Sak Pasé: Port-au-Prince to Nostrand Ave

Home Brooklyn Life Sak Pasé: Port-au-Prince to Nostrand Ave

Haitian Americans after a memorial service at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi for the victims of the quake. Photo: K. S. Nikhil Kumar
Haitian Americans after a memorial service at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi for the victims of the quake. Photo: K. S. Nikhil Kumar

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Haitian population of New York City is more than 160,000, with more than 75,000 in Brooklyn alone, although the number may be much higher. Since independence from France in 1804, Haitians have emigrated to the United States, including historic leaders like W.E.B. DuBois. The January 12 earthquake had a profound effect on Haitians all over the world, and Brooklyn is no different. The series Sak Pasé, meaning “What’s up” in Creole, will follow the effects and changes in the Haitian community in the borough of King: Please send us your stories at

By K. S. Nikhil Kumar

The ground started to rumble and the pillars and pews moved ever so slightly. But no one seemed to notice the shivers from below. As the subway train passed by, the memorial mass began. The irony in the moment was hard to miss. Everyone seated at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on Friday night was mourning the devastation caused by the earthquake that hit Haiti three weeks ago.

The choir broke into the first of many hymns sung in Creole and English. A bearded man, sitting in the crowd, sobbed through the service. A middle-aged woman cried uncontrollably. People prayed, wept and sang.

Bishop Guy Sansaricq, who was born in Haiti and who has lived in the United States for the last 38 years, officiated. Since the earthquake he has conducted many prayers and services.

Among those in attendance was a team of psychiatrists, led by Dr. Michael Garrett from SUNY Downstate Medical Center. After the service, they set up a walk-in clinic in the church. “Most New Yorkers liken this to 9/11,” he said.  “But this is much worse.”

His team was trying to identify people with post-traumatic stress disorder. Among the psychiatrists was Dr. Jean Tropnas, 63, who was born in Haiti. He lost a younger sister in the earthquake. He says that his employers know about his loss and have told him that he doesn’t have to participate in this effort. But he decided to do so nonetheless. “I guess it’s my way of grieving,” he said. “By helping other people I am helping myself.”

Marie T. Pyrol, 71, a Haitian American and grandmother of 19 with two great grandchildren, was one of the people seeking help.  “Last year my sister died. But this is much worse,” she said. “All those bodies in the street – they have really affected me.” She has relatives among the survivors. “Their house broke in and they are living in the street, eating in the street. They call me. I cannot call them.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.