Special to South Florida Times
NORTH MIAMI BEACH — On the brink of the two-year anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake that devastated Haiti on Jan. 10, 2010, activist and Grammy-award winning musician Wyclef Jean visited South Florida to encourage local Haitian-Americans and supporters to continue working together to improve the conditions for families in Haiti.
“There are a lot of Haitians that live in Miami who have family members that are still living in the country and are in need of support,” Jean told South Florida Times. “Haiti still needs help. I encourage people not to just send money or food, but to actually visit the country, see the places where these children live, embrace the culture and help them rebuild.”
The City of North Miami, comprised of approximately 58,000 residents, has an 85 percent Haitian-American population and was recognized by the National Civic League in 2008 as one of the top ten cities in the United States. Jean was honored in a City Hall ceremony on the eve of
Thanksgiving for his advocacy and humanitarian efforts in the United States, Haiti and across the world through his Yele Foundation.
Hosted by the Office of North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre, Jean was presented the Key to the City during a brunch reception attended by dignitaries such as former North Miami Mayor Joe Celestin, Chair to the Miami-Dade Black Affairs Advisory Board Priscilla Dames, Jacques Despinosse and Haitian Mayor Wilson Jeudy.
BEACON OF LIGHT
“Wyclef is a beacon of light for human beings all over the world. If you go to Africa, in any area of that continent, the people will tell you the things he has done for society,” said Mayor Pierre. “His love for human beings is by his actions and I want to say thank you so much Mr. Jean for continuing to show action and how much you truly care about the people in this society.”
Yele, which means “Cry Freedom” in the Creole language, was founded by Jean in 2005 as a grassroots organization to provide assistance in the areas of youth development, tree planting, employment, agriculture and emergency relief. In the first year, Yele provided scholarships for the education of 3,600 children in Haiti and doubled its efforts in the next year, distributing more than 6,800 scholarships throughout regions including Gonaives, Port-au-Prince and Les Cayes.
In 2010 the organization established the Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund — an effort endorsed by celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Tyra Banks — which raised more than $9 million for relief efforts and brought food to over 60,000 familie5s in the aftermath of the tragic earthquake.
“Yele has made a significant and tangible impact on the lives of people, especially in Haiti,” said Pierre, “by encouraging them to take an active role in their country and their future.”
Pierre further stated a personal connection to Jean, as they both migrated with their families from Haiti to New York at a young age. “It’s a pleasure for me to be here in honor of this young man who I grew up with. Although we never crossed paths in New York, I think destiny speaks volumes in what it is we are trying to do” said Pierre. “I am thankful that God has put me in this position to be able to recognize the work that Wyclef Jean has done in the world.”
Jean, whose birth name is Nel Ust Wyclef Jean, was born on Oct. 17, 1972 in Croix-des-Bouquets, right outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. One of four children to the late pastor Gesner Jean and wife Yolanda, Jean moved to Brooklyn, NY at the age of 9 and immediately became engrossed in the hip-hop culture. Although Creole-French was his only spoken language upon arriving to the States, Jean quickly learned how to speak English by listening to American rap music.
With a growing love for music into his teenage years, Jean’s talents were showcased as a member of The Refugee Camp: The Fugees, a Hip-Hop/R&B group he formed with cousin Prakazrel “Pras” Michel and friend Lauryn Hill. The group went on to sell over 20 million records worldwide, mostly due to the success of the groups’ 2006 Grammy-award winning album The Score.
Jean received another honor as he became the first Haitian-American to be inducted into the North Miami Hall of Fame. Accompanied by his mother, Jean told reception participants that he was humbled by the recognition and greatly appreciative for the North Miami dignitaries and those from other municipalities in attendance.
“I accept this award on behalf of my late father Gesner Jean and mother Yolanda Jean,” said Wyclef. “I give my dedication to North Miami not in words because I am not a man words; but through my love of action.”
As he addressed the audience, Jean encouraged residents to invest in their community and be active in fundraising efforts while seeking supportive funds from local and federal governments.
“What I want Haitians to understand is that before people can help you, you have to start by helping yourself and take action,” said Jean, who recently ran unsuccessfully for president of Haiti.
“You have to understand that in order to build an institution right, you have to have money. If you can raise one million dollars in your neighborhood, you can get the city to match it with another one million dollars. I look forward to being in North Miami, getting a great deal on a piece of property, but most importantly, I look forward to working with the youth. I love you 100 percent; not just because you’re Haitian or because your Haitian by association, but because the heart of the common man is to truly love, not to hate.”
To conclude his visit in the North Miami area, Jean also served as the Grand Marshall of the 37th Annual North Miami Winter National Thanksgiving Parade, an effort fully supported by Mayor Pierre.
“I have a personal love for the Mayor of North Miami. After we met it felt like two young brothers with two visions and as parallel as the visions may be, they are really the same — to move a nation forward,” said Jean.
Photo: PHOTO COURTESY OF City of Miami/ Office of Communications
KEY TO THE CITY: North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre honors Wyclef Jean.