Co-founder of the Haitian American Caucus, Samuel Pierre, addresses crowd during a 2015 rally protesting Dominican Republic’s court ruling rendering thousands of Dominican Haitians stateless. Photo Credit: Garry Pierre-Pierre
Co-founder of the Haitian American Caucus, Samuel Pierre, addresses crowd during a 2015 rally protesting Dominican Republic’s court ruling rendering thousands of Dominican Haitians stateless. Photo Credit: Garry Pierre-Pierre

By Garry Pierre-Pierre

In the song “Glory Days,” Bruce Springsteen tells the story of a high-school baseball star whose potential never rose beyond his aspirations and years later, can’t stop talking about his high school days.  

That sad jingle is an apt metaphor for the Haitian community here in NYC. We appear to be stuck in the time when we marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, snarling traffic in Lower Manhattan, and putting city leaders on notice that we are—and will be—a force to be reckoned with.

The galvanizing issue at the time was the Food and Drug Administration’s classification of Haitian nationality as a HIV/AIDS high-risk group.  Most Americans were unaware of the stigmatization. The issue received scant media coverage.

The issue today is largely centered on President Donald Trump’s labeling of Haiti as a “shithole” country. He has also rescinded a ruling that allowed more than 60,000 of our fellow Haitians to live here legally, otherwise known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Trump, the most polarizing figure in modern American history, has been widely criticized for this. His daily proclamations usually include an attack on one group or another.

Haitian Americans living in large enclaves in New York, Florida, and Massachusetts have held rallies decrying Trump.  On April 20, New York’s Haitian community leaders are planning another march, from Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza to Manhattan’s Times Square.

So, why are we organizing another march for an issue that the majority of the American people are quite aware of and condemn? Like the protagonist in the Springsteen song, all these organizers could talk about 20 years ago was that march. In short, all they could talk about was their glory days.

Glory days, well, they’ll pass you by
Glory days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days”

It’s fair to say that the glory days of our community’s leaders have passed.  It’s time they moved on and accede to those willing and able to move us, as a community, forward. But, like the old high school baseball phenomenon, they just can’t reconcile their dream with reality.

So, on April 20, Haitians will start their march at 10 a.m. *sharp,* as written on the flyer promoting the event. Unfortunately for them, it will not have the intended impact. For one thing, I suspect that the turnout will be thin. Donald Trump is too much of a bore for people to take work off to march on a Friday.

But that’s the least of my concerns. Even if thousands were to attend the march, it would mean very little because leaders have shown no inclination that they are in touch with the people; that they are offering solutions. One can only glean from the planning for this march as a cautionary tale. It has been contentious and has opened unhealed wounds that festered for years among community leaders. Many of these leaders have resented each other for a very long time but did not have social media platforms to unleash their torrent of cross attacks. Now that they do, they take to WhatsApp chat groups to tear each other down as they plan for this march.

I asked one of the organizers for his views on the march: “The mobilization is weak and there’s no real buzz in the community about it and on social media and the radio shows and college students are not active like back in the days,” he told me.

What concerns me, however, is not the size of the turnout, but what we are doing to address the myriad of problems facing the community: from high unemployment rates to lack of affordable housing, to the precarious legal status of too many of us. No one wants to do something about the erosion of our entrepreneurial class that has been decimated.

These are not rhetorical or academic concerns. These are real challenges and may forever undermine our status in the city and definitely this country. We have a false sense of where and who we are as a community. We tend to compare our lot with our brothers and sisters who live in our beloved homeland. That’s a false equivalence. We need to compare ourselves with other Caribbeans vis-à-vis their position here in the U.S. and what they’ve accomplished.  

To make sure we’re better off than those in Haiti misses the mark and leads us down the wrong path. Unfortunately, those who have presented themselves as leaders lack the capacity to lead. They are void of ideas and skills to properly address our problems and do not offer remedies to make us stronger as a community.

Barber shops, beauty parlors, and take-out joints are the only enterprises left. Yet, there is no conversation to address and solve these problems. We are quick with the desire to send our used clothes to Haiti in times of natural disasters, but no one is talking about how we can import Haitian-made products to the United States.

Filling this void I mention are the elderly Haitian women who travel home and buy djon djon, rice, beans, and more in order to smuggle them past Customs agents and resell them illegally on the sidewalks of Brooklyn.

These women are onto something. There is a huge demand for their goods. A casual stroll along Church or Nostrand Avenues, among other canyons, underscore this point.

Yet no one is seriously considering filling that demand. We need someone working with producers in Haiti to bring these goods to market here in order to avoid a parallel economy that is inadequately filling a demand. But something like this requires planning and real know-how that is sorely lacking.

But planning a march—well that must be what the community needs. On April 20, we will have one.

Glory days are here again.

Garry Pierre-Pierre is a Pulitzer-prize winning, multimedia and entrepreneurial journalist. In 1999, he left the New York Times to launch the Haitian Times, a New York-based English-language publication serving the Haitian Diaspora. He is also the co-founder of the City University Graduate School of Journalism‘s Center for Community and Ethnic Media and a senior producer at CUNY TV.

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