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Inspiration All Around

In the face of adversity and tragedy that sometimes seems insurmountable, the Haitian people continue to inspire the world with their optimism, their grace, their generosity.
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All my life, I've tried to do good. When I was growing up, my examples were, naturally, my mom and dad. My dad was a preacher; my mom is a woman with a beautiful, charitable heart. They raised my siblings and me to do our best and be grateful for all we had -- and, most important, they made sure we didn't forget that there were lots of people who had less. They made sure we knew that we had to do something to help those folks. That's been a guiding principle to me since I was a child. I've been an activist for the people, and that comes from my family.

Music has obviously been central to my life, too. What might not be so obvious is that I've tried to use my music to be honest about the things that are important to me. Of the many musicians who are wonderful inspirations as artists who are also activists, the one who means the most to me is Harry Belafonte. Now, he is a man I truly admire. Like me, he spent part of his childhood in the islands (for him it was Jamaica), part of it in the U.S. He stayed true to his roots and really used his fame to take a stand on important issues. He had bigger things on his mind than entertaining--he was going on marches for civil rights; he was making speeches to inspire the masses; he was meeting with politicians to help make a difference. He continues, to this day, to stand up for his beliefs. In other words, he knows what matters in this world.

President Barack Obama, without a doubt, is a great inspiration to me as well. My wife, Claudinette, used to read his first book to our daughter, Angelina, every night (even though it's not a children's book, she loved to hear her mother read it) -- and this was before he was elected. His campaign was an innovation, and I hope to take a page from it as I embark on my own quest for office. His candidacy sparked the interest of many in the United States -- especially young people -- who had felt disenfranchised before he came onto the scene.

The way President Obama used the Internet and social media was so smart, so revolutionary, really, in all the best senses of the word. In the same way, I hope that my candidacy will inspire more Haitians to be active participants in the political process of our country. I hope that young voters will become activists because I've helped them see how important everyone's contributions are to the future of Haiti.

And, of course, the Kennedys, one of the greatest political families in U.S. history, are an inspiration. President Kennedy for his policies (his creation of the Peace Corps is a fitting legacy to the man) and the dreams of what more he could have accomplished; Mrs. Kennedy for the dignified and beautiful way she raised her children under the constant scrutiny of the public and the press. (Claudinette and I both aspire to do as good a job with our daughter.)

John F. Kennedy Jr. was truly my friend. I still miss him, especially today. He had a way of touching people and was such a smart man, and he didn't get a chance to really make his mark in the world. It's one of the reasons I've decided to make my run for president now; who knows what the future holds? There's no time to waste, for any of us.

One of the members of the younger generation of Kennedys who has been making her mark is Kerry Kennedy. She established the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights and is the chair of the Amnesty International Leadership Council, among other good works. Her ability to raise a family while doing so much to give voice to those whose voices are not often heard is impressive, to say the least.

Every year on the day of my birth, Oct. 17, Haiti commemorates our freedom fighter Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who was assassinated on that day in 1806. He was one of Haiti's founding fathers, and his story is an inspiration to all Haitians: He rose from being enslaved to becoming a soldier and leader of our country. He ultimately led the battle against the French that resulted in our nation's independence.

Which leads me to my final source of inspiration: the Haitian people themselves. In the face of adversity and tragedy that sometimes seems insurmountable, the Haitian people continue to inspire the world with their optimism, their grace, their generosity. Even in the horrible aftermath of the earthquake, in devastation that would have broken the spirits of most, my countrymen remain steadfast and strong. It is at times like these that I am most proud to call myself Haitian and that I recognize that the people are truly the reason I have entered this election. I want to do my best for them, to help build the future they deserve.

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