By Naeisha Rose
The life of prominent Haitian leader and human rights activist Jean-Robert “Sergo” Lafortune was celebrated at a wake in North Miami Beach, Florida on Friday.
The forward-thinking advocate of Haitian, human and immigrant rights was born in
Port-au-Prince-born on April 24, 1956, and died after suffering from a long battle with a chronic illness at the age of 63, according to family and friends.
His funeral was held at the Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church at 110 N.E. 62nd St. in Miami on Oct. 26, according to the Family Action Network Movement, a nonprofit that aids Haitian women and their families socially, economically and politically as they adjust to immigrating to Florida.
Lafortune’s final resting place was Fred Hunters Hollywood Memorial Gardens located at 3001 NW 72nd Ave. in Miami, according to FANM.
“He didn’t fight just for Haitians, but he fought for Cubans and other immigrants too,” said family friend and fellow activist, Edeline Beauvais-Mondestin.
During the dictatorship of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, Lafortune, an only son, was forced out of the country and ended up in Costa Rica, and later the United States in 1980.
Lafortune earned an Associate Degree from Miami Dade Community College and his Undergraduate and Graduate degrees from the Public Administration and International Education from Florida International University and spent seven years as an Assistant Director at Ideal Vocational School.
He went on to spend the next 21-years of his life working as a community organizer, and later as a director of Citizen Participation, for the Miami Dade County’s Community Action Agency.
Lafortune was the recipient of several awards during his lifetime and was recognized by the 2000 Census for his efforts to Haitian counted through outreach and training for efforts to help low-income residents fill-out their forms; in 2002, he was rewarded as an Employee of the Year for his work at the Community Action Agency and in 2003, he was named Miami Dade County Social Worker of the Year.
Despite his professional achievements, it was his work as a volunteer activist to improve the lives of the fellow citizens of Miami Dade County that truly distinguished him, according to Beauvais-Mondestin.
“When the Haitian and Cuban refugees were coming here by boat in the 1990s, we started working together and became involved in meeting with Congress to help them,” said Beauvais-Mondestin. “They would try to turn the Haitians back, but we were always fighting for their rights, we were always demonstrating and rallying.”
The activist was key generating a groundswell to get the U.S. Congress to pass the Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Act in 1998, which helped some Haitian nationals receiving a green card.
“He actually managed to bring the Republicans and the Democrats together to get it passed,” said Beauvais-Mondestin, who left Haiti in 1979 and to Connecticut and later met Lafortune shortly after moving to Miami in 1982. “He was a fighter, but he wasn’t always fighting for other Haitians. When other immigrant groups had a problem he would show up and try to solve it.”
When Beauvais-Mondestin failed to show up to a scheduled rally he drove to her home the next day just to see if she was all right.
“I guess he didn’t hear the voicemail message, but that was the type of friend he was,” added Beauvais-Mondestin.
His passing left a void in the Haitian and immigrant community in Miami Dade, according to his friend.
“Employees and seniors were in tears when they heard the news of Jean-Robert’s passing,” said Beauvais-Mondestin. “Hopefully, other young leaders will learn about his life and decide to build on his legacy.”
Wanda Walker, the director of the Family and Community Services Division of the Miami Dade Community Action and Human Services Department, said Lafortune left a “significant impact” on those he served.
“He devoted his life to being a ‘Good Samaritan.’ Mr. Lafortune will be sorely missed by all of us at the Community Action and Human Services Department,” said Walker.
Nadine, his daughter, a registered nurse who previously worked at Aventura Hospital, will also miss her father.
“Jean Robert ‘Sergo’ Lafortune was a loving and devoted father for my little sister Ciara, and I,” said his daughter. “A philosophical man who understood the meaning of hard work, he strongly believed in education, and he instilled these core values in us.”
Lafortune will also leave behind his grandchildren Joshua Zamor, 8, and Naima Zamor, 6.
“He dedicated his life to the voiceless so that they could also have a seat at the table. Job well-done daddy! We are so proud of you and love you endlessly. Rest in God’s Favor,” said his daughter.