Hip-Hop Activist Commemorates Anniversary of Haiti Quake

Public Enemy’s Chuck D Encourages Arts Community to Step Up

January 12, 2011 marked the one-year anniversary of the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shook the country of Haiti to its core. UCSB’s Center for Black Studies Research, Associated Students, Black Quare, and the Black Studies Department fused together to commemorate the tragedy not with sorrow, but rather with a renewal of hope and faith for the island nation. The event, entitled “Let’s Not Forget: Haiti One Year Later,” consisted of a candlelight vigil beneath UCSB’s Storke Tower and a ceremony that hosted special guest speaker Chuck D, a political activist and the leader and cofounder of legendary rap group Public Enemy.

The hip-hop activist talked about the level of global leadership during the situation and the failures of Haiti relief after the quake. “[My job] is to make the arts community, especially the hip-hop community, to not be afraid to step up to the plate,” explained Chuck D., otherwise known as Carl Ridenhour. Within 48 hours after the massive quake hit, Ridenhour made the mindful move to organize a relief effort that involved a benefit album entitled, “Kombit pou Haiti.” He was able to gather nine artists who wrote, recorded, and mastered nine Haiti tracks in the span of 72 hours. “We were trying to show the musical community that they can have a quick turnaround [on an issue] and make a statement,” announced Ridenhour. “Haiti has been in turmoil for a very long time, even before the earthquake, so I take this very seriously.” One hundred percent of the proceeds from the benefit album go directly to the relief operation.

Paul Lobo Portugés, UCSB Professor of Creative Studies and a filmmaker, also premiered his documentary Stones from Heaven at the event. The documentary is based on a poem that he created after the tragedy in Haiti. According to Portugés, his work is meant to showcase the horror that took place in Haiti a year ago and to remind people today that the horror still continues on. “I am sorry for the severity of [the documentary], but it is something that we cannot forget,” Portugés forewarned the audience before images of the demolished nation in heaps of rubble emerged on the screen and dead bodies flash by as if it were an endless ocean of catastrophe.

After a year of living in a subhuman atmosphere, the people of Haiti continue to wait for monetary funds that were promised to the country by international relief organizations. The U.S alone vowed to bestow the nation with $1.15 billion to aid in the disaster relief program. However, as of November 2010, the funds were still tied up in Congress belatedly waiting for disbursement. “Our call for action is for new strategies, for new ways, new voices and [that] every dollar given to Haiti should be given to Haiti,” declared Claudine Michel, director for the Center for Black Studies Research. Even with the delay in action on the part of the U.S Congress, the Center for Black Studies Research has committed long-term relief to Haiti alongside the UCSB Haiti Committee and Haiti Soleil.

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