Jean Leroy Dupervil laid out photos of the damage done to Miragoane, a city in Haiti that’s southwest of Port-Au-Prince.
It’s where Dupervil grew up, a place he left 26 years ago for New York City and, eventually, metro Atlanta. The images pale in comparison to the TV footage of the vast physical destruction in the Third World nation.
And for that, Dupervil, a mechanic who pastors a storefront church in Norcross called Fishermans Missionary Baptist Church, is thankful.
He’s thankful for something else, too — the first responders. I don’t have to tell you what country — via its government and people — were leaders in the effort to aid a country that’s barely stood for decades, at least politically and economically.
“The American people were the first to respond,” he told me as we stood in an empty storefront off Britt Road and Jimmy Carter Boulevard. It’s a collection point for Haitian aid.
“We need any help that we can get, and we as Haitians are proud to see them helping us.”
Then he mentions what I suspect is a little-known fact among even the most studious students of state history. Nearly 800 Haitian freemen fought alongside colonial troops on Oct. 9, 1779, against the British in the Siege of Savannah.
An eight-foot statute of Henry Christophe, the first king of Haiti who as a boy partook in the battle, graces downtown Savannah.
For Dupervil, that long-ago battle, coupled with the response to the quake-battered region, prove something.
“We are in this together,” he said. “And we really are together now.”
My relationship with Dupervil spans several years, back to when he helped co-found the Haitian Community Center, a loose-knit resource operation for compatriots. And because we go back a ways, I posed a question that there’s no concrete answer to, but that even the most practical and spiritual of us have contemplated.
Why Haiti? Again.
“When I first heard about the earthquake, that was the first thing I was thinking, too,” he said. “When you have four hurricanes in a year, then this, it makes you think: This is all it is for us.” Albeit briefly.
“It has happened there,” he said, “and there is a reason for it. Most of the time, people think Haiti is a country of voodoo. It’s not completely that. Forty percent of the people are Christians and the first reaction to the earthquake, even from those who practice voodoo, is ‘Oh my God.’
“Right now is an opportunity to spread the gospel so Haiti can be better.”
In 1993, he bought land in the hometown of his native country. He wants to build a trade school.
“The education is something no one can take away from somebody and that’s the best thing we can give the people,” he said. “It’s a project that I have had a long time, but it’s been difficult to get it off the ground.”
So in the aftermath of the natural disaster, Dupervil sees opportunity. For him. For relatives and friends who live in the impoverished region.
He’s thinking long-term, and hopes that the first responders keep that in mind as well.
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