By Sam Bojarski
Vanessa Joseph remembers the day that then-presidential hopeful Donald Trump visited Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood. While a small group of people attended Trump’s meeting, the current president claimed he would be the Haitian community’s “biggest champion.”
Years into Trump’s presidency, Haitians in the United States have witnessed the destructive rhetoric and policy proposals, including an attempt to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
“So there was a lot of need for us to look at, well, what does it mean for candidates to genuinely remain accountable to this community, to this electorate, this group of electorates, in a true sense, and what does that look like?” said Joseph, an elected city clerk for North Miami.
Joseph and about a dozen other Haitian Americans comprise the board of a political advocacy group formed in June, the Haitian American Voter Empowerment (HAVE) Coalition. The group has tasked itself with informing voters and crafting a set of policy priorities for the Haitian diaspora, which has not yet wielded its political power in a unified way.
The board includes elected officials in South Florida, like Joseph and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jean Monestime, as well as civil society leaders from other states, including New York and Massachusetts. Thus far, HAVE comprises about 50 members, who will engage voters and promote voter registration, two of the organization’s major goals.
Most of HAVE’s initial efforts will focus on Florida, where the organization has the strongest presence. But HAVE eventually plans to grow and extend its voter engagement efforts to other states.
“Part of that strategy includes media outreach, because we know a lot of our people get their information from the radio. We also want to cover digital outreach, so being present on social media,” Joseph also said.
On Aug. 15 at 6:30 p.m., HAVE will host its first fundraiser, a livestream event on the organization’s Facebook page, featuring the comedian Success Jr as the emcee. Ms. Joseph, Commissioner Monestime, and Florida state representative Dotie Joseph are currently slated as speakers for the event.
The Haitian population in South Florida has been growing for decades, with more than 80,000 Haitians residing in Miami-Dade County alone. While Haitians have been elected to local government and the state legislature, the community has not yet been able to use its political power to make a lasting impact on national issues like immigration reform.
“In actuality we’re talking about a couple of elected officials here and there who really haven’t been able to make a big difference with Haitian issues just yet,” said Sean Foreman, chair of the history and political science department at Barry University, in Miami Shores.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic that has caused widespread unemployment, the needs of the Haitian community intersect with those of other residents. Local elections in Florida, in addition to national races, can have a significant bearing on people’s livelihoods.
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