Wyclef Jean, the founder and chairman of Yéle Haiti, announced last night that he will relinquish his leadership role in the organization, effective immediately.
The announcement follows weeks of speculation that Jean is contemplating a presidential bid in Haiti’s upcoming election. Derek Q. Johnson, best known for heading up the revitalization of Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater, will assume the role of CEO to continue the organization’s strong momentum during the transition.
Haitian-born Jean, a Grammy Award–winning musician, humanitarian and U.N. goodwill ambassador to Haiti, established Yéle in 2005 as part of his lifelong commitment to improving conditions in his homeland. The organization’s mission is to build global awareness for Haiti while helping to transform the country through programs in education, sports, health, the arts and the environment. Since its founding, Yéle has made a dramatic and wide-reaching impact on the lives of the Haitian population. Its initiatives have put nearly 10,000 children in schools and provided food, jobs and HIV/AIDS prevention training to thousands of teens and adults. Yéle’s post-earthquake emergency relief efforts raised more than $9 million.
The organization is unique not only for its singular focus on Haiti but for its grassroots structure, designed to engage and empower Haitians from all walks of life to take an active role in their country’s future. Yéle’s success, plus the tireless dedication of the Jean family and Yéle’s corps of volunteers, has earned global recognition and the support of celebrities, NGOs, world leaders and corporations alike.
“For the past five years, Yéle has been a huge part of life for me, my wife, Claudinette, and the rest of our family, and I am proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish for the country and people we love,” said Jean. “I have learned many important lessons from my experience with Yéle, most notably the incredible power of individuals united by a sense of purpose and community. And while my role with Yéle may be changing, I am not stepping down in my commitment to Haiti. On the contrary, regardless of what path I take next, one thing is certain—my focus on helping Haiti turn a new corner will only grow stronger.”
“The importance of the work that Yéle is doing in Haiti can’t be underestimated,” Johnson remarked. “There is still so much that needs to be done, and Yéle is really in it for the long haul. The progress we’ve made so far makes me feel honored to head up this organization, and the progress that we still plan to make keeps me inspired to continue doing more.”
Johnson has a background—merging top-level and well-respected business positions with great achievements in socially conscious endeavors—that makes him ideally suited to lead Yéle Haiti in this crucial period in its life cycle and in this great time of need by Haiti and its people. “Derek has shown me that he is the right person to ensure Yéle is fulfilling our vision of bringing Haiti through this dark time, and making real progress in ensuring that the children of my homeland can look to a brighter future,” says Jean.
From 2001 to 2003, Johnson headed up the revitalization and rebranding of Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater, including initiating a capital campaign with a $50 million commitment to fund theater renovations and a new marquee at the landmark venue. He has brought with him the skills he’s honed first as an attorney, and then as a senior executive at Time Warner, Inc., where he was chief of staff for the office of the chairman and CEO Richard Parsons. During his tenure at the media and entertainment company, Johnson conceived, structured and launched a $150 million investment fund for minority- and women-owned strategically aligned businesses. He also spearheaded the company’s corporate branding campaign from its new headquarters at Columbus Circle.
Johnson also founded and serves as CEO of Integrated Urban Holdings LLC, which is currently working in conjunction with Vornado Realty Trust and CALpers to develop and construct a 21-story, 600,000-square-foot mixed-use facility on 125th Street in Harlem.