Land of Extremes

Theology students visit Haiti to explore moral leadership

By Kimber Williams

haiti

ORLANDO EVANS/BOWTIE PHOTOS

AFTERSHOCK A group led by Emory’s Robert Franklin visited Haiti to study and explore questions of moral leadership, such as the use of relief funding following the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Orlando Evans 19T has long known of the challenges facing Haiti, a Caribbean nation that has struggled in the wake of a devastating 2010 earthquake—with in-laws of Haitian descent, he feels a special connection.

But it wasn’t until he walked down humble dirt roads and through the nation’s halls of power that Evans fully appreciated the sharp inequity in wealth, education, health services, and opportunities for advancement that shape Haiti as a perplexing land of extremes.

“It’s one thing to talk about moral leadership and the absence of moral leadership and another thing altogether to see the impact it can have on a group of people,” says Evans, a former banker and financial consultant now studying for a master’s of divinity degree at Candler School of Theology. “We saw what appeared to be 99 percent of people living in poverty and 1 percent living in power and wealth—such a huge and overwhelming disparity. For seminary students and community leaders, it tugged at your heart.”

Evans was among nine Candler graduate students who traveled to Haiti for a ten-day seminar in moral leadership led by Robert Franklin, public theologian and James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor in Moral Leadership at Candler. The group examined moral leadership in context by visiting with artists, academics, and spiritual and political leaders who are considered “important moral agents in their communities and country,” says Franklin.

The travel seminar was built around topics including Haiti’s religious and cultural heritage before the earthquake, public and private corruption and who is working to challenge it, pre- and post-earthquake development, and stabilizing society after rapid changes of government.

The seminar served as a prerequisite for a fall course Franklin teaches, Moral Leadership in International Context. It’s the second international travel seminar that Franklin has led through Candler’s James T. and Berta R. Laney Program in Moral Leadership, which he chairs. In 2015, he and his Candler students made a ten-day trip to South Korea.

“We typically look for places where there is volatility and moral and social ambiguity in the society, where there is a need for women and men who act with integrity, courage, and imagination to serve the common good,” says Franklin, who also serves as senior adviser to President Claire E. Sterk.

Among Haiti’s ethical concerns: How $16 billion in international relief support raised following the earthquake was actually used.

“We were pressing the question of where did the money go and were people actually being helped,” Franklin says. “And we heard a variety of responses—none terribly happy. There is still skepticism and concern about waste, mismanagement, and a lack of accountability and partnership with local leaders.”

Adding to the trip’s interdisciplinary dialogue were Francine Allen 18T, a part-time graduate student at Candler and assistant professor of literature at Morehouse College; Kali-Ahset Amen, assistant director of Emory’s James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference; and Cheryl Franklin, a physician and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in Morehouse School of Medicine who serves as medical director for Morehouse Healthcare.

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