Haitian hip-hop star takes stardom home
Wyclef Jean returned to his country to mark the one-year anniversary of an anti- violence organization he founded.
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
Hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean, who helped redefine the image of Haitian Americans when he walked onto the world music stage with a Haitian flag around his neck, returned to his native land Thursday in hopes his stardom will touch lives.
Jean, a member of the Grammy-winning hip-hop group The Fugees, returned to Haiti just weeks before the country's on-again, off-again presidential elections and on the heels of reports that Hollywood couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie plan a surprise trip to Haiti today.
Jolie, a friend of Jean who is reportedly pregnant with Pitt's child, is in the neighboring Dominican Republic filming Robert De Niro's latest film, The Good Shepherd.
Jean, would not sa
y for certain whether the reportedly expectant mother indeed will make an appearance but Port-au-Prince was abuzz with rumors of an impending visit by Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
''Just follow Haiti closely tomorrow,'' Jean told The Miami Herald in a telephone interview from Port-au-Prince.
Jean said he went to Haiti to help mark the one-year anniversary of Yéle Haiti, an organization he founded to make a change in the violence-plagued country. He last visited his homeland a few months ago, he said, when he went to collect his voter ID. He still holds a Haitian passport.
Yéle Haiti, which has the support of several Haitians and Hollywood celebrities including Jolie, is dedicated to changing the lives of Haitian youths through various activities including teacher training, food, sports, environmental and arts programs.
''It's all about the kids,'' Jean said
shortly after arriving from New York,
where the day before he had met with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to tout his foundation's good works.
''This is a nonpolitical movement focused on helping kids,'
' he said. ``
This is a new idea for development. They have tried other things and they didn't work.''
According to Jean and the foundation's brochure, Yéle Haiti is paying the fees of 3,600 school children, rebuilding 20 schools and upgrading teacher skills in 16 schools in the flood-ravaged Gonaives region.
In Port-au-Prince, the foundation, with the help of local Haitian hip-hop musicians, helps feed about 2,700 adults and children every two weeks in the violent slums of Cité Soleil and Bel-Aire. It also promotes after-school sports programs to help deter children from gang activities.
In addition to visiting children at the local jail, Jean said he plans to visit the slums, where armed gangs often operate.
''I always go visit the gangs. I am alway
s in the area of Cité Soleil,'' he said. ``You live and you die, but what's important is my mission.''
A 10-year-old who came to the United States from Haiti, Jean at 35 is a superstar. Through his music, he has kept audiences moving both in English and Creole. But it was the 1997 Grammy Awards that endeared him to many Haitians; that's the year he boldly walked onto the stage with the Haitian flag hanging from his neck.
It was at a time when anti-Haitian and immigrant sentiments left many Haitian Americans ashamed to admit who they were.
Today, Jean says he still wants to use ''my superstar status to mobilize Haitians'' in the diaspora and in Haiti.
Two months ago, he took a giant step toward this by purchasing Telemax, one of Haiti's leading television stations.
He dreams of becoming the Haitian version of Bob Johnson, the man who revolutionized television for African-American audiences.
''He wanted to put black people on television so they could see their likeness,'' J
ean said. ``We are hip enough to purchase the biggest television station in Haiti and to be able for the first time, work with Sesame Street and create Creole cartoons for kids; to do our own cooking shows, reality shows.''