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|76ers center Samuel Dalembert has been busy doing all he can for his native Haiti in its time of need.|
|Haiti lies in ruins after an earthquake hit on Jan. 12.|
“There's a new generation coming of age in the NBA, symbolized by LeBron James' becoming the first 1980s-born player to win the Most Valuable Player award, and 28-year-old Boozer says, "As we all do mature, we feel a sense of responsibility." When the Sept. 11 hijackings happened in 2001, Boozer was still in college, not in position to help financially. After Hurricane Katrina walloped New Orleans in 2005, Boozer participated in the benefit game in Houston put together by player-turned-TV-analyst Kenny Smith. He spent a week helping Katrina evacuees in the city, feeding people, handing out supplies at schools. At the league's day of service in New Orleans during the 2008 All-Star Weekend, his group, which included Wade and Caron Butler, went to help rebuild a school. "I'll always remember the markings they had on the neighborhood houses, how many people survived, how many died," Boozer says. "There must have been 60, 70 people in a four-block radius that had died." At the school, his group helped build a wall. It didn't feel like much to him, but he has come to realize the value of all contributions, lessons that stuck with him now in an even greater catastrophe. About 2,000 people died as a result of Katrina. The extreme estimates in Haiti project a number that could be 100 times that. Although those numbers are unfathomable, even on a personal scale the impact feels greater than anything we have experienced. On 9/11, it felt as if everyone knew at least one person who had lost someone close to him or her. For me, it was my friend's brother, who died in the Pentagon. With Haiti, it's multiple people who lost multiple people. I've talked to a work colleague who had two deaths in the family. I've heard through the social media grapevine about a college schoolmate who is missing relatives. Even the elation of hearing Polynice say that his father was alive the day after the earthquake has been tempered by subsequent news that three of his cousins have died. In the face of excessive numbers, the best solution can be to focus on the minutiae. "When you can help, you've got to help," Boozer says. "And every little bit helps. If you send a toothbrush. If you've got 50 cents."
People have a perception of the NBA as a bunch of thugs or whatever. That's not true. We have guys that have big hearts that want to help out in times of need, that are good guys.” -- Jazz forward Carlos Boozer
|Thousands of people in Haiti are without shelter.|
“"It's sad, it's not a place that I can go unless you can do something. And the best way I can help is by coming here and bringing the message and telling people what's going on, letting them know the money's going to the right place and the right thing." Dalembert's willingness to embrace this role as spokesman has turned a player with a career average of 8.1 points per game into one of the most visible faces in the NBA in the past week, just as Haiti ("the ghost part of the land that nobody knew about," Dalembert says) is suddenly on the minds of many Americans who couldn't locate it on a map last month. "That's why I kind of have to look at this in two different viewpoints," Polynice says. "It's a tragedy, all the lost lives. I'm hoping in the future this will help Haiti grow and become stronger and be a beacon of light to other Third World countries. Now the world's eyes are open to Haiti, and they will stay open and it won't be the forgotten country. "A lot of people owe a lot to Haiti. We were the first [post-colonial] independent black nation. When George Washington was losing in the war, it was Haitian slaves that were brought in to help the U.S. win the war. We have a lot of great people here in the U.S. that hold high positions in a lot of different companies." Living in the most impoverished nation in the hemisphere, surviving the father-son Duvalier dictators for 30 years, Haitians had to develop a resilience just to get through everyday life. The same trait that helped Polynice forge a 14-year career in the NBA is evidenced in the willpower that enabled some earthquake survivors to last beneath the rubble for a week without water. "We just persevere, there's something about us," Polynice says. "We've been through hell already. "They're gonna keep fighting. I know that for a fact "I loved that image of that lady when they pulled her out. First thing she started doing was singing. That's it. That's Haiti." Polynice wants to help in the coming weeks. He's planning a comedy benefit show at The Laugh Factory in Hollywood on Jan. 29. During Super Bowl week in Miami, he will host a display of sports memorabilia as well as an evening with Pro Football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson (information available at TeamUpWorld.org). What Dalembert took from his Haitian visit is the need for tents. Tents to provide cover for medical facilities, tents to shelter families, tents to provide relief for doctors so they don't have to waste valuable time and resources shuttling off the island to get rest. That is an immediate goal of his Samuel Dalembert Foundation, but he doesn't want Haiti to slip from our minds once the crisis subsides and the next story or scandal comes along and captures our attention. "Something this big has to happen for people to say we have to step up and do something," Dalembert says. "All the people have to suffer for the world to realize that now we need to focus and do something, not just leave it in their hands and say, 'Take care of yourself.' Now it's time to go over there. We need a hospital; let's build a hospital. We need a school for the kids; let's build a school. Four months from now, I want to see a lot of planes coming to Haiti and providing help. A year from now, I want a hospital built." We've learned a lot about the needs of a neighboring nation in the past couple of weeks. In the process, we learned a little about the people we see on NBA courts, night after night.
The best way I can help is by coming here and bringing the message and telling people what's going on, letting them know the money's going to the right place and the right thing.” -- 76ers center Sam Dalembert