By Vania Andre
Hundreds of people from the Haitian community gathered on April 20 at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge to rally for immigrant rights, on the anniversary of a historic march that took place almost 30 years ago. According to organizers, protesters were advocating for permanent residency for Temporary Protected Status and DACA recipients, and a systematic end of racial profiling of immigrants.
On April 20, 1990, history was made when tens of thousands of Haitians marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to push back against the United States government’s characterization of Haitians as a risk factor for AIDS. Now, almost three decades later, leaders and organizers in the community hoped to capitalize on the historic anniversary to catapult issues the community is facing to the forefront again.
However, unlike the march 28 years ago, there was little unity between the organizers, consequently leaving supporters to pick from two organizations who were determined to lead the cause.
“To the outside looking in, the march appeared to be uniform,” said Monalisa Ferrari. “But when we got off of the Bridge, one group went left, and the other went right.”
Ferrari, who was present during the planning stages, functioned as a “mediator” between the two groups — Haitian Enforcement Against Racism (HEAR) and Haitian Leadership Forum (HLF). HEAR, which includes organizers from the 1990 march, were the first to receive their permit from the city. According to Ferrari, HLF secured their permit only two days before the march.
The initial plan was for both groups to come together and leave from Grand Army Plaza, however in the end HLF decided to leave from Cadman Plaza.
“Everyone is disappointed,” Ferarri said, who describes herself as a “neutral party” in this. “We have a lack for leadership that stems from everyone wanting to be the leader and no one wanting to follow. Given the way the community functions, it’s more for self, rather than the collective.”
Unlike the Jan. 20 march earlier this year, the Day of Outrage garnered little fanfare. Critics of the march have cited disorganization between organizers, plus competing rallies as a cause to the lack of attention the march received. April 20 is also the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Thousands of students walked out today to advocate for gun reform and scores of others came together for voter registration rallies.
“There are transgenerational differences that impacted this,” Ferrari said. “The older generation feels like they own leadership, and everyone else has to take a seat back and listen. Real leaders groom other leaders. We need millennials to have a seat at the table.”
Nadege Fleaurimond, who was asked a week before the march by HEAR to serve as a mediator and help with promotion, echoes the same sentiments.
“There’s no continuity from the older organizations to the youth,” she said. “I feel like there’s a disconnect. They have to ask themselves how to bring younger people along to Haitian issues. What are they really doing to bring the youth and connect them to these issues?
“This proves once again the community is very segmented,” said Fleurimond. “There is no Haitian community. There are organizations. There are sects. There are different agendas. If we cannot have leaders that can mobilize and bring everyone to the table, then we’ll always have a repeat of Friday.”