Famed singer and former Haitian presidential candidate Wyclef Jean believes that, in order to help the country of Haiti get back to economic independence, Haitian-Americans must lobby in Washington and get “the dual-citizenship bill” passed. This bill will allow Haitians who live in the United States to travel back to Haiti and contribute in its voting process.
“There was a time in America when being Haitian wasn’t a cool thing,” Florcy Morisset, a Haitian-American and cultural arts ambassador, said. “[Wyclef Jean] has shown an artistic, political and philanthropic side, and I really embody everything that he is doing.”
Jean discussed these issues, along with many others, on Monday, Oct. 1 at the Free Library in Philadelphia, Pa. Jean recently published a book called “Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story” that discusses his music career, his devotion to his Haitian roots and his journey from a life of poverty, to becoming famous.
In 2010, Jean ran for office in Haitian presidential election – right after the earthquake that left the country in ruin. He felt it was his duty to serve his country. Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council, however, rejected his bid for candidacy because he hadn’t lived in Haiti for more than five years.
“A president’s job is an honorable job, but it is the worst job on the planet,” Jean said. “You are saying you subject yourself to the highest form of public service. But to live and to not serve is a disservice at the end of the day.”
Efforts to rebuild Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, according to Jean, cost approximately $1 billion per year, but Haitians displaced throughout the U.S. are sending over $2.5 billion annually to the country – more than what’s being used on reconstruction efforts.
Jean cautioned that Haiti’s educated youth needs to be able to vote the right people into office to get the right bills passed and improve Haitians’ quality of life.
Although he did not get elected, he has still been very much involved in the growth of Haiti. One way he is doing this is through a charity called “Yele” that he founded. The organization focuses on widespread issues that run deep in the country and trying to balance emergency relief for long-term sustainability, the mission states.
Rebuilding Haiti’s agriculture is something that he also feels needs major improvement. He proposed the idea of an “agrobank,” which would provide funding toward developing irrigation and the right fertilizers to maintain agricultural work.
“If we’re talking agriculture, and not agrobank, where are we going to get the money to recreate the soil?” Jean asked. “The devastating fact is that people are cutting down trees. This is a way of survival. How do we tell the people not to cut down trees to build a fire?”
This is a harsh reality that Haiti is faced with. If an agrobank is created, it can fund money to help sustain the land for a brighter future.
Throughout his speech the audience had chances to ask Jean questions. A pastor from West Kensington asked Jean what courage meant to him.
“I define courage not by words, but by putting forth action,” Jean responded.
Martin Luther King “laid it out” in words and acted out his courage; the current generation, Jean says, has to do “less talking and more acting.“
Approximately 4.5 billion tons of Haiti’s rice comes from the U.S., primarily Arkansas, according to Jean. This rice is flooding the Haitian markets, making it difficult for farmers to make a living.
“Let’s build these agrobanks. Let’s do the same thing that they’re doing in Arkansas for Haiti,” Jean said. “Until you come up with a system where you actually provide a mechanism to build the outsource of this, then it’s just a theory.”