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‘Rebuild for a better tomorrow’: Queens leaders hold vigil for victims of Haiti earthquake

Community members joined elected officials, including Senator Chuck Schumer (middle) at a candlelight vigil for the Haitian earthquake victims. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Queens community leaders, clergy members and a host of elected officials on Thursday, Aug. 19, held a candlelight vigil outside the headquarters of Haitian Americans United for Progress, Inc. (HAUP) in Queens Village for victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Eleven years after a magnitude 7.0 temblor devastated Haiti, killing more than 200,000 people, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the Caribbean island on the morning of Saturday, Aug. 14, causing widespread destruction. As of press time, the death toll had climbed to nearly 2,200 and more than 9,000 Haitians have been injured, with tens of thousands of Haitians left homeless.

Furthermore, on Tuesday, Aug. 17, Tropical Depression Grace caused flooding in parts of the country, hampering rescue efforts in the country that is also reeling with the COVID-19 crisis.

The earthquake is the second catastrophe for the island in just over a month — in July, President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, leaving the country in political turmoil.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, whose office organized the vigil, pointed to the resilience of the Haitian people born out of their strong belief in God — a sentiment that was shared by speakers throughout the evening.

“The Haitian community is resilient. They are more resilient than any other community that I’ve ever met,” Richards said. “When I went to Haiti, I remember going into villages, going into a church. The church had no roof. It was raining, but the people of Haiti were still praying to God.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards speaks at the candlelight vigil for Haitian earthquake victims. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

He assured the Haitian community that they would get all the assistance they need during this crisis. Richards also emphasized that helping Haiti shouldn’t mean taking over the country and practicing colonialism.

“We know one of the reasons Haiti continues to suffer is because freedom is not free,” he said. “We need to ensure that the assistance they get is the assistance they get, but there are no strings attached. And as things are rebuilt, that does not mean coming in and gentrifying Haiti as well. The people of Haiti must control their economy, their government and their political destination.”

Richards stressed that it was important to make sure that supplies and donations were getting into the right hands.

“There are organizations on the ground doing the work. Follow those organizations,” Richards urged. “They should be Haitian-led organizations. Support organizations with a track record of doing work within Haiti, and not folks who just sprung up overnight.”

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, who, as senator from New York, represents the largest Haitian diaspora in the world, shared that he had already spoken with President Biden asking for aid. He urged him not to repeat the mistakes of 2010 “when Haiti had another tragedy, and no one paid much attention.”

“But because of gatherings like this, and people like you, great elected officials here with me. We know that we will not forget,” Schumer said.

Senator Chuck Schumer speaks at the candlelight vigil for Haitian earthquake victims. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Schumer also promised that he would do anything in his power as Senate majority leader and leave “no stone unturned” to continue fighting for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

“I think we’ll need to do that again for the new group of Haitians,” Schumer said. “We’ve been able to do it three times, even once when you-know-who president, who was not friends to the Haitian people, was.”

Elsie Saint-Louis, president and CEO of HAUP, reminded everyone that Haiti is a resilient country despite the crises it has endured. She rejected the “poor Haiti model,” pointing to the strength, intelligence and determination of the Haitian people.

Elsie Saint-Louis, president and CEO of HAUP, speaks at the candlelight vigil for Haitian earthquake victims. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“We are nowhere near poor,” Saint-Louis stressed. “We may not have the resources to pull out our resources, and other people with no resources enjoy our resources. We’re nowhere near poor, not mentally, not intellectually, not even with our resources.”

Assemblyman Clyde Vanel, who represents the neighborhoods of Cambria Heights, St. Albans, Hollis, Queens Village, Bellerose and parts of Floral Park, described himself as a “child of Haiti” and was visibly moved to see the community come together in the face of tragedy. He was encouraged to see that everyone worked together and trying to avoid the mistakes made in 2010.

Assemblyman Clyde Vanel speaks at the candlelight vigil for the Haitian earthquake victims. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“We have to make sure that it’s not about the charity,” Vanel said. “It’s about rebuilding, and rebuilding a better tomorrow for Haiti.”

Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman emphasized that everyone already knows how resilient and strong Haiti is, and now, it is all about good wishes and the actions people put behind those wishes ensuring a sound infrastructure.

Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman speaks at the candlelight vigil for the Haitian earthquake victims. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“Are you going to go back to Haiti and make sure you volunteer to be the architects and the engineers that make sure that if this happens again, those homes are resilient?” Hyndman asked.

For Councilwoman Adrienne Adams, the earthquake was very personal — her daughter-in-law is Haitian — and said while the Haitian people were mourning, they also maintained their resiliency and pride.

Councilwoman Adrienne Adams speaks at the candlelight vigil for the Haitian earthquake victims. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“We stand in the power of unity and unification for a people that stood up for their land when no other people would stand up for their land,” Adams declared. “Out of this tragedy, once again, will come triumph. Haiti does not need our prayers to rise. Haiti has risen.”

Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson acknowledged the vigil was a solemn occasion and said that this was also a moment to recognize the rich, revolutionary past, history and independence of the Haitian-American people. He also pledged his commitment to making sure that the Haitian community recovers from this crisis by sending resources.

Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson speaks at the candlelight vigil for Haitian earthquake victims. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“After this candlelight vigil, we have to make sure that we maintain a commitment to our Haitian brothers and sisters, and there’s no better way to do that and to send support and be in community with our Haitian brothers and sisters,” Anderson said.

Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers echoed the sentiments that were shared earlier by some of her colleagues.

Councilwoman Selevena Brooks-Powers speaks at the candlelight vigil for the Haitian earthquake victims. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“I sit in awe at how resilient the people of Haiti continue to be. Every time something catastrophic happens to try and tear down the people, they stand with them, their shoulders back, their heads high,” she said.

Sabine French, who is Haitian-American, grew up in Cambria Heights, which is also known as Little Haiti. She said that while she was proud to be an American, she was extremely proud of her Haitian descent. Through tears, she said she was extremely thankful to see so many supporters and allies.

Sabine French speaks at the candlelight vigil for Haitian earthquake victims. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

“Oftentimes, though it’s with good intentions, when they speak of Haiti, they speak of tragedy,” French said. “But guess what? My parents moved past the tragedy, so that I may stand here with all of these great individuals in government. And I’m so thankful, so thankful.”

For those who wish to donate financially, they can chose between four different organizations, as identified by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. They are Ayiti Community Trust, Capracare Haiti, Hope for Haiti and Partners in Health.

Further, the Queens borough president’s office will accept donations of bottled water, non-perishable food, personal care products, toiletries and feminine hygiene products at Queens Borough Hall, located at 120-55 Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens. Donations can be dropped off in a box located in the lobby of Borough Hall next to the security desk, just inside the building’s main entrance through Sept. 22. The lobby is open 24 hours a day.

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