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Profiles

Jean Paul Laurent and the inspiration behind the smile

By Sam Bojarski

Before founding Unspoken Smiles, Jean Paul Laurent was a troublemaker in school. 

Driven by a desire to fit in, the Port-au-Prince native got kicked out of high school in his second year, for bullying. Lacking a certificate of good conduct, Laurent may not have received a second chance at an education. But his father Jean Felix Laurent, a school principal, eventually helped him get accepted into Centre de Formation Classique, a private school. 

Jean Paul Laurent, with schoolchildren in Haiti. Photo courtesy of Unspoken Smiles

“To this day, I’ve never gotten into trouble. I completely shifted my life from being a bully to being very positive, but still with the focus on keeping people happy,” Laurent said, about the experience. 

Through the nonprofit Unspoken Smiles, Laurent has made a positive difference in the lives of more than 7,000 children throughout the world, teaching them how to maintain proper oral health. The organization, founded in 2014, has already earned recognition from organizations like the United Nations and Clinton Foundation. 

Unspoken Smiles’ global scope has also earned Laurent a role as a UN special consultant, where he provides advice and written statements on social and economic conditions in various countries, when requested. Laurent is also the recipient of the President Obama Lifetime Achievement Award for volunteer service. This July, he became a TEDx organizer, giving people who don’t have a voice a platform to spread their ideas. 

While Unspoken Smiles serves children in eight countries, its work is intricately tied to Haiti. In many ways, it has become harder for children there to maintain a healthy smile. 

“In every single school, you have merchants selling candies outside the school and inside the school. So there’s a heavy consumption of sugar, and then the thing is it’s not just the consumption, it’s the frequency of it. It’s like a heavy frequency, that could then cause those major cavities,” said Laurent, adding that many children go years without ever seeing a dentist. 

In 2004, at the age of 21, Laurent relocated to the United States with his mother, father and five siblings. His uncle, who was already living in the States, had obtained a green card for his father and the rest of the family. The Laurents first settled in West Haverstraw, New York, before moving to Spring Valley. 

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Sam Bojarski

Sam Bojarski

Sam Bojarski has been covering Haiti and its diaspora for The Haitian Times since 2018. He is currently covering New York's Haitian community as a Report for America corps member.
Sam Bojarski
Jul. 29, 2020