Finding a home in Columbia

In 1973, Joseph followed the lead of a friend and moved his family to Columbia. His wife was white, Joseph explained, and they were looking for a community where such couples were accepted.

"My friend lived here and he told me, 'Ray, you should come down here and take a look at the place, the way the city is being built, not destroying the fauna, and also the diversity of it,' " Joseph said in a recent interview at his son's house in Columbia.

"We wanted our children not being stigmatized because we were an interracial couple. I felt that we could have that here. And we did. The children just fell in love with the place.

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"I consider myself and my family among the pioneers in Columbia," he added.

Joseph and his wife remained in Columbia for nearly two decades, raising their four children in Long Reach. Two of those children — son, Paul; and daughter, Jackie Patrick — still live in Columbia.

In Haiti, meanwhile, the regime of Duvalier's son collapsed in 1986, and Joseph's death sentence, like many others at the time, was lifted. Four years later, he was named Haiti's charge d'affaires in Washington.

In 1991, he returned to Haiti as a journalist. In 2005, he was named Haiti's ambassador to the United States.

Joseph was still ambassador when the devastating earthquake hit Haiti in January of 2010, killing as many as 300,000 people and leaving another 1.3 million homeless.

As the country's representative in the United States, he was deeply involved in the international recovery efforts. News reports at the time called Joseph the face of the earthquake response efforts in Washington, working with U.S. and Haitian officials to come up with a recovery plan.

Joseph returned to Haiti shortly after the earthquake and, in July 2010, resigned as ambassador to run for president. But in a controversial decision, the country's Provisional Electoral Council ruled his candidacy invalid, along with those of more than a dozen other candidates — including Joseph's nephew, Jean.

Although he still lives in Haiti, Joseph spends much of his time in Maryland, including the past several months, during which he has worked to get his reforestation project off the ground.

"My father still loves Columbia," said son, Paul.

In fact, once his reforestation plan takes root, Raymond Joseph said he hopes to tackle a semi-related project: selling his native country on building villages that would be modeled after planned communities like Columbia.

"Having seen how Columbia grew, with the ideas of James Rouse, and having seen the devastation of Haiti in 2010, I believe the time has come to decentralize Haiti," Joseph said. "I think it would be good to have new towns in Haiti like Columbia — planned communities, where we do not destroy the forests to build them."

For now, however, the former ambassador is focusing his energy on Haiti reforestation.

"We're not starting from scratch," Joseph said at the Washington news conference, noting that other political figures and organizations, both local and international, have joined the effort.

Support from Haiti's government

Indeed, Bernice Fidelia, a representative of Haiti President Michel Martelly, was at Joseph's news conference to express the government's official support. She said the reforestation campaign dovetails nicely with the country's new Keep Haiti Green and Beautiful initiative, which she heads.

Also present at the news conference was Gustave Louis, a Haitian congressman whose campaign to plant 20,000 trees in his district inspired Joseph.