Haitian community leaders, politicians and dignitaries from across the state gathered at Dorcas International’s North Campus on Elmwood Avenue Sunday to rebuke the ugliness and inappropriate nature of the words and sentiments shared by President Donald J. Trump last week in regards to immigrants from Haiti and Africa, and his preference for immigrants from nations such as Norway.
Organized by Dr. Norly Germain of Hope and Change for Haiti, Bernard Georges of New Bridges for Haitian Success (NB4HS), Dr. Kappi Bois from Haitian-American Partnership for Positive Actions and Councilman Nirva Rebecca Lafortune, the event filled the room with people of many ethnic backgrounds and religions as they listened to one speaker after the next denounce the president’s words and beliefs as racist and un-American. Speakers demanded action and support for immigrants from all countries, and specifically in defense of those countries singled out by the president.
Expressing their support on Sunday were Lt. Governor Dan McKee, US Senator Jack Reed, Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, Representative Aaron Regunberg, Councilwoman Sabina Matos, Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris, NAACP president Jim Vincent, Councilman David Salvatore, and Congressman David Cicilline.
“New Bridges for Haitian Success took this initiative, and all the Haitian leaders and elected officials, to condemn the president’s offensive remarks about Haiti and African countries,” said Georges. “I believe there should be more outrage through a dialogue in understanding the importance of immigrants. Haiti has made a significant contribution to the United States and around the world.”
He gave statistics about the number of Haitians who have AIDs, stating that the UN estimates 150 adults on the island are living with HIV/AIDS, two percent of Haitian people.
“Do the math, president,” he said. “Numbers don’t lie. Haiti is not a ****hole,” he said. “There is no room for bigotry, divisive and racist talk. I strongly believe in the philosophy of my ancestors, ‘unity makes strength.’”
Senator Reed quoted W.E.B DuBois, a co-founder of the NAACP, who said, “education and work are the levers to uplift the people.”
“If the current president took the time to educate himself about the American experience he could help lift up all of our people,” said Reed. “We need now to respond to the comments by saying what they are. They are abhorrent, and they are uninformed. It is the responsibility of the president to create a public dialogue that elevates our thoughts and our purpose and also brings us together, and he did not do that.”
McKee spoke about the wrongness of divisive language and philosophies.
“Hateful words, divisive words, words that are meant to tear us apart not bring us together, spoken in any language, spoken in my house or your house or the White House is wrong, and those that defend statements that bring hate and divide us, they’re wrong.”
Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell who began by calling out the president as a racist, fraud, bigot and misogynist, said “This country does not belong to Donald J. Trump and his misguided followers. We are all immigrants. We were simply dropped off in different ports. I am standing here today in full solidarity with my brothers and sisters from Africa, Haiti and El Salvador.”
“So there is no secret we all know that if you are white skin and a European, those countries get more immigrant visas than if you are black and brown and Caribbean. So let’s set that record straight and we need to fix it.”
She stated several ways to fix the broken system, including helping to end poverty by passing a $15 living wage, reducing the number of homicides by eliminating poverty, the root cause of violence, ensuring equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, ensuring that families and seniors utilizing Medicare and Medicare Part B receive quality care, ending segregation of schools, and investing in the infrastructure and quality of education for all students regardless of ethnic background or zip code.
“This is our call to action, let us get up, let us vote, let us register to vote and we shall, we shall overcome,” she said.
“When I hear comments made out of our house, the White House that seeks to divide us, not only as a country but as a community, that gives me the energy every single day to walk into City Hall and to fight for every one of our constituents, regardless of the color of our skin and our backgrounds,” said David Salvatore, Providence City Council President.
Councilwoman Sabina Matos expressed her commitment to the fight to continue to unite the community.
“I just want to say that we are going to continue fighting, continue uniting, we are going to be here fighting every day to make sure that we send a strong message to the White House and anyone else that supports that type of message this community is going to stand together, that the community here in Providence, Rhode Island is going to start working really hard to send a strong message that we are united and that we value everybody.”
Providence Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris said, “I represent many Haitian families and families of color. Despite a constant attack on this ward towards most of my immigrant families that live here, this ward is strong, very strong. It is important that we stand together in solidarity with because we know that it is the right thing to do, to fight against racism and racist statements is the thing that we should do,” she said, calling out the racist verbal attacks as ‘the Donald Trump Syndrome.’
Representative Regunberg thanked the organizers for the day of resistance and solidarity and praised those from the immigrant community who have helped to make the state a more vibrant, more beautiful place.
Dr. Norly Germain said, “We thought it was going to be very important as the Haitians living here, to join our voices together and then to talk, to not stay silent, so you can follow,” he said. “We realized that it is not about immigrants. It is about race, because he wants you coming from Europe to hear what he doesn’t want us Haitians, he doesn’t Africans he doesn’t want Latinos, but I think he is being misled, misinformed, mis-educated about us. He doesn’t know anything about Haiti, he doesn’t know anything about history.”
“I’m here because I am outraged. I’m outraged because of the constant bigotry that has come out of the White House, from the fact that he has questioned the country of origin of the former president’s birth, to talking about Mexicans being rapists, to talking about Muslims and banning them, to talking with Navajos about things that are offensive, to talking about NFL players who are fighting racism and bigotry in this country. I am tired of the divisiveness and the vulgarity of someone who is the president of the United States. He has proven to be a racist,” NAACP Providence branch president Jim Vincent said.
Councilwoman Niva LaFortune spoke of her own history as a Haitian immigrant and spoke of the work that she and her fellow immigrants are doing in America.
Congressman Cicilline arrived at the tail end of the event, joining his colleagues in condemning the language used by the president.
In a question and answer period, one reporter asked whether the president was merely utilizing his freedom of speech. Both Senator Reed and Lt. Governor McKee responded.
“There’s no question here about freedom of speech, no one is suggesting that the president can’t speak, it’s what he says,” said Reed. “At the end, it goes to the point of the role of the president, particularly in this country is to raise the level of discourse, so that we are talking about real issues, real people in a fair and principled manner, to bring us together.”
Lt. Governor McKee agreed with the Senator.
“We all have the right to say what we want to say, but what we say matters,” he said. “We need to be held accountable for the things that we say. You can say whatever you want, but we have the right to respond to things that come out of the White House that are so racist, so hateful and so divisive.”
Dr. Kappi Bois from Haitian-American Partnership for Positive Actions expressed her pleasure that the voice of the community had been heard.
“Washington heard the nation’s people here today,” she said.