Harry Belafonte Gives Peace Props To Wyclef Jean

NEW YORK – Eighty-two year-old Jamaican-American recording star, actor and humanitarian, Harry Belafonte, believes he could not pass on the torch in the struggle for peace and human dignity to a better person than Haitian musical adventurer Wyclef Jean – the 2009 ASCAP-Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award recipient.

Presenting the award to Wyclef Jean this week at the 2009 WHY (World Hunger Year)-Chapin Awards at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers in New York City, Belafonte – himself a previous ASCAP Humanitarian Award winner whose contributions to the civil rights, anti-war and anti-apartheid movements are as legendary as his music – saluted the 36 year-old Haitian and fellow Caribbean musician for leveraging the celebrity and activism of himself and his friends for the humanitarian work he does.

Harry Belafonte (left) and Wyclef Jean.

“Wyclef’s greatest contribution can’t easily be measured because Wyclef himself has said the greatest accomplishment is giving hope to young kids,” noted Belafonte as he educated the audience about the four-year-old Yéle Haiti nonprofit foundation Wyclef established to bring back hope to his native country. “Yéle Haiti allows kids to dream – they have not dreamt often, and most of the time their dreams have been nightmares. That’s what got me here – dreaming,” he said.

Wyclef Jean with the 2009 ASCAP-Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award.

Yéle Haiti helps the poor and underprivileged in Haiti through food distribution, aid for hurricane victims and job creation efforts. Changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken Haitians through its sustainable development programs, Yéle Haiti partners with established community-based groups where they exist, and if they don’t exist it helps start them. Either way, the focus is to feed the hungry, to fight HIV and AIDS while providing soul sustaining nourishment through the arts and sports programs.

Trinidadian Simon Khan, Chief Executive Officer of Antilia, a New York-based Caribbean special events company and entertainment brand that helped promote and produce the Awards, said he was delighted to see Harry Belafonte from Jamaica, Wyclef Jean from Haiti and Slinger “The Mighty Sparrow” Francisco from Trinidad and Tobago/ Grenada tithe their time last week to put the spotlight on world hunger and the challenges facing the Caribbean nation of Haiti. “This once again goes to show the power of the Caribbean-American Diaspora and what can be done on an international stage when we leverage our talents for good,” he said.

Caribbean Stars: From left: Harry Belafonte, Wyclef Jean and The Mighty Sparrow.

The Haitian-born Jean, who was heralded throughout the evening for his unselfish, energetic activism in the service of causes that matter, said he was honored to receive the award as he reminisced about his own battle with poverty and struggle to make ends meet while growing up in Haiti. He encouraged humanitarian groups to focus on sustainability when helping the poor: “When you are going to feed a child, remember it’s about sustainability – the reality is that you have to give them the (fishing) rod and the boat and they won’t come back to you no more.”

Also honored at the event were Growing Power (Milwaukee, WI), a national non-profit organization and land trust, WFAN Sports Radio 66, the flagship station for the New York Mets, New York Giants, New Jersey Devils and New Jersey Nets, as well as several 2008 Harry Chapin Self-Reliance Award winners, representing grassroots organizations in the United States that have moved beyond charity to create change in their communities.

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