April 20, 1990. More so than it is for most Haitian-Americans, the day is engraved in Ricot Dupuy’s memory forever.
“I still think of this day as a monument and something that I will take to my grave,” said Dupuy, co-founder of Radio Soleil, a fixture in New York’s Haitian community. “When we marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, I don’t think I will ever have that feeling again.”
On that day, about 50,000 demonstrators gathered in New York City to protest against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ban that prevented Haitians from donating blood — unfairly and inaccurately blaming them as carriers of the AIDS virus then sweeping across the U.S.
Furious at the blatantly racist designation, Dupuy and other community leaders galvanized the Haitian community to take to the streets to demand that the federal government remove Haitians as a risk group for HIV. Dupuy considers his role in organizing the march as a defining accomplishment in his life.
His activism also led to the founding of Radio Soleil, which has reached into Haitian homes, taxis, stores and other spaces — first on-air and later online — for nearly 30 years.
“There was a need for round-the-clock news and the idea of a 24-hour radio station became consistent with developments in the growing Haitian community,” said Dupuy, 67. “It is a means to really develop that community through friendship and communion.”
Dupuy has remained an active radio show host on one of the most popular online stations in the diaspora and Haiti.
“The feedback is unbelievable and people will come up to me and say, ‘Ricot, every night at 7:30, we listen to you,’” said Dupuy. “I can’t afford to be sick. That’s my problem right now.”
A trusted community voice
Currently, the station has an estimated weekly audience of 50,000 listeners online, via its self-titled app and through other channels like Audio Now. While mostly known for its news coverage, the station also features advice and counseling shows in its programming. Over its 24-hour time span, Radio Soleil features seven original shows and shows from Haiti.
Loyal listeners, long-time friends and newcomers alike appreciate Dupuy’s signature passion-filled voice, ability to examine topics in-depth and his presentation style, particularly about political developments in Haiti. These traits have made him the prominent, well-respected figure so many listeners enjoy.
“I listen to Radio Soleil because Ricot is objective and his way of making you understand Haitian politics is phenomenal,” said Marie Lourdes Jean-Louis, a social worker living in Suffolk County. “Even with American politics, I’ll watch CNN, Fox, and MSNBC, and if there’s something I didn’t get, Ricot’s evaluation of the situation will help me understand it better.”
François Pierre-Louis, a professor of political science at CUNY Queens College and a long-time friend, said Dupuy’s transparency has endeared him to the community.
“The way he delivers the news appeals to a lot of Haitians,” Pierre-Louis said. “He’s very trusted because people realize he has no hidden agenda and just likes to do radio.”
Pierre-Louis and Dupuy met four decades ago, while they were both members of the Haitian Student Association at CUNY in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Dupuy received his bachelor’s degree in political science and accounting from Brooklyn College in 1981, while Pierre-Louis attended Queens College.
He said they were very active in raising awareness about Haitian politics by particularly speaking out against the Duvalier regime. After Duvalier’s ouster in 1986, the pair turned their focus on the importance of having democratic elections in Haiti.
After the pronouncement by the FDA and the subsequent march in 1990, Dupuy turned his activism focus from on-the-ground work into a new medium, radio.
Founded in 1992, Radio Soleil became increasingly more popular once Jean-Bertrand Artistide assumed office. Dupuy used his platform to continue to address important issues both in Haiti and the diaspora, including police brutality and TPS.
Dupuy has since become an internationally-known radio host and has interviewed high-profile political figures, including Nelson Mandela and former President Bill Clinton.
On a regular basis, he also addresses New York politics. He has interviewed the likes of Bill de Blasio when he was running for mayor in 2013. This year, Dupuy is conducting a series of interviews with mayoral candidates, including Maya Wiley, in the lead-up to the citywide elections.
Changing neighborhood leads to broader audience
Like the rest of the city, Dupuy is well-aware of the rapid gentrification changing Flatbush. The studio, located at 1622 Nostrand Ave., is about a 15-minute drive from his home. All around Brooklyn and beyond, new high-rise buildings and luxury units point to the neighborhood’s changing demographic facade.
The changes are enough to have friends like Pierre-Louis concerned about Radio Soleil’s future.
“The community is changing a lot in Flatbush and rental prices are going up,” said Pierre-Louis. “I don’t know how long he’s going to survive there. I’m sure they’re going to jack up the rent and move him out if there’s no other way to support him.”
Many Haitian families have taken that route over the past 30 years, beckoned by more affordable rents and better quality-of-life elsewhere. According to U.S. Census data, 14,271 Haitians lived in Flatbush in 2012. By 2015, there were 13,816.
Still, Dupuy is optimistic. He said the moves haven’t negatively impacted his audience, as many listeners are able to take the station with them.
“Those who used to listen to us in New York moved to other parts of the United States, but they continued to listen to us and then promoted the station to their friends,” Dupuy said. “Not only did we keep our listenership, we increased it.”
Focus on the original motivator: Haiti
With kidnappings and political unrest again rising in Haiti of late, Dupuy has turned his focus back to his native country. Like his activism against Duvalier decades ago, he is again speaking out on the importance of fair elections and for people to freely have their voices heard.
He hopes that his extensive on-the-ground developments in Haiti will prompt international actors to get involved.
“Haiti is controlled by gangs whose purpose is to ensure that the will of the people is not materialized and they cannot express their desire for the government to depart,” said Dupuy. “In the same way I was successful in organizing the April 20, 1990 AIDS March, my next goal is to add my voice to convince the U.S. that changes are needed in Haiti.”