Haitians meet with Councilman Stewart in aftermath of distressing statement

Ready to stand up and demand respect, Haitian activists met with Councilman Kendall Stewart on July 11. Taking advantage of his upcoming reelection campaign in November, activists demanded he accomplish items deemed beneficial to the community.

It was a step further from the proof of sincerity they had asked of him in previous weeks, after Stewart apologized for offensive statements he made about Haitians.

Stewart’s statement re-ignited the spark that has been dormant in the Haitian community ever since the march over the Brooklyn Bridge for refugees in detention camps and the demand for cultural programs from city officials.

This time, they demanded that the politician—a St.Vincent and the Grenadines native—give them concrete proof, literally.

“We want property,” said George Boursiquot, a community member. “We need something now to showcase [your] goodwill. This happened, we can live with it but [now] the councilman loves us.”

Organized by Jocelyne Mayas, nine Haitians met with Stewart at Brooklyn Borough Hall. She felt confident that Stewart would meet their demands.

“We need to take this opportunity,” Mayas said. “His back is already against the wall.”

Mayas said she organized the meeting as community person, not as Gov. George Pataki’s Haitian liaison. They demanded, among other items, that Stewart hire a Haitian district leader and deliver a building they could turn into either a multicultural, senior citizen, or youth center.

Mayas prepared a list of demands and names of people who could fill Stewart’s district leadership position. Others said they would submit nominees of their own later.

Stewart said “yes” when asked whether they had his commitment to deliver those things, provided that it’s something he “could make happen.”

He asked for a list of Haitian organizations in leadership positions willing to work together so that he could coordinate with them.

“We may have a million and one Haitian organizations,” Stewart said, “but I’m not sure that they’re working together.”

Gina Cheron, director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights BRIDGES project, refuted Stewart’s implication that Haitian organizations do not work together and asked him “to take that idea out of [his] perspective.”

As the meeting progressed, Mayas named Cheron the point person to work on those demands with Stewart.

The meeting was amicable enough and many spoke frankly with Stewart.

James St-Furcy, a business owner in Stewart’s 45th district, suggested he become more “intimate” with Haitians and to hire competent, knowledgeable advisers.

“You need to do a lot more homework,” said St-Furcy. “You cannot have mediocre people working for you and expect results.”

Stewart said he heard from other Haitians and came with a list of his own. He said the situation could turn into a “win-win” situation for him and Haitians.

Stewart asked attendees to form a political action committee, which would meet regularly and advise him. He said they could set up interviews for him with community members so he could tell people about programs and initiatives, and arrange for his articles to be published in the media.

He threw out the idea of grooming a “consensus candidate” to run for office from the 58th state assembly district and the city council districts.

Stewart encouraged them to come into his office to learn about politics and for young adults to volunteer so they could become interested in politics and community affairs.

“You have access to my office,” Stewart said. “We can’t just talk about it all today. It’s got to be an ongoing process.”

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