Friday, April 20, 2007

15 Days

After 15 days, Henry Petithomme ended his hunger strike. Last Sunday, he was visited by Congressman Kendrick Meek, who promised Henry to deliver his message to Congress and George Bush. On Monday, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen made a personal visit, and she also made a promise to Henry to work towards a day when Haitians are treated as refugees, in the same way Cubans are treated today. Nearly every local news channel and newspaper covered the story, and helped get Henry's message out, and Haitian-American leader Marlene Bastien helped everyone understand the terms refugee and temporary protective status. My friend, Lou, who works with the United Church of Christ in Pittsburgh, sent out a press release to over 100 media outlets in Western Pennsylvania, and to all United Churches of Christ nationwide. My friend, Erik, in New York, contacted some friends at the U.N., one of which is currently stationed in Haiti. Trisha sent a note of encouragement to Henry from England, and Olga and Lisa stood on the street in Little Haiti and invited passersby in to hear Haitian speakers and poets. Rodrigo, Brandie and Jason myspaced and e-mailed everyone they know, and visited Henry to give support to a man they'd never met before. A lot of co-workers of mine and Henry's ventured into a small church in Little Haiti for the first time, not knowing much about Haitians, or our policies regarding them, but wanting to let Henry know that they support him - even if they don't completely understand what he's peacefully fighting for.

Immigration is, I'll admit, a diffcult issue, with a lot of hard questions to be asked of ourselves and our country - and I don't pretend to have all the answers. But, what I do know is that my friend Henry is made of unbelievably strong character and a beautiful heart. His sense of commitment and responsibility is deeply inspiring and this country is a better place with people like him.

Visiting Henry every day, and getting to know his friends and family has been a great experience for both me and Tony. And I saw, once again, as Tony was moved to join Henry for 24 hours in a show of support, what an intelligent, compassionate and all-around great guy I've got. Under Henry's leadership we were all invited to help build the bridges necessary to make our community and our country great - and I don't think we'll ever be quite the same again.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Starving For Justice

Life has kept me super busy for the past month - new job, getting ready to move into a new place, visitors, a week o' the flu, and catching up with neglected friends - so my blogging and lurking has suffered severely.

But I had to stop back in to share something important, and ask for a favor from my gentle reader(s).

A friend, co-worker and all-around good guy has committed himself to bringing attention to the discriminatory immigration policy that exists - commonly called the wet foot/dry foot policy. Right now, the law allows any Cuban who reaches United States dry soil to stay as a refugee from communism. If Cubans are interdicted at sea by United States authorities, they're sent back to Cuba - unless they can prove that they're lives are in danger if they are returned. For Haitians, it doesn't matter if they reach the beach, or not. They are detained for months in immigration prisons, and sent back automatically, because the policy states that Haitians are just economic refugees, whereas Cubans are refugees from a communist system of government. To a lot of Haitians, the wet foot/dry foot policy looks more like a white foot/black foot policy.

A little over 2 weeks ago, a small boat with 102 Haitian refugees landed in Hallandale, just north of Miami. One man died in the surf, trying to reach the shore. The rest of the 101 people were captured and detained, and will most certainly be sent back to Haiti after risking their lives to escape. Unfortunately, Haitians and Haitian-Americans have very little political power, even here in Miami, so few people even noticed these people's misery and pain.

My friend Henry Petithomme, answering what he calls a spiritual calling, decided to commit himself to peaceful protest through a hunger strike - to call attention to the discriminatory policy that our government pursues, and to the suffering of these refugees. Henry is one of the most committed, strong, stubborn, visionary, hard-headed go-getters that I've ever known. Today will be 12 days without food. Henry's health is deteriorating, and he is prepared to die if he doesn't reach his goal of gaining national attention.

A few days ago, Jetro Nelson, who I also work with, joined Henry's protest, and went 3 days without eating. Yesterday, Tony (yes, my Tony) joined Henry with a commitment to 24 hours with no food as a show of support.

Today, there will be a unified cross cultural stance of Hope & Unity as we support Henry at the Episcopal Church of St. Paul located at 6744 N.Miami Avenue in Little Haiti, from 12 noon throughout the day. I don't want Henry to die, so I'm asking as your friend, because Henry is my friend, that if you are in Miami - please stop by and show your support, and if you are outside of Miami, please forward this to as many people and media outlets as possible. It only takes a few minutes. There will be live poetry, skits, powerful motivational speakers, special music guests and more. Congressman Kendrick Meeks is scheduled to come. Please forward this to radio, TV, internet bullentins... all media. Let the voice of the voiceless be heard. Please help Henry in his efforts.

IF YOU WANT TO SEND A NOTE OF SUPPORT TO HENRY - E-MAIL Thank you for your support ! Please pass this on and help get the word out.

I will return to regular blogging about nothing in particular and lurking around your blogs soon.