February 22, 2010
1,300 St. John’s University students, administrators, guests and
visiting high school students packed Carnesecca Arena last Thursday
evening to attend a lecture given by Grammy award-winning artist
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His appearance at St. John’s, part of the University’s Academic
Lecture Series which aims to bring education to students through
innovative and exciting lectures, was sponsored by Student Affairs,
the Ozanam Scholars program and Student Government.
Jean and his foundation, Yele Haiti, have become central to the
relief effort for Haiti since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked
the island nation in January, Jean, an immigrant from Haiti, has
raised vast amounts of money since the tragedy to provide food,
shelter and support to the people of the Caribbean nation whom he
holds dear to his heart.
“Besides money, the most important support the people of Haiti need
is the moral support. They love the fact that so many people are
going down there,” said Jean.
Jean founded the non-profit Yele Haiti organization in 2005 to
provide aid to the nation which, even before the January
earthquake, was the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.
He urged St. John’s students to organize trips to Haiti, saying
that it was the best way to help the suffering people. And, he
opened the door for students to partner withYele Haiti to make this
reality come true.
“Go on the ground and visit these children…they want to see you,
they want to hear you speak in their language, they want to hear
you speaking in English,” added Jean. “Start setting up these
little trips. Giving money is one thing, but when you actually go
and you look into the eyes of a girl that looks just like you, it
will change your life completely. And you’ll come back after that
and do fifty more fund-raisers.”
In a press
conference early in the afternoon before the event, Patrick
McBurney, 21, President of Student Government Inc. at St. John’s,
introduced Jean to press and welcomed him to the University.
Jean spoke to the press about his rough childhood upbringing, first
in Haiti, and then in Brooklyn, where he ended up in the Coney
Island projects after immigrating to America.
“My Dad left me when I was one; I was raised with my aunt; I used
to have to go five miles to get water – so when I got to
America…[after] leaving that village, I told them that I would be
back,” said Jean. “I went back to Haiti because the promise I made
to the kids in the village had to be accomplished.”
Integral to the rebuilding process in Haiti is the opportunity to
give the Haitian people long-term hope, sturdy construction and
“It always starts with the youth. Whether it’s a revolution of the
arms, whether it’s a revolution of technology, it always starts
with the youth,” admitted Jean, to the predominantly youth-laden
crowd on hand to witness his lecture at St. John’s.
There were several light moments during the lecture, as Jean kept
the mood upbeat amid talk of death, destruction and despair in
remembering the tragic plight of Haiti.
Jean invited a student to slap-box with him, something he says he
learned to do while living in Brooklyn. Later, he invited three St.
John’s students to freestyle rap before he burst into his own-style
rap which contained plenty of references to St. John’s.
devastation was apparent, as a huge television screen behind him
played images from the tragedy in Haiti. He likened the need for
governmental change in Haiti to the black civil rights movement in
America, and said that the rumors that he would seek the Haitian
presidency were unfounded, for he sought only to continue helping
in the way that he has now.
“Haiti’s gonna be rebuilt,” said Jean, confidently.
Shortly before Jean sat for a final performance by St. John’s own
Voices of Victory choir, he once again asked that those in
attendance not forget about the people of Haiti.
“This is the worst tragedy in the history of mankind,” said Jean,
in closing his lengthy lecture to the appreciate crowd.
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