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Haitians, who have a strong presence in New Jersey, want to help their people back home

At the corner of 47th and Woodlane in West Philadelphia is a mural, "Boat People,'' painted by Haitian artist Claes Gabriel.

Part of Mural Arts Philadelphia, the colorful, 28-foot-wide work features a boat crowded with people. A figure in the center wears a ceremonial white mask, his lower body also containing a boat. It sits on a sea of red, symbolizing blood shed on the journey to the adopted home.

“This country is built on immigrants,'' Gabriel observed. "Everyone is an immigrant.'' "Boat People'' illustrates "just sort of how hypocritical we are with that treatment,'' he explained.

Recently, nearly 15,000 Haitian migrants showed up at the Mexico-Texas border, seeking refuge in the United States. Images showed some border patrol officers seemingly using their horses as weapons, some officers accused of using the reins in a whipping motion.


Critics have pointed out that the treatment the Haitians received was very different from the welcome by Americans of the thousands of Afghan refugees flown to the United States since the end of the Afghanistan War in August.

“Black migrants are disproportionately being criminalized just as African Americans are because of their Blackness,” said Nana Gyamfi, the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants and the executive director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration, in a Washington Post article. “Our Blackness leads us to be racially profiled and puts us in the police-to-deportation pipeline.

“One group (Afghan refugees) is being met with food, cheers, places to live, etc. — which is what welcoming looks like. And the other group is being met with cowboys with leather straps or ropes and detention by force.”

About 4,000 Haitians were put on planes and sent back to Haiti, while others were sent back to Mexico and thousands more were bussed to processing centers where their fate would be decided.

For Haitians living in the United States, it was particularly difficult to watch.

Their homeland is going through particularly tumultuous times after another major earthquake in August and the July assassination of Haiti president Jovenel Moïse, as well as the ongoing pandemic. The 7.2 magnitude earthquake left at least 2,000 dead and many homeless, and came 11 years after the disastrous 2010 earthquake. That 7.0 magnitude earthquake took over 250,000 lives and left many homeless.

These events have contributed to a rise in gang violence and dire conditions in large parts of the Caribbean island nation.

New Jersey has the fourth-largest Haitian immigrant population in the United States, behind Florida, New York and the Boston, Massachusetts area, according to multiple websites.

That has resulted in an outpouring of support for Haitians sent back to the struggling country, and a consolidated effort across the state to relieve their suffering.

Haitian-born, Philly-based artist Claes Gabriel talks inspiration for 'Boat People' mural

Sculptor and painter Claes Gabriel discusses the inspiration for his West Philly mural 'Boat People.' - JOE LAMBERTI, USA TODAY NETWORK

New Jersey helps Haitian refugees

Frantz Lozier and Eliezer Marcellus came to Camden from Haiti with their families a year apart in the 1990s. They have made the most of the opportunities they’ve gotten since arriving here.

Lozier, who graduated from Brimm Medical Arts High School in Camden, is a registered nurse at Jefferson Hospital in Washington Township in Gloucester County, while Marcellus, PhD., a Woodrow Wilson High School graduate, is an assistant dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University-Camden.

They are heavily involved with relief efforts for Haiti.

Lozier is president of the Haitian Community Development Organization of Camden, and Marcellus co-executive director of New Jersey for Haiti, a nonprofit dedicated to providing relief and assistance in helping Haiti recover and rebuild for the future. (Marcellus is also a past president of HCDOC, which was founded in 1999.)

“We were fortunate enough to be granted an opportunity to come to the U.S.,” Lozier said of his 1994 arrival with his family. “But ever since I came to the U.S., my parents always (instilled) in me to never forget where you came from. That was very important to me.”

“Haiti’s just been going through it,” reflected Marcellus, who came to the U.S. in 1993 . “A lot of the instability with our government. A lot of instability with natural disaster.”

Haitians need medical supplies, hygiene products, bottled water, tents, non-perishable food items, toiletries, clothing and more. Money is also needed to support the relief efforts.

Camden officials and the HCDOC kicked off a “Camden for Haiti” relief campaign on Sept. 25 at the Whitman Square Park Water Tower Community Center.

Camden City Councilman Chris Collins met with Lozier when a local community activist sent Lozier to him for support. Wheels were quickly put in motion.

Collins and Lozier teamed up with Mayor Vic Carstarphen, the Haitian Community Development Organization of Camden and the Camden for Haiti Relief Campaign.

“It’s a strong 35-day campaign to generate as much resources as we can to send over to Haiti,'' Collins said. "I had no clue that we had a Haitian community in Camden. They came in my office and asked if I would help them. I told them ‘absolutely.'

“Camden, we like to lead by example,'' he continued. "Just like with the George Floyd protests. When other cities and Philadelphia were under fire, Camden was leading a peaceful protest and in the same way, we know what was going on down in Del Rio, Texas.

"Our goal was not to focus on what was going on in Texas, but to focus on a relief effort and bring in the Haitian community, our city government and our local community organizations together to support our relief efforts.”

The city is considering a second event as a grand finale before they ship things out at the end of the month, he said.

“So far it’s been going great,” Lozier said of the Camden-based efforts. “The opening event, we had a lot of people that came out and gave us a lot of donations, so that was really good ... Work continues.”

All donations will go directly to those in need, organizers said.

'How do we walk together?'

New Jersey for Haiti was founded in 2010 after that earthquake.

At that time, major nonprofit organizations such as the American Red Cross were accused by multiple sources, including Red Cross Haiti Program Director Judith St. Fort, of not effectively distributing aid that was collected for Haiti, prompting an investigation from ProPublica and NPR in 2015 which questioned where the $500 million raised by the American Red Cross was spent.

Their research found the Red Cross had used portions of the money to cover overhead and management and had grossly overstated how many houses the organization built in the years after the 2010 earthquake, according to a USA Today article. The American Red Cross has disputed the ProPublica-NPR findings.

“We did not want the same thing that happened in 2010 to happen again,” said Marcellus, who lost at least 10 cousins in the 2010 earthquake. “That’s not just my organization, it’s the whole Haitian diaspora.''

That meant getting much more involved on the ground and teaming up to ensure relief efforts were coordinated.