovely town of Milot in the northern region of the country near Cap Haitien. Though there will be visits to other important cultural and historic sites, the highlight of the Pilgrimage will be a tour of the Citadel, the magnificent mountaintop fortress that stands as one of the great beacons of freedom and self-determination in the Black World

We arrived in Haiti 20 years ago at the invitation of Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the leader of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) with whom I had become acquainted through my work as executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

During my conversations with Chavannes, I discovered that MPP, the largest peasant movement in Haiti, had very few contacts and relationships with African Americans. In 1994 I invited him to attend the first “State of the Race” conference at Sojourner-Douglass College in Baltimore for the express purpose of introducing him to African American leaders from around the country. Chavannes reciprocated by inviting me to organize a delegation to visit Haiti and I accepted.

Much of the humanitarian assistance was provided by predominantly White charities. And, progressive White organizations, artists and entertainers were among the most prominent faces in the opposition to the Duvalier regime.

I will never forget the words of a priest who welcomed us to Sunday service: “We have seen many people who have come to support us in Haiti, but this is the first time we have seen Black Americans come with a group to support our people.”

The Haiti Support Project was founded on the premise that people of African descent must pay a debt of gratitude to Haiti for standing tall for the race. We have a collective Pan African duty to assist the Haitian people to finish the unfinished Haitian Revolution! For the past 20 years HSP has singularly focused on this vision/mission and historical imperative. As a small, unfunded, non-profit initiative of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW), HSP has raised millions of dollars in humanitarian and development assistance for social, educational and economic development for organizations and projects throughout Haiti. When the disastrous earthquake struck, HSP raised more than $300,000 via Black Talk Radio and appeals to Black organizations and agencies to provide relief and developmental and capacity-building assistance to scores of organizations on the ground.

Equally important, more than any other organization, HSP has been in the forefront of educating and creating greater awareness about the first Black Republic among African Americans. We have led numerous fact finding and support delegations to Haiti and high profile Pilgrimages to the Citadel as part of the Model City Initiative. Indeed, Cruising Into History, the effort which eventually mobilized 500 African Americans, Haitian Americans and friends of Haiti to journey to Haiti via a Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship to Commemorate the 200thAnniversary of the Haitian Revolution, involved a massive promotion/marketing campaign that educated hundreds of thousands if not millions of African Americans and people of African descent in the U.S. about Haiti!

HSP continues to support some 4,000 children every year by providing school supplies, and with the support of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity we hope to build a Model School to provide a 21st century education to produce a generation of Haitian-centered, servant leaders. We have funded a micro-credit lending program to make small loans to local venders and entrepreneurs, many of whom are women, and a jobs-generating greenhouse reforestation project to grow saplings to be purchased by tourists to plant in the National Park which houses the Citadel and Sans Souci Palace.

The commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the Haitian Support Project will afford those who join the October 14-18 Pilgrimage an opportunity for a cultural-historical immersion with the Haitian people and an opportunity to witness the work of HSP via the Model City first hand. It will be a life altering experience.

 

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 andwww.northstarnews.com . To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, he can be reached via email at info@ibw21.org.

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Community

Closing Youth Prisons Is Not Enough

But without a plan to invest in and institute a restorative justice framework, most of that money might find its way back into local youth jails rather than into treatment and rehabilitation.

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Ella Baker Center staff and members attend a Books Not Bars rally in Sacramento advocating to close youth prisons in California. Courtesy of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

COMMENTARY

As a parent who was involved in the juvenile system as a teenager, I know too well that children who are struggling should never be incarcerated and treated like criminals. 

Instead, they should be cared for as young people in need of restorative help. This May, dedicated as National Mental Health Awareness Month, was the perfect opportunity to embrace human rights and racial justice by moving from a carceral system of punishment to a community-based health system of restorative care.

“We have a system in place that is not really focused on rehabilitation,” Los Angeles State Senator Sydney Kamlager told CalMatters in January. Unlike some states, we have not had a governing body in California to oversee trauma-responsive, culturally informed services for youth–the majority of whom are youth of color–in the juvenile justice system.

Fortunately, we in California finally have a chance to make a change. California Senate Bill 823, signed by Gov. Newsom last December, shuts down California’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and redirects millions of dollars to counties to provide care and resources for young people. But without a plan to invest in and institute a restorative justice framework, most of that money might find its way back into local youth jails rather than into treatment and rehabilitation.

Sonya Abbott and her son Anthony Johnson can attest that a transformation is long overdue. When Anthony was 16, Sonya found a bag of Xanax in his back pocket. Believing that he intended to sell the drugs, she made the difficult decision to turn him in. At the time, she viewed her decision as a way to save her son’s life, and the lives of others.  Now she says, “I feel like it just made things worse.”

As is too often the case, Anthony was cycled through a number of ineffective programs and has been shuttled back and forth among several facilities. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the DJJ went into lockdown, Anthony was at the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in San Joaquin County. Feeling lonely and depressed because of the isolation, Anthony asked for extra counseling.

“They refused to give it to me. They laughed at me,” Anthony says.

 Anthony attempted suicide roughly two days later. He remembers a Chaderjian staff member witnessing his suicide attempt and saying, “You’re not doing it right, I’ll call this one in later,” then walking away. Afterward, Anthony was kept in the medical unit for a month, locked in a room for 23 hours a day, without any counseling or companionship.

Throughout all of this, the DJJ did not inform Abbott of her son’s suicide attempt, nor his consequent transfer to Patton State Hospital. After Anthony missed a scheduled Skype visit, Abbott had to call every juvenile facility in California to locate him, and only then learned that he had tried to take his own life. He remains at Patton today.

Statistics show that suicide and suicide attempts are too common. According to a 2014 report from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection, “11% of the youth (in the juvenile justice system) had attempted suicide at least once,” far exceeding the percentage  in the general population.

Nor are the dangers of youth incarceration justified by the outcomes. A 2015 study from the University of Washington, observed that, “juvenile incarceration is not only ineffective at reducing criminal behavior,” but that those who were incarcerated in their youth were more likely to suffer negative consequences in every aspect of their adult lives.

Abbott describes Anthony as a good kid who just got himself a little lost. “I don’t understand why there’s no resources for these kids,” she says. “They are just locked up and forgotten. I can’t let my kid be one of their victims.”

We now have an unprecedented opportunity to chart a new direction. Part of SB 823 creates Juvenile Justice Coordinating Councils (JJCC) in each of our 58 California counties, bringing together experts and constituents like Abbott and Anthony, whose lives have intersected with the juvenile justice system. 

These new councils will help guide how the millions of dollars in new state funding can best be deployed to provide a continuum of care. To inform that process, youth advocates have been working to implement a community vision of care to replace the old carceral model that has failed so many of our most vulnerable young people of color.

Advocates are also pushing the state to properly resource the new department within Health and Human Services (HHS) that will provide oversight for the new system. The proposed budget is a woefully inadequate $3 million; Assemblymember Cristina Garcia and state Senator Maria Elena Durazo, joined by the California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice and members of the Free Our Kids Coalition, are pushing for a larger allocation to help scale up community-based interventions by local groups. 

If a community system rooted in healing had already been in place, Sonya Abbott and Anthony might have received the help they really needed. We can do better for our kids and our communities.

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Entertainment

‘The Neighborhood’ Welcomes New Executive Producer Meg DeLoatch 

Firing on more than one cylinder and beyond the comedic arena, DeLoatch wrote on VH-1’s hit drama, “Single Ladies” and is completing a middle school fantasy novel about a boy who fights demons.

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The Neighborhood/CBS

Meg DeLoatch/ CBS

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., is in the house and in “The Neighborhood.” 

CBS Studios has brought aboard Meg DeLoatch as executive producer and showrunner to guide its popular Monday night, family-centered sitcom starring Cedric the Entertainer and Max Greenfield.

DeLoatch, a proud member of the iconic African American national sorority, is an award-winning Hollywood veteran who’s written and produced a variety of hit shows during her acclaimed entertainment career.  She’s the recipient of two (2021, 2020) NAACP Image Awards and nominated for a 2020 Writers Guild Award for Netflix’s “Family Reunion,” the multi-generational family series she created and currently serves as its executive producer.

An advocate for diversity and inclusion, DeLoatch assembled one of the first all-Black writers’ rooms to authentically voice the comedy series starring Tia Mowry-Hardrict (“Sister Sister”), Anthony Alabi (“Insecure”), and Emmy-winner Loretta Devine (“The Carmichael Show”).  Richard Roundtree (the original John Shaft) guest stars as Grandpa.

An impressive list of industry credits for DeLoatch range from family-friendly shows including Disney Channel’s “Raven’s Home” and “Austin & Ally” to adult comedies “Born Again Virgin,” “Bette,” (CBS) and “Brothers,” (FOX). DeLoatch created and executive-produced UPN’s romantic comedy, “Eve,” starring Grammy Award-winning Hip Hop artist Eve.  She wrote and executive produced TV One’s comedy series, “Here We Go Again,” starring LeToya Luckett and Wendy Raquel Robinson.

Firing on more than one cylinder and beyond the comedic arena, DeLoatch wrote on VH-1’s hit drama, “Single Ladies” and is completing a middle school fantasy novel about a boy who fights demons.

The Maryland native is no stranger to celebrity stratosphere having worked with Bette Midler, Jennie Garth and Ice Cube.  Early on, DeLoatch combined her interests in theater, literature and visual media to earn an interdisciplinary degree from American University.  She subsequently moved to California and the rest is Hollywood history.

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Commentary

Biden’s “Plan” to Address the Racial Wealth Gap Won’t Cut It. Only Reparations Can Do That

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 

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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris/ Featured Web

OPINION

On June 1, the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, President Joe Biden announced a plan to support Black homeownership and Black-owned businesses, which he said was aimed at closing the racial wealth gap between Black people and white people. The plan received praise from those who celebrated Biden’s apparent attempt to address the gap, which his administration has identified as a key policy goal.

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 

These are all great steps worth taking, but we shouldn’t pretend like they will do anything to meaningfully narrow the racial wealth gap. Only reparations can do that.

According to a recent New York Times piece by Duke University economist William Darity, the wealth gap between Black and white Americans ranges from somewhere between nearly $54,700 a person and $280,300 a person. 

Using the larger estimate, which Darity argues is more appropriate, the total racial wealth gap amounts to $11.2 trillion–“a figure that implies that incremental measures will not be sufficient” to close it, he wrote. 

Another 2016 study from the Institute for Policy Studies and the Corporation for Enterprise Development suggests that white households are worth nearly 20 times more than Black households on average, and that it would take 228 years for Black folks to catch up. That’s assuming white people’s collective wealth doesn’t increase at all during that time. 

And that was before our households and businesses took the devastating economic hit of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing discrimination in homeownership and supporting Black entrepreneurship are worthwhile policy endeavors. But we should be honest about what they represent in the grand scheme of things: At best, they are marginal steps in the right direction. And that’s not going to cut it. If we are serious about addressing the racial wealth gap, then we must get serious about reparations. There’s no way around it. The numbers speak for themselves.

If our elected officials aren’t prepared to go that route, fine — but we should stop letting them pretend like they are serious about the racial wealth gap. A gap created out of centuries of stolen labor, stolen land, and stolen wealth and resources can’t be addressed by a new housing policy or small business grant program.

During the 2020 campaign, then-candidate Biden said he supported H.R. 40, a bill that would commission a congressional study on reparations to determine what that could actually look like. The House passed the bill last year. Biden should push the Senate to pass it, too–and then sign it. 

And even that would only be the beginning.

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