Less than two years ago the online edition of the venerable Haitian daily Le Nouvelliste published a wonderful article on a local organization’s noted effort to honor Haiti’s “trésor national” – men, women and institutions that have made, and are still making, great and lasting contributions to Haiti’s cultural, social and economical life. A point was made that it’s partially through the remarkable initiatives or work of these folks and institutions that we may witness the advent of flourishing communities and human beings.
When I decided to write about Miami’s community treasures it was right after I attended for the second year in a row the Christmas concert of the choir of the Haitian Evangelical Baptist Church in North Miami. Commenting to my wife that this choir has to be a community treasure, my wife uncharacteristically responded that my limited knowledge of the area’s choirs left me unprepared to say that. Not a bad point!
I pressed forward fully armed with the knowledge that any list identifying this community’s treasures will always retain an element of bias. I submit to you my list, driven by one thought: a sense that without these men, women and institutions our life, or the life of so many of us in this community, would have felt a little bit less fulfilling. Here we go!
Joel Henriquez Poliard
From his birth place Port de Paix to Port au Prince for medical school to Chicago for post-graduate studies and then to Miami to practice his craft, Dr. Poliard almost thirty years ago chose to open his clinic in Little Haiti and never left. His clinic, the medical home for the poorest of our community, offers close to free care to all. What also set him apart is this unwavering support for all the worthy causes in this community and this deep passion for this elusive new Haiti?
Mapou is a cultural icon in this community or, better yet, a builder of institutions. His 46-year old Sosyete Koukouy and his Mapou library remain his preferred tools to disseminate Haiti’s rich cultural heritage to both Haitians and others willing to know more about us. His work for the establishment of the Manno Sanon center in Little Haiti firms up Sanon legacy as one of the best Haitian soccer players but also offers a recreational alternative to our youth.
Notre Dame d’Haiti
Under the bold and able leadership of Father Reginald Jean Mary, Notre Dame d’Haiti has established its “faithful presence” among us for more than thirty years. A comforting place for the area’s Catholics and non-Catholics, this church offers spiritual guidance and socio-educational sustenance to all. It’s regrettable that the call to build a new church in the same place hasn’t met, as expected, the tenderly tight embrace of all – believers or not. It’s our failure, not theirs.
A prolific writer, Danticat has quickly become in our Diaspora the cultural interpreter par excellence of Haiti’s epic tragedy. Her beautiful prose draws heavily as much from the mundane issue as in the rough treatment of his uncle at the heavy hand of the Immigration official. At the young age of 42 and as Danticat continues to “create dangerously”, she has become at the international stage the innocently beautiful face of our resilient, desperate Haiti and its rich literature.
Marleine’s affirming sacerdotal is to serve her community. The struggle for justice comes naturally to her – due in no small part to her father’s selfless work among poor peasants in Haiti under the Duvalier regime. A young worker at the Haitian Refugee Center in the early 80s, Marleine has chosen very early its call in life and, thanks God, hasn’t turned back. The beneficiaries of her daily work are too many to mention: the undocumented, our too often- abused women and other socially disadvantaged folks. She did all that while becoming the premiere voice of her community.
I am not a Konpa fan but know a thing or two about Richie: his solo performances and his work in the band Zenglen. He is a percussionist, singer and a song writer. Konpa lyrics are especially known for its trivialities but don’t tell this to Richie who has clearly demarcated himself from most of our Konpa musicians. His thoughtful and well written lyrics also speak to the social issue du jour. It’s no surprise that he is a product of Notre Dame, one of the best secondary schools in Haiti. Richie, along with Dadou Pasquet, is unique in the Haitian Music Industry.
The choir of the Haitian Evangelical Baptist Church in North Miami
Under the creative leadership of the gifted and professionally trained musician Rose Nadine Michel, the Bethel choir is huge in every sense of the word: a 45-member choir, a 15-member chamber choir and an equally huge child choir. Not just that, it’s also this: this choir can mix it up – from the European classics to our Haitian composers. This choir should be a must-hear at the Adrienne Arsht where thousands could come and bear witness to good music. It’s no surprise that Rose Nadine Michel, a pianist, an opera singer and conductor, comes from a long line of competent family musicians.
Whether issuing a paper on behalf of Sant la describing a social ill in this community, interviewing someone for her long-running TV program Telescopy or visiting with her at her Sant la office, Gypsie’s dogged pursuit of excellence and her gentle prodding of this community to be more civic minded have earned her the respect of the whole South Florida community. She may be the most admired Haitian-American within and beyond the confines of our community. She rightly belongs to this short list of community- builders within all Miami-Dade County.
That’s my list of community treasures. Some of you may not agree on some of these names. Fine, but I would rather hear about your list than your litany of complaints about mine. The message is simple: our community needs as many treasures as possible if we will ever move forward in a way that’s inclusive, joyful and responsive to the needs of the poorest among us.