Gary Keith, a candidate for councilor at-large, and a former Planning Board member, was called out for alleged discrimination after he warned of Brockton becoming “Little Haiti” if Jean Bradley Derenoncourt is elected mayor.
It was a message sent privately to friends, warning that the city would become “little Haiti” if a candidate for mayor of Brockton were elected.
But then someone took a screenshot of the group message, and it was circulated widely on local social media pages, leading to backlash from angry community members and an apology from its author, former Planning Board member and perennial candidate for councilor at-large Gary Keith. The target of Keith’s criticism was Brockton mayoral candidate and current Councilor At-large Jean Bradley Derenoncourt, who came to the U.S. from Haiti following the 2010 earthquake that ravaged the Caribbean island nation.
“Shame on us if we let Jean Bradley become mayor,” said Keith, in the private message that became public. “This would no longer be Brockton, but little Haiti.”
Keith, who sent the message last week, is an African-American man. If elected, Derenoncourt would become the first non-white mayor in Brockton history. In the message, Keith said the incumbent three-term mayor of Brockton, Bill Carpenter, still needs support from members of City Council.
The president of Haitian Community Partners, a Brockton-based nonprofit network of professionals that aims to provide access to services and assist the underprivileged in the community, called on Keith to apologize. He said the incident is especially hurtful because it’s an example of prejudice and racism between minorities in a city as diverse as Brockton.
“What’s going on here is really a shame,” said Mozart Saint Cyr, president of Haitian Community Partners, speaking to The Enterprise. “We have so many battles to fight, and now we’re fighting against ourselves. It makes the job much harder than it’s supposed to be. We’d like Gary to apologize to the Brockton community and especially the Haitian community. We’d like that apology to be sincere, so we can put this behind us, and look forward to bring together Brockton as one and to embrace the diversity of the city.”
Keith told The Enterprise that he is asking the community for forgiveness over the incident, but said the person who spread the screenshot of his statements did so out of “ill-will” toward him.
“I made them in a private thing, which doesn’t make it right,” said Keith, declining to name the people whom he sent the message to, as part of a group chat on Facebook. “I made the comment as a concerned citizen of Brockton. I just hope we can heal from that and go forward. I deeply apologize for the mistake. … Whoever (spread the message) chose to put it out there for whatever ill-will that was done with it. Again, I apologize for it. You don’t expect people to do that. I hope we can all heal from it. I don’t have any ill-will toward any ethnicity or anything else in Brockton.”
Derenoncourt issued a statement on Monday about Keith’s message in response to a request for comment from The Enterprise, rejecting discrimination but also shifting the focus onto broader issues affecting the community.
“This type of divisiveness has no place in our city,” Derenoncourt said. “It does nothing for the people of Brockton and moves us backwards. As a city councilor at-large, and a candidate for mayor, I am going to discuss the issues facing our community, such as improving access to quality education, enhancing the safety of our residents by decreasing violence and crimes, building youth empowerment programs, protecting our seniors, increasing employment opportunities and building a strong unified community for all.”
Keith said he has nothing against Derenoncourt, and Keith even said he hasn’t made up his mind on who he is endorsing for mayor this year, despite his leaked private message stating that Carpenter needs more help from allies on the City Council. Keith also said he would continue to run his fourth campaign to become one of four councilors at-large on City Council, touting his “experience” as a U.S. Army veteran, along with four years as a former member of the Planning Board and Zoning Board.
“As a community activist, I will continue to serve all people of all ethnicities and all races,” Keith said. “From one black man to another black man, I wish Jean Bradley a lot of luck.” Continue reading