Sting, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are among those lending both their high profiles and their voices to "This is Haiti." Launched by actor Fisher Stevens and Green Family Foundation president Kimberly Green, the initiative consists of a series of radio-broadcast Public Service Announcements that flip the script a bit on what's coming out of the country, and focuses on Haitians not as perpetual victims, but as a people with a rich and vibrant cultural heritage.
Stevens and Green will be conducting a series of radio interviews (see below) to announce the campaign, which uses as a springboard (and backdrop) the recently released "Alan Lomax in Haiti" recordings, a 10-disc set of rarities that dates back to the late '30s. Lomax had criss-crossed the country by bus on behalf of the Library of Congress, capturing everything from work songs to voodoo and rare ritual.
Neither Stevens nor Green are strangers to Haiti, of course. Green (an occasional Huffington Post contributor) has had a longtime presence in the island nation, and her Maya Angelou-narrated documentary, Once There Was a Country, shed much needed light on Haiti's health care crisis. Stevens, in turn, directed his own documentary last year, The War Against War, which concerns itself with the UN peacekeeping mission.
We reached Kimberly Green on the eve of "This is Haiti's" launch. Here's what she had to say about things:
John Hood: What gave you the idea to reach out through radio?
Kimberly Green: One thing I am stressing in promoting these PSAs is that the majority of the poor resource world gets their information, entertainment and news from radio. It is free, and in many cases you do not need electricity. And it is to radio where many people turn to get instructions about where to go in times of disaster. Hopefully radio will also allow many Haitians to hear firsthand that they and their culture have not been forsaken by the world-at-large.
In addition, the radio addresses limit our carbon footprint. We do not need to fly people all over the world for a concert and spend thousands of dollars on fuel and electricity, and then more money to clean up the mess left behind. It is simple, it is powerful and it is green. For all these reasons, using radio is a wonderful avenue to get the message out.
JH: Why the tie-in with Lomax?
KG: We tied-in Lomax because it's this incredible music recorded in Haiti in the 1930s that no one has heard. It needs to be released to the world and repatriated to the people of Haiti. When the earthquake happened, I knew immediately that all people would be seeing and hearing was despair, and that's not the whole story. I know and love the country -- my adopted land. And I wanted to help be a part of retaining Haitian pride and dignity. This music shows the greatness of a culture and illustrates their strength.
We are incorporating this music with our PSAs to raise money for Partners in Health and The Clinton Earthquake Relief Fund.
JH: Who all is involved in the effort?
KG: Team Lomax, of course. Anna Lomax Wood, Executive Director of the Association for Cultural Equity and The Alan Lomax Archive, and the entire ACE staff, including Ellen Harold and Don Fleming. Professor Gage Averill, who wrote the liner notes for the box set. And Steve Rosenthal and Warren Russell-Smith of the Magic Shop, who restored and remastered the original recordings.
Please make sure Fisher Stevens gets a big shout out! He moved like lightning when I called him. And his commitment to peace and social justice, as well as to human rights, got this effort off the ground. He is also a true hero.
JH: Are there more PSAs planned?
KG: We are planning more PSAs in the coming days to feature more of the Lomax treasures along with more celebrities from other arenas, such as scholars and historians. It is important during this time of crisis that we understand that in order to move forward and create a future we must have some understanding of the past. Haiti's rich cultural heritage and contributions to world history, such as the Haitian battalion during the battle in Savannah, as well as Haiti's role in America's deal on the Louisiana Purchase need to be highlighted. We are planning on focusing on Haitians who have contributed to the world stage.
JH: Last, you're in constant contact with those on the ground in Haiti. Who seems to be doing most and therefore are most in need of support?
KG: Project Medishare, for Haiti, is doing incredible first and continued response on the ground, along with a team of Israelis and the University of Miami. (You can see the work of Project Medishare over the years in my documentary "Once There Was a Country: Revisiting Haiti.") Deputy Envoy to the UN Dr. Paul Farmer's Partners in Health (with Zanmi La Sante) is also a stellar organization, and their continuing commitment is nothing short of remarkable. The Red Cross has boots on the ground too, and they're also doing incredible work. HELP (Haitian Education and Leadership Program) is spearheading tremendous education efforts. And EarthSpark International is working on developing alternative energy sources for Haiti.
Let me also say that there are countess makeshift hospitals and tents in peoples' yards and in plazas and parks, and that the people of Haiti have stepped up for their brothers and sisters, no matter what their economic status. Jean Marc de Matties and his family have been working around the clock with GHESKIO (the Haitian Group for the Study of Kaposi's Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections) to treat the walking wounded, and are driving through the streets with bullhorns to let people know where they can get treatment.
There is a Creole proverb: men apil chen a lou. It means "many hands lighten the load." Now Haiti's people and the people of the world are proving that to be true.
RADIO TOUR DATE: Friday January 22nd, 2010
7:15-7:25am (EST) WFNC-AM RALEIGH (29) LIVE
7:40-7:50 WDUN-AM ATLANTA (8) LIVE (Fisher Stevens)
7:50-8:00 WFTL-AM MIAMI (17) LIVE (Kimberly Green)
8:05-8:15 MICHIGAN TALK NETWORK STATEWIDE (0) LIVE (Kimberly Green)
8:15-8:25 WTTB-AM WEST PALM BEACH (47) TAPE
8:30-8:40 WALL STREET JOURNAL NATIONAL (0) TAPE (Fisher Stevens)
8:40-8:50 REGIONAL RADIO MISSOURI STATEWIDE (0) TAPE
9:00-9:10 VALDER BEEBE SHOW NATIONAL (0) LIVE (Kimberly Green)
9:10-9:20 AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORK NATIONAL (0) TAPE
9:20-9:30 WDIS-AM BOSTON (7) TAPE
9:40-9:50 USA RADIO NATIONAL (0) TAPE (Fisher Stevens)
9:50-10:00 WJSS-AM BALTIMORE (26) TAPE
10:00-10:10 WYYZ-AM ATLANTA (8) TAPE
10:10-10:20 HEALTH RADIO NETWORK NATIONAL (0) TAPE
10:20-10:30 WESTWOOD ONE NATIONAL (0) TAPE
12:45-1:00 OHIO NEWS NETWORK STATEWIDE (0) TAPE (Kimberly Green)
5:30-6:00 KPFT-FM HOUSTON (11) LIVE
Lomax in Haiti: http://thehaitibox.blogspot.com/
Green Family Foundation: http://greenff.org
Once There Was a Country: http://www.oncetherewasacountry.com/
Project Medishare: http://www.projectmedishare.org/
Follow John Hood on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jhood