Romel Joseph embodies both the success and resilience, as well as concern for the plight of tens of thousands of other Haitians still suffering from the effects of the January 2010 earthquake.
Joseph was among more than 200 survivors treated at Jackson Memorial Hospital. The blind classical musician who was trained at Julliard spent 18 hours under the rubble of his music school that killed his pregnant wife. Both his legs and an arm were broken and he stayed three months at Jackson for surgery and therapy.
“I was brought to Miami by the American Embassy for treatment,” said Joseph, who performed a mini-concert at the hospital Jan. 11 with his children Victoria and Bradley to express gratitude to the hospital.
For Joseph, a renowned violinist, to be able to play two different suites for violin and piano, with his children again in public showed “how far I’ve come.”
“I still need more treatment but I’m fine enough to play,” said Joseph, a powerfully built man with gentle hands and a kind and generous smile.
Joseph also travels regularly between South Florida and Haiti, performing and raising funds to rebuild his Victorian School and to construct what would be the first concert hall in his country. Yet, when he talks about challenges to overcome, he is not referring to himself as much as he is talking about his country. “It’s far from over,” he said.
With the echoes of sweet music by composers such as Shostakovich dancing upon the polished walls of the Atrium of the Clark Diagnostic Treatment Center, Northwest 12th Avenue and 19th Street, Joseph wanted to make sure that people did not forget the stories of those still struggling years later to recover from life-altering devastation. “It is important that people remember,” he said.
For Joseph, survival has meant many things, including not being content to merely meet the basic needs of Haitians. Speaking as an artist, a parent, an earthquake survivor and as a Haitian, he gently expressed frustration with the government of President Michel Martelly, whose candidacy Joseph said he supported.
“I am disappointed that the government is not doing enough for the arts,” said Joseph. Developing and supporting the arts can be an avenue of healing for his country and compatriots, he said. The arts can help foster and protect “emotional stability.”
Joseph uses his own experiences in those harrowing hours beneath what used to be his school as proof.
“You can remove yourself with music, remove yourself from pain and space,” said Joseph. He explained he survived the agony of broken bones and acute claustrophobia by playing concertos in his mind until rescuers found him the next day.
“I didn’t die because my mission is to bring music and culture to Haiti,” he said.
The maestro, who received a special get-well gift of a keyboard from legendary recording artist Stevie Wonder while he was still recuperating, wants to see the construction of a performing arts center in Haiti. Right now, he said, “there is not one music hall or even movie theatre in Haiti.”