Haitian Community Needs a New Cadre of Young Leaders

Shortly after President Donald Trump made his derogatory remarks about Haitians, incensed community leaders quickly held a rally to address the slurs and began mobilizing people to deal with not only the hurtful words, but destabilizing deeds toward Haitians.

A few weeks earlier, the Department of Homeland Security had revoked the temporary protected status (TPS) under which more than 60,000 Haitians had been living here legally. Instantly, these people face deportation by July 2019 if they don’t leave the United States voluntarily.

Leaders, it seemed, had found a cause to rally and galvanize the community. There was a rally in Times Square on Martin Luther King holiday and quickly a WhatsApp group was created to discuss strategy and tactics to address this crisis of which we found ourselves smack in the middle.

There were conference calls and other actions. I was added to the list and while I followed the threads, I remained largely silent but read every post.

One of my rare comments on the group was to ask the moderator to limit the posts to the task at hand after noticing that people were using this group as yet another venue to promote their personal fundraisers and other activities. The other time was to ask that one of our correspondents be added to the list because The Haitian Times is creating a TPS beat.

Despite constant warning from the moderator to refrain from sharing non-related TPS posts, some continued to promote their events or other manifesto. It is akin to herding cats.

For instance, last week as a fire engulfed the newly rebuilt Marche Hyppolite, commonly known as the Iron Market, incinerating goods worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, a prominent media personality posted this:

“Are we doing something to help the victims of the fire that devastated the market in HAITI. How can we send relief to the merchants who lost their livelihoods. There are hundreds of children who will not be able to return to school, no money for tuition. We are the LEADERS…. Let’s lead!!! What can we raise, ship, etc…?”

And with that post, a tragedy in Haiti has deviated a group’s focus, whose ostensible goal was to help organize the community, to dealing with Haiti.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the fire was indeed tragic and devastating to Haiti, whose propensity of bad luck is unmatched. But to think that Haitians in the United States should respond to every setback in a crisis-prone country is akin to community leadership malpractice.

I will not address the inanity of us trying over and over to “fix” Haiti in this column, because I could write a tome like Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and still not do the subject justice. But what I will say about the fire is that insurance companies would not indemnify the place, or any other markets, because of the high risk of fires at markets across Haiti. Let that sink in for a moment.

In the beginning of the group I was optimistic that some of the members who have been toiling in the trenches in the community would have learned and become seasoned and would not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Unfortunately, I’m becoming more and more pessimistic about whether this group can ultimately carry out its agenda to empower the Haitian community. The pull of Haiti is too strong for them to resist and remain focused on the prize ahead.

I have come to the conclusion that what we need is a new cadre of Haitian-American leaders to take the helm and provide the leadership necessary.

When they are not trying to save Haiti, community leaders are bent on organizing marches. Once a useful tool that brought attention to an issue largely ignored by the mainstream press, marches are by and large symbolic, although they are making a salient point with the women movement and the gun violence that is plaguing America.

The Haitian community used protest indelibly well in 1991 when thousands of Haitians and their supporters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge and clogged downtown Manhattan and got the nation’s attention on us wrongly being labeled a high-risk AIDS carrier by dint of birth.

It worked. The Centers for Disease Control rescinded its policy and the stigma of us being AIDS carriers eventually faded, until Trump brought it up recently. Another march is being organized on April 20, the anniversary of that momentous Brooklyn Bridge protest.

But I think we should be more forward thinking. For instance, no one is focusing on mobilizing the Haitian community to become American citizens, register those who are and motivate them to vote. Voting is at the heart of this democracy and when it is used judiciously, communities are empowered.

This is where we can galvanize the youth and out of that movement a cadre of young leaders will naturally emerge. There are Haitian student organizations at almost every college and university in this area. I’m certain they would jump at the chance to do something meaningful and be part of a historic movement.

Their energy and passion should be channeled to get out to the various stronghold areas from New Jersey to Long Island and of course, Brooklyn and Queens, the heartbeat of the community in this area.

They should be armed with a clipboard, pen and forms for people to fill out and let loose in various Haitian enclaves to accomplish the task at hand. It’s that simple. Politicians understand, respect and take action on two things: voting and donating money to their campaign. We don’t have the latter, but we surely have the former to bring about real changes that will positively affect our community.

For too long we’ve been dependent on the largesse and piety of others to determine our destiny here. We have to take charge of our own future to create a strong savvy and sophisticated Haitian-American community. It’s time for the real leaders to step up and the fake ones to fade away.

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