“I never wanted to be “That Haiti guy”. Though I’ve always been the proudest, most outspoken, Haitian. I wanted to be more than a one-note song. I have a lot going on in my head, some of it maddening, some of it fascinating, but nothing consumes me more than my desire to make you see what I see. Understand the beauty of my country, and I guess in a way, me by association.
I am Haitian. Haiti is my country. Haitians are my people. I want it to be your dreamland. The place on your short list. Amongst the Paris, Cuba, Africa, Brazil, Australia, and Thailand’s. That place you have to see before you die. The place that once you go, lives up to the hype, and seduces you to have to return many more times again. The place you talk about 20 years later with fondness, as if it was just yesterday that you sat on the side of one of its many mountains, a prestige beer in one hand, the valley below, with the love of your life beside you, taking in the magnitude of it’s beauty.
I will bring my dream to fruition and you will be better for me doing it. I promise.”
Facebook. November 17, 2013.
I posted the above message on my Facebook page exactly one year ago today. Only five people then knew what it meant and what I had spent the past two years secretly working to bring to life. Four weeks ago I brought my dream to fruition with the inaugural journey of my company, Haiti Got It, and our first trip to Haiti. This story goes back much further than a year though. This story began on Tuesday, January 10, 2010, at 4:53pm. That was the moment my path and that of my homeland was changed forever. I received a call telling me to turn on my TV, when I asked the person on the other side of the call what channel, I heard a response I hadn’t heard since September 11th, “any channel!” and at that moment, I knew, whatever was waiting for me would not be good.
The next few days were a blur. Aftershocks. Missing persons. Death. Destruction. Phone calls. World aide. News reports. Devastation. Darkness. Tears.
What I do remember was the outpouring of support from everyone I knew and a host of other people I didn’t. Then my friend Tony Martinez called to ask to partner on a Haiti fundraiser. I then called upon all my promoter, socialite, and cool kid friends to help us put an event together. In less than a week, we had a swanky venue, sponsors, and big name DJs. What followed was a fundraiser held on the same night as Wyclef, Russell Simmons, and a bunch of other big and small names, which hosted their own individual fundraisers. A night where we prayed for 500 people to show up, so the venue that held 800 wouldn’t look too empty, and instead more than 5,000 people, including the former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, celebrities, and a host of others showed up and stood out in the cold for hours to support our cause. It was amazing. Then the calls from Chicago, DC, Miami, and a long list of other cities asking for us to do the same in their towns came. We agreed and hit the road. Hearts for Haiti was born. A nonprofit that organized one of kind fundraisers around the country to support smaller non profits working in Haiti.
From the beginning our fundraisers were different than all the others, there were no pictures of kids with flies on their heads, sad montages of a country brought down to rubble, or people eating mud cookies. We showed pictures of the country I knew and loved. We played Haitian kanaval music, and danced until the lights came on.
Once when confronted by a reporter as to why our fundraisers seemed so opulent and celebratory in the face of such disaster and poverty, I responded, “It’s not meant to be depressing…It’s meant to celebrate—the Music, the Art, the people and spirit of Haiti. You see enough ugly [Haiti] on CNN. We’re presenting the other side. It’s not opulent… but it is pretty.”