Most of us don’t think about Haiti anymore.
Danny Yates never stopped trying to help.
Yates was in Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, acting as an interpreter for a Richmond Catholic group. After witnessing the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, Yates immediately began thinking about how he, and Richmonders, could help rebuild.
In partnership with the I Have a Dream Foundation, Richmond, Yates vowed to bring four Haitian students to the United States so they could complete their educations and then return “to make substantial change in their community.”
Such a simple goal — but the obstacles proved to be enormous. Federal standards restricted colleges’ acceptance of international students. The four students’ academic records had been destroyed. Their visas were denied. Despite the support of many Richmonders, including Rep. Eric Cantor and former Gov. Tim Kaine, a discouraged Yates almost abandoned the project.
Then in July, the visas came through. The four Haitian students started class at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College this fall. They’re still getting accustomed to American life, Yates says, from deciphering class schedules to operating a garbage disposal. Yates is searching for sponsors to help pay their tuition after May.
As for Yates, he’s not sure what he’ll do after graduating from the College of William and Mary. He’s spending the spring semester at the University of Martinique and then considering law school. He definitely wants to live here, where he grew up, he says: “Seeing Richmond through these students’ eyes has made me realize how lucky we are in Richmond. … Although some things are broken, we’ve come a long way.”