Born in Brooklyn, New York to Haitian parents, David Pierre-Louis had always identified as Haitian-American. Though his first visit to Haiti wasn’t until he was 24, he felt a deep connection to the country.
His parents, who had met each other in the states, kept their culture alive in America by enforcing their native language, Creole, in the home. After his parent’s separation and more than 30 years spent in the United States, his mother moved back to Haiti, which sparked Pierre-Louis’s first trip to his family’s homeland in the early 2000s.
Falling in love with his people and his environment, he was also introduced to the high unemployment rate. He knew that later on in his life, he would come back and do something to help his people, but wasn’t sure when.
Then, on January 12, 2010, a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti. Immediately after the earthquake, power lines were out, limiting all communication from the devastated country. After countless attempts to reach his mother, Pierre-Louis decided to pack his bags to find her himself through the rubble of her hometown in Turgeau — a suburb just east of Port-au-Prince.
Knowing that aid wasn’t reaching Haiti, and that no planes were allowed to land at the airport, Pierre-Louis also brought as many medical supplies as he could to help earthquake survivors.
“I just didn’t want to come empty handed,” he recalled. “The country was very much in turmoil and unsteady. [Entering Haiti] was a surreal experience: all the houses were demolished, there was a scent of dead bodies, and it was all very surreal.”
Flying into the Dominican Republic from Seattle and then taking a bus to Haiti, Pierre-Louis happened to be sitting next to a freelance reporter from England who began to inquire about his journey. The journalist asked if it was possible to document the next few days of his search.
A sneak peak of “Kenbe Fem” in honor of the victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. (Film by The Production Foundry)
Pierre-Louis agreed, and what started out as a filmed search for his mother, turned into an empowering and emotional documentary about one man’s passion for his people captured over the course of five years by The Production Foundry. In the film “Kenbe Fem,” which means “to hold firm,” connections are made between Pierre-Louis’ Seattle work at LUCID Lounge facilitating a space for artists and his work in Haiti, installing water filtration systems and planning a multi-level resource center in Turgeau. The resource center will be called “Kay Tita,” which translates to “My Mother’s House.”
“For the past seven years, LUCID has been an art-driven space, a space where people feel safe and that anything is possible,” he said. “I want to expand the concept of LUCID into the resource center, an area where people of the community can come together and share resources.”
The funds raised through earthquake benefits at LUCID address the needs of the people with community sustainability in mind.
“The larger NGOs would buy pounds and pounds of rice and ship it to Haiti, which didn’t make too much sense. Haiti already has tons of people selling rice and corn, and the money that they were raising was not being spent in the community,” Pierre-Louis explained. “That part didn’t sit well with me at all, and it was hard for me to swallow. Why would you do that? We decided to do the opposite.”
The documentary “Kenbe Fem” will be showing at the Neptune Theatre (for free!) in Seattle’s University District this Thursday, June 25 at 6 p.m., with special musical guests Black Stax and Naomi Wachira. Save your spot via Seattle Theatre Group.
This story has been updated since its original publication.