President Green's Speech to the Haiti Action Network members during the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, 2011

I am here to talk about culture both the cultural initiatives currently underway but more importantly to stress the need in all sectors of intervention the importance of cultural competency and the awareness of integrating knowledge of Haitian history, customs, and unique identity as the world’s first black independent nation.

Culture is more than just the art reflective of the creative and long struggling souls of Haiti’s artists, to be sold in galleries across the world, it is more than jewelry and ironwork and the unique sequent voodoo flags that tell the stories of the tortured and passionate union of the voodoo gods and their catholic sainted siblings.

Culture exists in the rich history behind why these painting and objects of art are created; it lies in understanding why the Haitian communities stand up in the face of what some believe to be aid, or food or shelter. Culture competency allows everyone to do their job better; from land distribution to food security, to preventing what is now being called gender-based violence, Haiti’s history is unique and specific to her people. And to take the time to learn her customs, her desires and dreams, is the only way to achieve success in any intervention.

After 10 years of working in health and development in the Plateau Central, it became apparent to me that without the knowledge and ability to distribute the knowledge of Haiti’s cultural identity, NGO’s and international interventions would continue to fail.

In 2008, The Green Family Foundation invested in producing a box set of music recorded in 1936-1937 by famed ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, who had discovered Jelly Roll Morton and Muddy Waters. Lomax had recorded over 1500 hours of songs in the field of Haiti at the time immediately after what was considered to be a brutal occupation by the US Marines. The songs reflect the socio economic times of Haiti, during the Harlem Renaissance in the US, to the pride and protest songs of a people regaining independence. He recorded hours of voodoo ceremonies and funeral songs and love laments and with this came film images we were able to restore, showing folk dance and voodoo rituals. After sitting in the library of Congress for 70 years, it was finally remastered into a complete 10 CD box set along with publication of Dr. Lomax’s journal and book translating each song into English and Creole. The set was nominated for 2 Grammys last year, but sadly, we were defeated by a little known band called The Beatles.

But, the result of this anthropological, musical and folklore box set has been the revisiting of Haiti’s incredible historic past, the integration of voodoo dance and song and influence on every day life. It has led to a traveling multi media exhibit created by artists such as Philip Dodard, mystic hougan drummers from the Artibonite, and paper-mache masters from Jacmel.

This exhibit will travel to museums and universities across the world to educate people on the wonders and importance of Haitian culture and history as well as been shown on outdoor screens throughout Haiti to over half a million Haitians in 9 cities.

This has also been included in the Foundation’s funding of the Digital Library of the Caribbean housed at Florida International University with cooperation from the US Department of education, 23 partners throughout the Caribbean, the Association for Cultural Equity, Duke University, and many others. DLoC hosts more than 10,000 titles and one million pages related to Haitian and Caribbean history that was once thought to be lost.
This fall, we will launch Haiti, an Island Luminous, an online exhibit that will introduce users to 500 years of Haitian history. Haitian scholars and historians and anthropologists including award winning author Edwidge Danticat will assist in contributing to the exhibit and coordinate the translation of over 170 slides with historic commentary. Through small fundraisers throughout the Diaspora, with our partners at FIU, we have raised money to contribute to the repair and restoration of librairies and books in Haiti, in order to secure institutionalized memory. You see, the new normal in Haiti is at danger of future generations not remembering a Haiti before the earthquake, as past generations were at risk of not remembering a Haiti before Aristide or Duvalier. Haiti’s founding heroes like Toussaint and Dessalines will always be icons and representatives of Haiti’s strength and courage, yet burned into my brain is the sight of the regal bronze statue of Alexandre Petion with ropes tied around his neck to hold up the tents of the displaced people living on Place Boyer or the now barely visible conch shell of the defiant Neg Mawon as he calls his people to freedom, now surrounded by makeshift homes and NGO placed port o potties. Would we allow this to happen to the statues of our founding citizens?

Again, I bring us back to the importance of culture, cultural competency and the respect for the dignity of the people whom we claim to be working for. American exceptionalism cannot apply in Haiti if you want to see successful programs. People are always asking after millions of dollars in aid and years of international support, why has Haiti not progressed and to that I say, to circumvent Haiti’s history, to circumvent Haiti’s constitution, to circumvent Haiti’s cultural global contributions and customs of her people to distribute imported food and materials, is to deny the country of her true destiny and dignity. So supporting cultural initiatives in Haiti MUST be a vertical effort along with food, water and shelter.
Haitians will always find a way to adapt and move on, through the strength of their culture. Haiti pap peri, whether or not the international community intervenes but Haiti will thrive once the international community learns and respects her culture.

Kinbe la.