Thirty-five seconds. That’s all the time it took the 7.0 magnitude earthquake to claim over 300,000 Haitian lives and leave more than one million homeless. That was January 12, 2010.
On January 12, 2011, the mood was very different at Harlem’s World Famous Apollo Theater. Nearly 100 performers lent their diverse talents and deep-seated passions to bring an audience of over 500 to its feet repeatedly throughout the course of the two-and-one-half hours of “Hope and a Future: A Benefit Concert for Haiti,” hosted by radio personality Liz Black.
Those thirty-five seconds were commemorated at the start of the program, as the only light in the shadowy stillness of the hallowed theater walls was that of white numbers on a black screen counting down from 35 to 0, each second reminding us how much can be lost in so little time with no warning. Additionally, in memoriam, ten students from Fashion Cares at the High School of Fashion Industries, lined the aisles with commemorative candles to honor the lives that were lost.
From the perfectly pitched saxophone of a swooning Curtis Haywood to the songs of miracles, healing and praise from top-notch vocalists Barbara King and Wanda Nash, to the rap-anthology of Haiti’s history presented by hip hop artist Mecca, to the rhythmic interpretations of Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence Dance Company, and more, the multi-cultural audience was then treated to an eclectic mix of inspirational, jazz, R&B, hip-hop and rap, Haitian music, spoken word and dance.
Of note, choir leader Dickson Guillaume, backed by 20 members of Haitian Mass who grooved methodically in whatever place they could claim as their own on the crowded stage, rejoiced in a song of spiritual awakening. With the audience helping out on “Chante Hosanna,” it felt as though they were going to lift off the stage and into the seats, as if there was no divide between performers and audience. And the much anticipated musical finale found music legend Gloria Gaynor as determined as ever; her special rendition of “I Will Survive” had the audience singing along and cheering in the name of survival for Haiti.
Along with the talent extravaganza, were special vignettes spotlighting Haitian culture and history with perspectives on hope from respected world figures past and present captured in quotes – everyone from Nelson Mandela (“It always seems impossible, until it’s done.”) to Christopher Reeve (“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”)
The evening, produced by Elona Dotson of Psalmist Productions, masterfully wove memories of sadness and despair, with the prospect of joy and hope that is the future of this resilient country – into one thrilling tapestry of entertainment and inspiration. Every performer gave it all they had, as if moved by a power beyond them. And they were. That power was Community2Community – C2C (community2community.info), an organization started by Marie Eusebe to rally tangible support among local individuals and organizations to complete four targeted relief programs in the town of Petit Goave, where her family has roots.
Perhaps most inspirational of all was ten year-old Adante Power’s vignette entitled, “A Story Told,” which captured the curiosity of a child trying to understand why the seeds he planted sprouted no life as he stared into the empty flowerpot in his hands. Until the end of the program, when C2C founder Marie Eusebe joined Adante on stage to marvel at the two-foot spruce that miraculously appeared from the very same pot. A symbol of growth in the form of reforestation efforts that C2C has planned for the mountainside in Petit Goave so that sustainable agriculture can be forged in the region.
The whole evening was a symbol of hope and a future for Haiti, but also of the power of people who care – the power of community.
For more information on the C2C-Haiti Restoration and Transformation Project, or to find out how to donate or become a volunteer, visit www.community2community.info or call 718.393.7740.
By Jami Kelmenson
Photos by K’Von Jean Jacques, # 1: Apollo Marquee, # 2: NY Daily News Brian Adams; NY State Senator Bill Perkins; C2C Founder Marie Eusebe; Hot 97 DJ Mister Cee, #3: Christian Cultural Center youth choir – C3YC, # 4: Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence Dance Company, # 5: Jazz Singer Barbara King, # 6: C2C Founder Marie Eusebe (center) joins in on grand finale, # 7: Saxophonist Curtis Haywood, and # 8: Haitian Rapper Mecca.