When a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, killing, injuring, and displacing hundreds of thousands of people, and destroying Port-au-Prince, and other towns near the capital city, family and friends who lived in Brooklyn knew to turn to Radio Soleil “The Voice of Haiti” for the latest news coming out of the devastated country. For more than 20 years, the Flatbush-based station’s owner and present-day director, Ricot Dupuy ’81, has built something more than a radio station for Haitians to hear their favorite kompa and rara band; he has created a virtual town square, a hub, a meeting place for New York Haitians, who make up about 15 percent of the total Haitian-born or second-generation population of more than 900,000 in the United States.

“The Haitian-American community here is large and has extremely strong ties to the home country,” says Dupuy. “For many difficult reasons, such as coups (34 since 1804) impoverishment, natural disasters, and interestingly enough, the acceleration of social media, which keeps us more and more in touch with a relatives in Haiti, we must be, in a big way, Haitian ‘citizens,’ as well as Americans.”

Born in Gonaives, Haiti, in 1952, Dupuy was 19 when he arrived in New York with his mother and two brothers. In Haiti, Dupuy and his fellow citizens tuned their transistor radios to the outspoken journalist Jean Dominique, who from 1968 until his death by assassination in 2000, challenged dictatorships such as those of Francois (Papa) and Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier on his station Radio Haiti Inter.

“In Haiti, the transistor radio became a tool of resistance, a way for the voice of the people to be heard through Jean Dominique’s programs,” says Dupuy. Yet, in 1974, there was no Haitian radio station in New York City. While enrolled at Brooklyn College, where he would earn a bachelor’s degree in political science and accounting, Dupuy worked as a commentator on various radio programs in New York and New Jersey, working to mobilize opinion against the Duvalier regime in Haiti. After graduating, he would go on to earn a master’s degree in economics and finance at Pace University in Manhattan and become an accountant.

But the pull of radio and politics was too strong. In 1992, Dupuy and a group of friends and radio folk who had previously worked in Haiti got together to help form Radio Soleil. In 2002, Dupuy became the station’s director. Broadcast mostly in French and Kreyol, Radio Soleil programming is part call-in talk show, part popular music, part commentary and news reports. Dupuy often plays feeds directly from Haitian radio. The station’s website encourages listeners to visit the station if they have a message they want to broadcast to the community. He hosts a daily show at 7:30 p.m., a Sunday show, and Voix Et Verites, featuring interviews with key political figures in Haitian politics.

Dupuy, a go-to person on Haitian issues for American media, has been interviewed by NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, and The New York Times, as well as other major media outlets. Dupuy has also appeared on CUNY TV.

Ever mindful of the belief that radio can move people to bring about social change, Dupuy says it is the recent elections, both in Haiti and the United States that is on the minds of Haitians right now. “These are very somber times for both countries, but there is a prospering in the Haitian communities both here and in Florida,” which has the largest number of Haitian immigrants, some 500,000 mostly concentrated in the New York and Miami in an area called “Little Haiti.” And although Haitians make up only 1.5 percent of the total foreign-born population in the United States, one of the smallest number of any group of immigrants, Dupuy remains positive about the ability of Haitians to effect change. “Today we have the most Haitians ever in the New York State assembly with a Haitian caucus of five elected officials. “These are good signs.”