By Sam Bojarski
Haitians have joined the millions nationwide who have protested racism and police brutality, in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Next month, members of New York’s Haitian community will make their voices heard in Washington.
Dr. Marie Lemy, a Haitian-American who resides in Hopewell Junction, New York, said the reaction to George Floyd’s death feels different than the movements that sprang up in response to the death of Michael Brown and other instances of police violence against Black people.
“What’s different this time was the international reaction. And hopefully it’s not just a moment, it becomes like a change, that’s what I’m hoping. So that’s why we have to take this opportunity and make sure it materializes into something concrete,” Lemy said.
Lemy is helping to organize a bus trip down to Washington on Aug. 28, along with members of the Haitian American Alliance (HAA), their close friends and family. The group will join the National Action Network’s “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” Commitment March on Washington, convened by Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III.
The families of George Floyd and Eric Garner have joined Sharpton, leader of the National Action Network civil rights organization, in planning the march, held 57 years to the day after the first March on Washington, when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his immortal “I Have a Dream” speech. Numerous national organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), National Urban League and major labor unions are partnering to present the march.
“This March on Washington shows our commitment to fighting for the oppressed, the marginalized, the neglected people of this country,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, in a statement earlier in July.
Dr. Judite Blanc, a board member of HAA who plans to attend the march, connected the struggles of Haitians with that of Black Americans.
“We see what’s happening in Haiti every day, people are dying,” she said. It seems like we are independent, it seems like our leaders are coming out of elections, but we know that’s not true,” she said.
The U.S. government has provided critical support to Haiti’s highly unpopular Moise administration and the Martelly government that came before.
“The fight is not just for African Americans in the U.S., the fight is for the entire African diaspora in America, the fight is for all people of color and the fight is for Haiti as well,” said Blanc, of Brooklyn.
HAA plans to get a bus for the one-day excursion to Washington, and Lemy said that as of July 24, 23 people planned to attend. The group of HAA members and their close relatives will leave from New York City early in the morning, to arrive before the march begins.
According to a schedule published by the National Action Network, the event begins at 7 a.m. near the Lincoln Memorial. After hearing a program, attendees will march to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, before dispersing at 3 p.m.
An estimated 100,000 participants and 1,000 buses from around the country are expected to descend on Washington for the Aug. 28 event. Other organizations in New York City are organizing bus trips, and at least four buses are leaving from Queens, according to the National Action Network website.
“We think it’s a great opportunity to be visible in the community and to give back. In addition, the National Action Network has always been supportive of the Haitian community,” Lemy said, mentioning the Abner Louima and Patrick Dorismond incidents, which prompted protests against police brutality.
“We are the first black republic, right, we have a legacy,” Blanc said of Haiti.
“We were in the front lines with the Haitian revolution. So now it’s more than ever the time for us to take a stand, to stand in the front lines, continue to be the leaders when it comes to human rights, civil rights,” she said.