By Jean H Charles:
Some forty years ago, upon graduation from Columbia University School of Social Work, I was eager to engage in the kind of hard core advocacy championed by my late professor cum community organizer, George Bragger.
He had convinced the then mayor of New York City, John Lindsay, through theoretical essays and street demonstrations, that black people coming from the south of the United States to escape inhospitality in their hometowns were as American as apple pie and as such deserved decent housing, a solid education and upward mobility.
I wanted to replicate the same engagement for and towards the newly formed Caribbean immigrant population migrating into New York City from Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana and Haiti.
I enrolled in the Association of Black Social Workers to network with and synergize the movement in the black community. My enthusiasm was dampened, though, by the leadership of the then president of the association, the late Ciney Williams, who strongly opposed the adoption of black children by white parents.
Coming from a culture where the national ethos through self-determination has long overcome the per se prejudice of black-white racism, I felt uncomfortable with that policy. My own reasoning told me that a child, irrespective of the color of her or his skin, needs a window of opportunity of 16 to 18 years in a stable and secure home to turn into a well adjusted and mature individual, ready to face the vagaries of life.
In fact, some forty years later the damages of that policy are staggering. The few black children adopted by or born into a mixed or white family turn out to be like… say, Barack Obama! They are as American as apple pie, and as black as Frederick Douglass.
Fast forward to the adoption issue in Haiti; the debate is already fierce amongst this huge tragedy that has caused almost a million orphan children. The issue is whether the Haitian government and the adoptive countries should develop a liberal policy towards facilitating as many adoptions as possible while eliciting a stringent method of monitoring of post adoption follow up to weed out child exploitation. A cursory visit, more frequent at the beginning, less frequent later, will delineate the bad apples from the good ones.
UNICEF has indicated there might be more than a million orphaned children after the earthquake. Haiti does not have the means to handle such a large number of displaced children before the earthquake, voire after the tragedy. The large amount of sympathy from all corners of the globe that engulfed the country should not be dampened by the alleged issue of child exploitation launched by the public relations machine of the same UNICEF.
The Haitian government recently detained ten US Baptist church members, who were trying to cross the border to the Dominican Republic with 33 alleged orphaned children without the proper exit documents. They spent some time in jail on the serious offence of Mafioso pending a judicial determination on the criminal intent of the missionaries: child snatcher’s or misguided do-gooders?
All indications are that they fall within the range of the latter.
They have no history of child exploitation, they were bringing the children into an orphanage in the Dominican Republic, and they even have the authorization, albeit not written, of the children’s parents. The Haitian government is flexing its muscle on the back of the missionaries to demonstrate some remnant of effective power and leadership that it has failed to exhibit before and, above all, after the earthquake.
The scope of the international media that should focus on the three million displaced persons has been displaced to zero on the fate of the jailed missionaries. The jazzy and controversial story of the white Americans languishing into a Haitian jail after a devastating earthquake is spicier than the fate of the mothers and the children deprived of food, shelter, and water. The sooner this travesty of justice ends, the better it will be for the millions of orphans and quasi orphans no longer secured of their immediate and long range future.
May reason, conscience and good faith prevail! God’s thunder is still on display! The mistreatment of the Haitian people, the mistreatment of its children in particular by its own government, as well as by the international community is repugnant to His benevolent magnitude!
Note: A Haitian judge has released pending further investigation the missionaries from the Haitian jail. One step for justice, two steps for common sense.
February 13, 2010