Aug. 17, 2004 – A warm welcome awaited about 500 Haitian-American and African-American visitors to St. Thomas on Tuesday as they sailed into the harbor aboard the Navigator of the Seas.
They were participants in the "Cruising into History" event sponsored by the New York-based Haitian Support Group to celebrate the bicentennial of independence in Haiti, which in 1804 became the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere.
St. Thomas-St. John Administrator James O'Bryan Jr., Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards and Eddie DeLagarde, representing Delegate Donna M. Christensen, greeted the visitors, encouraging them to "shop 'til you drop" and to spend time with the people of St. Thomas.
Ron Daniels, executive director of the Haitian Support Group and organizer of the cruise, addressed the gathering on the West Indian Co. dock alongside the ship.
"We are all so proud to be on this journey as we celebrate 200 years of the independence of Haiti," he said. "We believe that the connection between Haitian-Americans, African-Americans and the island of Haiti is crucial to the island's development."
Since it was formed in 1995, he said, the Haitian Support Group has been able to deliver more than half a million dollars in aid to Haiti.
Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and honorary chair of the event, said the cruise is about Haiti, "but it's also about our solidarity as black people."
Morial said participating in the cruise was important to him because his family is of Haitian descent. "This is an opportunity to reclaim those roots," he said.
Dennis Rahiim Watson, president of the National Black Youth Leadership Council in New York, described the cruise as an effort to express optimism and hope. "God has blessed us to survive 400 years of slavery," he said, adding that it is time black people united.
For Jean Rousseau, a Haitian-American surgeon who lives in Louisiana, the cruise means a chance to set foot on the island nation he once called home. He said he appreciates the efforts of the Haitian Support Group "because they are trying to do something good by celebrating the independence of Haiti."
Rousseau said Haiti set the example for black slaves in the Caribbean by revolting. "Unfortunately, the country does not have that same show of power today," he said.
The poverty-stricken nation has been beset by political turmoil and instability for years. February brought the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the setting up of the U.S.-backed interim government of Gerard Latortue.
Other cruise participants include Essence Magazine editor Susan Taylor; the Rev. Tyrone Pitts, general secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention; and poet-activist Haki Madbhut. Actor Danny Glover, who helped organized the event, backed out at the last minute, citing concerns about the island's government. Poet-activist Sonia Sanchez also opted out
The ship was to call at San Juan on Wednesday and at Labadee, Haiti, on Thursday before returning to Miami. Earlier plans for a daytrip into the Haitian city of Cap-Haitien were canceled. (See "'Pilgrimage of Hope for Haiti' Plagued by Politics".)
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