Sean Penn talks Haiti at Harvard

Former Haitian prime minister Michèle Pierre-Louis and Sean Penn at Harvard’s Kennedy School Tuesday.
Former Haitian prime minister Michèle Pierre-Louis and Sean Penn at Harvard’s Kennedy School Tuesday.Brian Snyder/Reuters

For reasons having nothing to do with Hollywood, Oscar winner Sean Penn was at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government Tuesday. The actor was there with Michèle Pierre-Louis, the former prime minister of Haiti, to talk about how the tiny island nation is faring three years after the devastating earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands and left close to 1 million homeless. Penn, who won Oscars for his performances in “Mystic River” and “Milk,” is cofounder of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, which helps develop sustainable programs for the Haitian people. Other speakers included Harvard professor Mary Jo Bane and Lieutenant General Ken Keen, formerly of the Joint Task Force Haiti. Penn, wearing jeans, a denim shirt, and a jacket, said it’s too soon to say how Haiti is doing, though the “visible trauma and smell of bodies in the air” are gone. “I think you need to look at the next 15 years, not the last three,” he said. Penn also questioned whether the media is helpful or hurtful. “In American journalism, there’s a very titillating marriage between those who report on struggle and their demand that struggle remain so they can report on it.”

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