Samuel Dalembert, the only Haitian-born player in the National Basketball Association and the starting center for the Philadelphia 76ers, is working to raise funds for relief efforts in Haiti. He is the founder of the Samuel Dalembert Foundation, which has teamed with UNICEF, the Red Cross and Feed the Children to support humanitarian aid to his home country. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
Samuel Dalembert is with us now, the only Haitian-born player currently in the NBA. He’s the starting center for the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s the founder of the Samuel Dalembert Foundation, which has teamed up with UNICEF, the Red Cross and Feed the Children to support relief efforts in Haiti.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you start off by talking about what’s happening in Haiti now and what you’re doing about it?
Thanks for having me on.
Yeah, I mean, basically what I’m doing is collecting, like everybody else, every organization. Thanks to everybody out there who is doing everything in their power to help out back home. You know, it’s basically collecting as much money as possible to be able to purchase, you know, needs for back home in this moment. You know, we would love to accept more than just that, but it’s very difficult to get a lot of stuff on the plane and provide it, you know, get it there. So until the problem is stabilized a little bit, it’s a lot. You know, it’s everybody. It’s myself, you know, all the loved ones and my people, and, you know, trying to do everything we can to help.
And Samuel Dalembert, could you tell us, have you been in touch with any of your own family members there at all? Are they safe? And tell us a little bit about what part of the country you’re from.
Yes, I’m from Port-au-Prince, exactly where it’s happened. You know, I’m from like several blocks from there. Yes, I was in contact with some of my family members, and others are injured and are — and well. So — but thank God nobody has been reported dead yet. But a few people are missing, like my uncle and my godfather and, you know, other family members missing, still looking for them.
But the crisis is — you know, it’s crazy. You know, it’s very difficult in a place like that to be able to maneuver yourself and locate the people. And somebody might be — just like you see on TV, somebody might be under the brick. You don’t know. You know, it’s going to be a tough thing to be able to, you know, identify everybody, you know, and have everybody be able to looking for their loved one. But, you know, we cross our fingers and pray hard, and helping from outside here. And once again, thanks to all the people who hit my website and, you know, contributed to our organization. And then, you know, I mean, it’s — you know, it’s hurting.
You, yourself, have pledged $100,000, Samuel Dalembert?
Yeah. Yeah, I had to do that initially. You know, that’s a part of my donation, because I was online with UNICEF, and they’re keeping me on track about what’s going on. You know, the Foundation myself — you know, UNICEF is one of the foundations I looked up to, you know, before I started my foundation, and helping the children out and creating opportunity. As one of them brought up in Haiti, see how things work. So, you know, our main purpose was to help the children, and our focus was little children. But in this case, our focus is on everybody out there. So they were able to let me know what’s going on, little by little.
At tonight’s 76er game at the Wachovia Center, you have pledged to match all the contributions of the fans if they make them there?
Any, any contributions made there. You know, I know it’s a tough time for everybody all over the world. You know, I hate asking for handouts too much, but I think it’s a time right now where, you know, it’s a great need. I will pray that people, with their heart — you know, anything. Anything goes. You know, I mean, like I said, I would love to, if I had the power, the main power, to be able to collect as much stuff as needed. And I’ve talked to a lot of emergency agencies. Very difficult to do that right now due to the fact that they’re not letting a lot of planes landing over there. And there are also the supplies from other nations are coming in. And so, you know, that’s when our focus was like, OK, let’s kind of go after the children and do that first, and that in one week, you know, if there’s things needed, and then we would be able to provide it, you know, in our power.
And Samuel Dalembert, I’m wondering if you have been in contact with or know Olden Polynice, the first Haitian who played in the NBA? There are some press reports that he has had trouble finding some of his own relatives, I think his father and some members of his family.
Yeah, I talked to him yesterday. You know, I’m supposed to get back with him again today. You know, he was able to — I was able to talk to him on the phone, and he told me his story. And, you know, like I said, we try to stay in contact and put help together. And that’s very important at this time, when you have, you know, all the Haitians all over. It’s time to get together and work as one, because this problem isn’t going to be fixed if we don’t put our heads together first and show leadership. So, you know, he tried to get in contact with me, I tried to get in contact with him, and we finally get together yesterday.
Now, you know, we are trying to do everything we can. And the first thing is the communication. It’s very difficult to communicate with anybody over there. Some people have — you know, able to call you in one time. Then, when you call them back, they have no communication. So the first thing I’m going to try to do, hopefully by next week or maybe in a few days, try to get over there and kind of provide satellite phones to a lot of people and friends and some organizations over there and try to, you know, stay in contact with them and then be able to locate some of the people.
We’re also joined by Dahoud Andre, who is a radio commentator on radio Lakou in Brooklyn.
DAHOUD ANDRE: New York.
You’re warning people — in New York — not to be so afraid if they can’t reach someone on cell phone.
DAHOUD ANDRE: Yeah, this is something that we want to make clear to people, that it’s very difficult to reach people. None of the phone carriers are working. Digicel, Voila, Haitel, they are not working right now. Teleco is not working right now. And people tend to panic. They think the worst happened. But definitely, don’t do that, because it puts you in a mental state that’s really not good. Wait for word for what happened.
The International Red Cross, they’ve set up on their website a link for people to find out if there’s any information about their families. Check there. And there’s also space for you to post information if you’re looking for someone or for folks who are over there that they have found. So we think that’s a good resource.
But also, it’s a time that we need to tell people to be mindful that everything that seems to be happening is not necessarily going to reach the people who are most in need, so use your judgment in terms of who and where you give your support to. We want to encourage folks to give, to support the different organizations that they’ve worked with in the past that are credible.
And Dahoud, one of the issues I’ve heard you mention previously is the question how these cell phone companies and the ability of the Haitians, either in the United States or in Haiti, to be able to use prepaid cards. Could you talk about that?
DAHOUD ANDRE: What it is is that while this is a tragedy for the country, it’s a bonanza for many people. And one of the things, we use phone cards that we buy to call the country. That’s the cheapest way to call. For example, myself, in just trying to call a phone, and you don’t get an answer, and the money on the card just drops and drops until there’s nothing left on it. So we’re saying that’s an opportunity that those phone companies can say, in light of the situation, that they’re going to make it cheaper. It costs maybe eight cents to call the Dominican Republic, and it costs about 25 to 30 cents to call Haiti per minute.
We also — in the community, people are asking that the airline companies — American Airlines, Delta, Spirit — that travel from here in New York to Haiti, to lower the rates, to have cheaper — $100, $200 — to allow people to go and visit their families.
I wanted to play for Samuel Dalembert the comments of Rush Limbaugh encouraging people not to contribute. This is Rush Limbaugh on his radio program.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: This is what he lives for. He lives for serving those in misery. Now, don’t misunderstand here, folks. See, this is — I wonder — I don’t have the whole press conference, but I wonder, did he apologize for America before acknowledging we are the only people on earth that can possibly help them out down there in any significant way? So the country that he runs around the world apologizing for, the country that he has a chip on his shoulder about, he now turns to as its president and asks people who have lost their jobs because of his policies to donate to whitehouse.gov to the people of Haiti. And we will do it. We are the most charitable and the most generous people on the face of the earth. Each and every time a natural disaster like this happens, we step up, we are there. That place, Haiti has been run by dictators and Communists. And how long is it going to be? How long is it going to be before we hear Obama and the left in this country say that what we really need to do is reinstate the Communist Aristide to the leadership position down there to coordinate putting the country back together?
That was the comments of Rush Limbaugh. And in May, when the UN appointed President Clinton to be the envoy to Haiti, Limbaugh said, “I’m just going to tell you, if I was named envoy to Haiti, I’d quit government. Envoy to Haiti? You can’t even pick up a prostitute down there without genuine fear of AIDS.” Your comments on this, Samuel Dalembert?
Oh, wow. You know, that’s why I choose to play basketball, not politics. But, you know, like I said, part of it, a lot of it, has been true. You know, it’s been very difficult over there to do anything, and so much money has been spending back home, and the people haven’t seen a change. And it’s tough.
Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Samuel Dalembert. He’s the only Haitian-born player currently in the NBA, starting center for the Philadelphia 76ers, founder of the Samuel Dalembert Foundation. And thanks so much, Dahoud, for joining us, Dahoud Andre.
DAHOUD ANDRE: Amy, I would like to leave folks with last words, saying that this tragedy is not going to turn Haiti’s enemies into its friends. And for the effort that we are doing, people can go to our website, www.lakounewyork.com. It’s lakounewyork.com, to download our flier.
And we will link to that — and we will link to that at our website at democracynow.org.