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Who will rebuild Haiti?

As the world converges on Haiti to begin the long, expensive reconstruction process, some wonder if black people will be shut out of the process.

By Betty Pleasant

While Haiti is in ruins and people from all around the world have streamed into the country to help its grief-stricken citizens bring out their dead and bind up their injured, some people are beginning to think in terms of rebuilding the Caribbean island nation destroyed by an earthquake on January 12th.

The question is: Will Black people — the color of the people who perished in the devastation — participate in the reconstruction of Haiti?

Answers to the question are mixed: A Haitian sees the need to rebuild his country as the golden opportunity for skilled, unemployed Black workers to get a toehold on the economic ladder.

A local Black contractor is certain that, as with everything else, African-American businesses and workers will reap the fewest opportunities in Haiti, and a Black business mover and shaker is hopeful that, through political pressure, African-American businesses will be allowed to help rebuild the country.

Evans LaMour, a Haitian immigrant whose entire family is still unaccounted for in Port-au-Prince, feels the destruction of his homeland affords the opportunity for Haitians and African-Americans to “build something with pride.”

LaMour, a musician and entrepreneur with several enterprises in Pasadena and North Hollywood, said the earthquake leveled not only the capital, Port-au-Prince, but the outlying area, Jacmal, as well.

“The whole country needs to be rebuilt from the underground up, and my Black brothers here in America need to go there and do it,” LaMour said.

“We’ve got unemployed brothers walking around here with skills that Haiti needs, and we need the hands and backs of those without skills as well — people who can only dig and haul and such. There’s work to be done in Haiti and proud Nubian people like us need to come together and do it,” LaMour said.

Drexel Johnson, executive director and founder of the Young Black Contractors Association, concurs with the spirit of LaMour, but as the result of his group’s experiences with getting New Orleans repair work following Katrina, he is more sanguine in his outlook.

“We just know that everybody will get to the table to do business adequately in Haiti except Black contractors,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s organization is a consortium of 39 Black-owned contracting businesses that are government-certified experts in demolition, land clearing, underground utilities and infrastructure, roadways and highways paving and general building.

“We are prepared and certified to go over there right now and do the work,” Johnson said. “We approached Congresswoman Laura Richardson about getting contracts to work in Haiti and she directed us to her deputy, Eric Boyd. He told us to talk to the fire department and we could go with them to Haiti and work for free. We’re not working for free!”

Contractors in Johnson’s associations worked to build the Alameda Corridor, Southwest College, Drew Medical Magnet School, several commercial structures — such as Targets, Home Depots, Vons, Rite Aids, and T.J. Maxxes — as well other government facilities.

Johnson said it is always a struggle for Black contractors to get work at home, so he envisions an even greater battle to get work abroad. With that in mind, Johnson’s organization is scheduled to hold a news conference Thursday in front of Carson City Hall, where he will discuss the inequities of job opportunities for Blacks going to Haiti, and to announce his candidacy to run for Richardson’s seat in Congress.

In the meantime, Gene Hale, the Black business community’s primary wheeler and dealer, is already busy communicating with federal officials to engage minority businesses in the rebuilding of Haiti.

“A coordinated effort is not being done to press government into dealing with this problem,” said Hale, head of the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce.

“Only government can do this, as USAID is America’s lead agency for Haiti development. We need mandates put in place that would require USAID to use the goods and services of small businesses,” Hale said. (USAID is the United States Aid for International Development agency).

“We don’t really need to go over there,” Hale continued. “We’ve got a logistics problem and it’s too costly for some of us to go over there, but the goods and services many Black businesses produce and provide can be procured by USAID contractors to be used in the development of Haiti and we need to put pressure on the government to ensure that this is done,” Hale said. Toward that end, Hale said his organization has launched a letter-writing campaign to President Obama.

Skip Cooper, president of the Black Business Association, who is working closely with the Young Black Contractors on this issue, summed up the whole thing thusly: “While we grieve for the great loss of lives in Haiti, are concerned about the health and welfare of those who survived and support all humanitarian relief efforts, we are aware that the United States is pouring millions of dollars into Haiti to effect its reconstruction and it is important that we participate in it.”

This article was first published in The Wave

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One Response

  1. Whilst I see that this article is well intended, I think the perspective and analysis are wrong.It is once again an example of the way in which markets and capitalism rule our thinking. Instead of thinking about the access that African American contractors have to a country that is NOT their own. Perhaps, we should consider how we are going to create lasting healthcare, housing, education, competent civil and human rights and a strong and stable government, as oppossed to the scrabble for profit. I urge all readers to check out Naomi Klein’s- “The Shock Doctrine”, it expounds very clearly on the way in which we have come to see the market as a solution for everything including human and natural disasters.

    Let us as Black people not perpetuate this system of exploitation.

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