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Barry University’s connection to Haiti and its peril runs deep for many students


Haiti’s heartache resonates throughout Barry University’s community of students and faculty who remembered those lost with a candlelight vigil and pledged to continue relief efforts

Special to The Miami Herald
Barry University graduate Bacheler Jean Pierre was on his way home from visiting family in Haiti when the earth shook.

He was standing in the waiting area of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport when the massive earthquake hit Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, narrowly escaping as the roof of the airport began to cave.

“Everything just collapsed,” said Jean Pierre, 25, who at first thought a plane had smashed into the building.

He ran out of a broken window unharmed.

Others, of course, were not so lucky.

Jean Pierre shared his story and grieved with dozens of students who gathered at the university’s Landon Student Union Courtyard for a vigil and prayer service.

Jean Pierre, who graduated last month, returned to his alma mater on Friday, greeted with the hugs and tears from classmates and friends.

He said he was grateful to be alive but still in shock.

“I don’t know how to feel,” he said.

Students held an overnight lock-in to show their support for Haiti relief efforts at the university. More than 30 students slept on the floor wrapped in blankets in the cafeteria.

Holding a lit candle, Denae Brierre prayed for the victims with faculty, staff and students.

“It’s a night of solidarity,” said Brierre, secretary of the school’s Haitian Inter-Cultural Association, which helped organize the event. Brierre’s aunt died after her house collapsed.

“I can’t complain,” said Brierre, 19, who spent the night in the cafeteria. “They have it worse because it was raining and cold. My grandmother is 82-years-old, and she is out there sleeping on the bare ground.”

The suffering in Haiti has resonated throughout Barry’s student body and faculty, many of whom have ties to the Caribbean country, said Sister Linda M. Bevilacqua, university president.

“I think our university’s and community’s hearts are broken,” she said. “I know many people’s lives have been forever affected by this tragedy.”

The memorial started with a vigil and prayer, led by campus minister Fernando Sorolla-Delgado. Prayers were in Creole and English. Students and visitors also wrote the names of those lost on a white paper posted to a window, which read, “In loving memory of.”

When the disaster struck, the school created a Haiti relief task force to collect donations. The university also has teamed up with Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Center in Little Haiti and the nonprofit Food for the Poor.

The institution also has used electronic media to alert students about relief efforts.

After the vigil, about a hundred students headed to the Grill, where they enjoyed Haitian musicians, poets and dancers.

“This is a matter of unity, healing and support,” said Barry faculty member Evelyn Cartright, who was still waiting to hear from family members missing in Haiti. “We are not alone.”

Haitian guitarist and singer Elie Lapointe drove from Palm Beach to perform folk music from his birthplace.

“This is a youth movement,” said Lapointe who plans on visiting Haiti. “You have Haiti that’s broken, and we need hands to help. And this starts at schools.”

barry university, miami shores, fl

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