In 1964, the world honored the greatest civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with the Nobel Peace Prize for having contributed the most to the furtherance of peace among men. He was - and is - upheld to the highest standards of dignity, humanity, strength and philanthropy. Always on the side of the down trodden, and diligently working to empower the disenfranchised, MLK dedicated his life to assisting those who were the most fragile among us. As a student of this impeccable human being’s teachings, I can think of no better way to honor him than to help the most delicate among us at this very moment – the citizens of Haiti.
Words simply cannot articulate the depth of despair and human suffering taking place in our neighbor to the South. Haiti, already ranked as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere with extreme poverty, lack of adequate education, crumbling infrastructure and imposed economic sanctions, is now on the verge of a severe catastrophe. As far back as two years ago, we witnessed reports of families being forced to eat mud pies and mud cookies due to scarcity of food and rising inflation. This most recent global economic crisis only exacerbated the situation, and now after a 7.0 earthquake, we cannot even fathom the extent of anguish transpiring.
Haiti has a unique history that is surprisingly very closely linked to our own. It became the world’s first Blackled Republic, and the first independent Caribbean state when it overthrew its French colonizers in the 19th century. The U.S. shares a special relationship with the nation, for Haitian troops fought in the crucial battle of Savannah in the American Revolution, and the Louisiana Purchase would have never taken place were it not for the defeat of the French in the Caribbean.
We unequivocally owe a debt of gratitude to Haiti for our mere existence. So as its people struggle to survive, search for loved ones, seek food, look for shelter and eventually rebuild, we must – we must – be there every step of the way. Without the support of the Haitians there would be no us; without our support now, the rich cultural heritage of the Haitian people will forever be lost in a cloud of human despair and frailty.
Centuries of poverty, violence and natural disaster plagued Haiti. It’s biggest underlying social issue - the disparity between the impoverished Creole-speaking Black majority and the French-speaking minority - remains largely unaddressed. And the sheer fact that 1% of this French minority owns nearly half of the country’s wealth is beyond troubling and unjust. But before we even begin to tackle these complex social issues, we must first save the people, the culture, the livelihood of Haiti.
Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, suffered the brunt of this devastating earthquake. A bustling city with millions of residents that encompass both the extremely destitute and the well off, are now crying out for the world’s help. The city itself, where even the President’s palace wasn’t spared destruction, is comprised of a large population of young people (some estimates say nearly 40%-50%) who need immediate assistance today – and tomorrow. The ripple effects of this natural disaster are yet to be witnessed, as much of the island nation depends heavily on Port-au-Prince for its sustainability.
I commend President Obama for pledging $100 million in aid and the physical support of our troops to our Caribbean neighbor. The outpouring of money and relief pledges worldwide is a positive, motivating sign indeed. But the breath and depth of destruction is beyond human comprehension, and we must work to ensure that such aid reaches those who need it the most. We must continue our efforts in the days, weeks, months and even years as time passes by, for the need will continue beyond today. And we must act swiftly, thoroughly and without delay.
I myself pledge to do my best to assist Haiti and our Haitian brothers and sisters - for I know that our greatest civil rights leader would have wanted us all to do just that.
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