AN OPEN LETTER TO OUR SUPPORTERS, FRIENDS OF HAITI, AND LEADERS IN OUR COMMUNITY:
The news of what President Trump said about Haiti and several other countries yesterday broke while my fiancé and I were watching the news together. My fiancé was born in Haiti and I have worked there, as Roots of Development’s Executive Director, for the past 12 years. We sat there watching as people screamed at each other about Haiti, screamed about its challenges and its history, screamed about injustice and ignorance, and about the President’s remarks, with some of course defending his remarks. We sat in silence for over an hour watching as the news unfolded and our emotions built up. We were trying to manage them as rage mixed with heartache, and frustration mixed with embarrassment, until we both found ourselves crying.
Here we were, once again, watching a country we love and know so well, who has taught us the very meaning of strength, courage, and sacrifice, being trashed and spoken about by strangers…unable to defend itself. We knew that the President’s words would be faced with fierce criticism, but we also knew that it was too late, he had said them, and everyone was now talking about it. No matter what, the words would stick and the misunderstanding, ignorance, and stereotypes that exist about Haiti would be repeated and unconsciously reinforced.
There are essays and books that can articulate much better than I, the hundreds of reasons why Haiti faces the challenges it does, why the stereotypes about Haiti exist, or what Haiti’s contributions have been to the world. What I can tell you, without reservation or ambiguity, is that Haiti is one of the most extraordinary places I have ever been. It has an extremely powerful history, a unique and rich culture, incredibly beautiful and diverse landscapes, and some of the strongest, most determined people I have ever met in my life. It is Haiti and the people of Haiti that have taught me and so many others from around the world the value of life, what courage and perseverance look like, and what hope and sacrifice truly mean.
The President’s words are inappropriate, ignorant, and embarrassing, but more importantly they are wrong. I have led Roots of Development’s work in Haiti for over 12 years, working side by side with communities in one of the most rural and isolated parts of the country. There is hope and huge opportunity in Haiti. There is will and cooperation. Our Haitian friends and partners, in and out of Haiti, love their country and are enthusiastic and determined to strengthen their communities and their country. While many of our Haitian brothers and sisters wake up to significant challenges every day, they certainly don’t see their country as a “shithole”, and neither do we.
Roots of Development is founded on the conviction that marginalized populations have the capacity to manage their own development and determine their own future if and when they face the opportunity to break free of the constraints of history and systems of oppression. Join us in rejecting the President’s ignorance and spreading the truth about Haiti and all the other countries facing this unprovoked and reckless persecution. Help turn this current state of confusion, outrage and frustration into a productive conversation that changes the narrative about Haiti and helps bring about a greater understanding of the country.
Over the next few days and weeks, learn all you can about Haiti, carry a Haitian flag with you or wear a Haitian shirt to show your solidarity with the country and spark conversation. Contact your representatives in government and let them know you care about this issue, this misuse of power. Hold them accountable so they hold our President accountable. And finally, challenge the President, challenge yourself to learn what you don’t know and to better understand those with whom you struggle to relate.
With a heavy but hopeful heart,
Chad W. Bissonnette
Thank you for your continued support.