CHICAGO | United Center ( – Wyclef Jean approached the rostrum to a standing ovation but not to make an awards speech or because he wowed the audience with any of the Hip-Hop, R&B, or Reggae songs that helped to make him a multi-platinum artist.

Wyclef Jean Photo: Andrea Muhammad

Instead, the Haitian native spoke to Muslims and guests who gathered for the conclusion of the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviours’ Day convention about the plight of victims of the January earthquake in Haiti.

The audience fell silent as the talented musician began describing the circumstances of his birth in a small village in Haiti. A rude nurse told his screaming mother, ‘Shut your mouth. I ain’t send you to go get pregnant.’ … So who is to say it is not for a time like this that I was called for?” Mr. Jean asked.


He compared the suffering of Haitians, especially since the quake, to Americans who take their lives and their possessions for granted.

His message was brief, but poignant. When he reached the land of opportunity, waiting for diamonds to fall from the sky, the man who was born in a hut with no electricity, and who took a donkey to school, arrived at the Marlboro Projects in Brooklyn, feeling like he was rich.

“Sometimes you don’t know how bad you have it until you meet the man that had it worse than you,” he said.

His travel down memory lane took the thousands that listened live in the United Center to a time when people demanded that if anyone stepped on their new sneakers, they would clean them with a toothbrush carried in their pockets. He also remembered when there was a body found on the roof of the projects every month.

“I’m that kid that’s on that poster board when you see them NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) talk about ‘Help Haiti Now’ and you see some naked kid running through the rain. I’m that kid,” he said.

Just to get to Haiti after the earthquake, he had to make an emergency landing with a renegade pilot, because he couldn’t land at the Port-Au-Prince airport. Once there he saw thousands of dead bodies in the streets. Many people were missing limbs.

Mr. Jean brought eight dead bodies to the cemetery where he said there was a man hustling mourners, trying to be paid for putting multiple bodies in a single grave. When Mr. Jean left to collect more dead bodies, a 22-year-old with his Yele Haiti foundation, who was left to ensure bodies were buried properly, was fatally shot twice in the chest for carrying out the order.

“He didn’t get a proper burial, but he made sure those people got a proper burial. This is what the spirit of the Haitian people is about,” Mr. Jean said.

Haiti is now the poorest in the Western Hemisphere but it once enjoyed great wealth from its sugar cane, coffee and other exports, until it was forced by an embargo to pay reparations to the French after breaking free of their rule to become the first Black Republic in 1804, he said.

“If you cripple my economy, it’s only right that you help me rebuild my economy! Thank you to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and as my father looks at me from the skies in the heavens, I could hear his voice saying, who is to say it is not in a time like this that I am called for?”