Part Four

As I search what it means to be “Haitian,” I come across individuals whose gifts and talents in their respective fields gives me the opportunity to experience and relive my memories of Haiti. In this series, I will feature seven individuals. Their life’s work not only help those of Haitian descent like myself reconnect to their roots but also introduce others – outside of the Diaspora – to the beauty and wonder of Haitian culture.

2. Terenia Thomas

Several years ago, a friend, who is a motivational author and speaker, once told me about the power of social media – that she could connect with anyone on the planet and impact his or her life. She espoused the importance of harnessing the power of social media to change the world through positive words or images.

If it were not for social media, I would not have come across Ms. Terenia Thomas. I stumbled upon her photography webpage during the summer of 2017. The moment I saw one of her photos of Haiti, I was moved to tears. I was reminded of the precious memories I had of my childhood and visiting my grandmother in Haiti.

The images were raw, and told hidden truths that only a native could pinpoint where (and which season) the photo was taken. When I saw Terenia’s photos, all of my senses were activated – I could smell, taste, see, hear, and feel the environment.

In my children’s book, “Haiti Is,” I described some of the memories I had when I visited Haiti as a child. Terenia gave me the opportunity to relive those memories through her pictures.

I remembered the boys and girls dressed in blue or burgundy uniforms.

I remembered the women and men at the markets, selling fresh vegetables, fruits, and bread.

When I had an opportunity to speak to her, Terenia stated that photography had always been a hobby of hers since elementary school. Her training has been informal. While in high school, Terenia was a part of the Photography Club. She also took a few courses at various art schools, including FIT’s continuing ed program.

She said, “My mission to capture the beauty of Haiti and defy mainstream media’s tainted portrayal of the country I adore so much as well as my personal connection to the country being a Haitian-American. While the perception of Haiti has improved in some aspects, particularly, because of social media, there’s still much more work to do. I’ve been traveling to Haiti since I was a child, and I only have great memories. In recent years, I have been fortunate enough to travel throughout other parts of Haiti for the first time and visit various historic and stunning sites. I recognize that Haiti has its struggles, but those of us who are of Haitian descent have so much to be proud of and need to remind the world every chance we get. I’ve always felt that if we as people of Haitian descent don’t tell our story our way, someone else will tell it their way.”

Cindy Similien-Johnson is the founder of CSJ Media Publishing, and author of the bestselling e-cookbook series and popular cooking classes, "Cook Like A Haitian." She's also the founder of the women empowerment grassroots initiative, Goal Chic.

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