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NYC Haitian community memorializes earthquake victims, looks to the future

Khorri Atkinson | 1/16/2014, 3:19 p.m.
Haiti after the 2010 earthquake

It has been four years since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince and surrounding cities on Jan. 12, 2010, killing more than 200,000 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless. Haitians in New York City—including Caribbean-American City Councilmen Dr. Mathieu Eugene and Jumaane Williams, as well as Rep. Yvette Clarke­—have paid tribute to victims and are honoring nine individuals and one organization that have provided eminent recovery efforts.

The daylong event, under the theme “Coming Together as One,” was held at the Church Center for the United Nations and was sponsored by the International Humanitarian Outreach Ministries. It included a healing prayer service for Haiti, which was then followed by a memorial and awards program.

Eugene, who became the first Haitian-born official to be elected to the New York City Council in 2007, sent a message of hope to the packed room of more than 100 attendees. While expressing his gratitude to those who have responded with urgency to assist earthquake victims, he reiterated there’s more work that needs to be done to help the ravaged, French-speaking Caribbean country.

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Haiti after the 2010 earthquake

“We have too many intelligent people from the country to be lagging like that. We can come together to make our own system work,” said Eugene. “When we think about our brothers and sisters in the Dominican Republic and the disrespect to the Haitian people, we have to fight. We have to send a strong message that we’re from the country that defeated Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope when we leave this place, we will unite. In unity, we’re strong.”

Eugene also made reference to stereotypes of Haitians and the 1990 march across the Brooklyn Bridge, where thousands of Haitian-Americans demonstrated against a federal health policy on blood donations that they believed unfairly stigmatized Haitians. This was in response to a recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration in February of 1990 that excluded all people from Haiti or the sub-Saharan region from donating blood. The FDA said they are more likely to carry the AIDS virus than other groups.

The 10 honorees who were given City Council and congressional proclamation honors were Michael Gay, founder and president of GDG Beton et Construction S.A.; Marie Cerat, co-founder of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees; Etienne Telemaque, a renowned cultural critic in the Haitian community; Regine Roumain, co-founder and executive director of Haiti Cultural Exchange; the Rev. Mullery Jean-Pierre, founder of the Beraca Community Development Corporation; Rabbi Robert Kaplan, founding director of the New York Center for Community and Coalition Building; Dr. Jean Joseph; Dr. Andre Peck, executive director of the Haitian Centers Council; and the Beraca Community Development Corporation.