Writing her way out of the heartache
Miami Herald reporter covers catastrophe that took 11 relatives
When Haiti was rocked by the Jan. 12 earthquake, Christiana Charles fell to her knees to pray.
Her strong belief in God helped her get through: She lost 11 relatives.
Her fortitude inspired her daughter, Nadege Charles, a Miami Herald staff writer, to carry on. Charles wrote about her deceased loved ones just two days after the earthquake.
She ended up writing four stories, including a eulogy of her 25-year-old cousin, Mikerlange Deus, who died after being trapped beneath the rubble of a demolished university in Canape Vert.
“What she did shed more light, giving mainstream America a glimpse into her culture ….It was important for her to share,” said Mike Sallah, the Herald’s investigative editor and a Barry University professor.
“She was weeping when she was writing,” added Miami Herald reporter Fabiola Santiago who served as a mentor for the 27-year-old.
They met the day after the earthquake, in the downtown Herald office when Charles was crafting her first story.
Charles felt compelled to write despite her grief.
Writing the tribute to her cousin was an “important story to tell,” she said.
“She has found her writer’s voice in this tragedy,’’ her mentor Santiago said. “Her voice is a lot like the Haitians, her suffering is so understated in her writing.’’
An editor urged her on.
What also kept her going: The example of her mother, a hard-working nurse’s aide who is a “constant presence in her life,” editor Sallah said.
Indeed, her mother’s strength pushed her into working as a journalist.
Charles started writing as a senior in college; she had an assignment on street gangs and went out on the streets, with a police escort, talking to gang members. She witnessed people sticking cocaine-filled needles into their veins.
She started off as a Miami Herald intern earlier in college, taking calls at the news desk. Her professor at the time, Andrea Greenbaum, recalls Charles as being excellent at everything.
“She’s a remarkable woman, it’s an honor to know her, I couldn’t say that about all my students,” Greenbaum said.
As Charles wrote about her experiences after the earthquake, she vividly described not being able to see her extended family members, whom her mother said they would visit “next time,” after she visited Haiti in December 2009.
“There is no next time,” Charles wrote four days after the earthquake.
Six months since the earthquake, Charles has continued to write and has “stayed disciplined and strident throughout,” Santiago said.
“Rituals help you through the healing process,” Charles said.
Charles covers news throughout Haitian communities in North Miami, North Miami Beach and Miami Gardens.
“They are used to a certain way of life that doesn’t exist here,” Charles said.
Back in Haiti, people have still found a way to take advantage during these dire times. Many rural people who weren’t affected by the earthquake traveled to Port-au-Prince to get free food and water.
Now Charles worries that Haiti could be hit by another natural disaster – a hurricane. Hurricane season started July 1.
“All we need is three days of bad rain,” Charles said.