Leonie Hermantin wants to do anything she can to make the Miami neighborhood of Little Haiti better for its residents and for the rich culture symbolized in murals — even if it means having a loose alliance with a giant commercial and residential project and losing friends in the process.

The billion-dollar development project known as Magic City Innovation District that has been approved by the city to be built in Little Haiti could change the face of the impoverished neighborhood. Hermantin, part of a coalition called the Concerned Leaders of Little Haiti, hopes it will give the economic boost the neighborhood desperately needs but she’s wary, having seen similar projects displace residents from one of South Florida’s most historic immigrant communities.

Though Little Haiti is nestled in an industrious site and ailing from unfixed roads and limited sidewalks, the area is vibrant. Weekends light up with Haitian cultural dancing, and barbecue smoke fills the streets. The neighborhood once was home of the largest Haitian population outside that country, immigrants fleeing three decades ago from oppressive governments by Haitian presidents Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

The project has inspired hope and fear among residents, creating conflicts. Hermantin allied with the development, causing her to lose friends and have her legitimacy as a community and advocacy leader for Haitians questioned.

“This process has been bruising. It’s not for personal gain; it’s understanding this is an unstoppable process,” said Hermantin, 61. “It is better to work with them and ensure our stability and hope they will be a major contributor to the financial growth and well-being of the residents of Little Haiti.” Continue reading 

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