By Sam Bojarski
Inside a storefront in Miami’s Little River neighborhood, just north of Little Haiti, a rotating team of volunteers bustle about. They answer questions from voters who walk in, read through ballot measures in Creole and hand out Biden-Harris yard signs to eager supporters.
This is The Haitian Powerhouse, a newly-formed group based at 8291 NE 2nd Ave. that functions like an unofficial Biden-Harris campaign headquarters. Its purpose is to get out the vote among Haitian-Americans and other community members in South Florida.
“We are seeing if we can [build] a better future with Biden-Harris,” said volunteer Ernst Derizier, of Miami.
Abner Louima, the police brutality victim, activist-singer Farah Juste, restaurateur Jensen Desrosiers and community member Bernice Fidelia-Morris pooled their personal money together to lease the space, which opened its doors Sept. 15, Juste said. They have since transformed the location. Biden campaign signs adorn the walls, while a flat-screen television broadcasts a recent Barack Obama stump speech in one corner of the room.
“If we don’t do that kind of work, there are 60,000 Haitians who would [lose] their TPS,” said Juste, referring to the Trump administration’s attempts to end Temporary Protected Status.
The Biden campaign has announced that it will immediately review the decision to revoke TPS.
This is why Juste, whose politically-charged songs once got her exiled from Haiti during the Duvalier years, has devoted much of her energy to getting out the Democratic vote.
Juste did not have the exact number of volunteers involved in the center’s voter engagement efforts. On busy days, they assist as many as 30 potential voters. Volunteers have helped dozens of voters understand the often-confusing ballot measures — six at the state level and three for Miami-Dade County — to approve or disapprove.
Juste also said that volunteers at the Haitian Powerhouse provide transportation to polling stations for voters who might have a physical disability.
Encouraging others to volunteer is another component of the work.
“Some of them come here, they want to volunteer,” Juste said. “We engage them, and we go door-to-door. So this is all [related] to the election, because we want to win.”
Because of its location, the Haitian Powerhouse caters to the community of Spanish-speaking Latinx and lower-income Black Americans who also live in the Little River area.
Xavier Gonzalez, a Little River resident, lives just down the road from the center and walked in around midday Tuesday. Gonzalez said he last voted in 2008 and wanted to learn more about early voting, a period that began Oct. 19 and ends at 7 p.m. on Nov. 1.
Although he voted Republican in 2008 and is still registered with the party, Gonzalez, 31, said the country needs a change in leadership.
“We’re basically like the laughing stock of the entire world, just in general, with the way COVID was handled,” he said.
Although the center does not have the official backing of the Biden campaign, Juste’s daughter, Karen Andre, does play an official role in the campaign. Since July, Andre has served as the senior adviser to Biden’s Florida campaign, helping oversee political operations in the swing state.
Because of COVID-19, the Biden campaign does not have a brick-and-mortar campaign office.
However, observing the sheer number of voters who have requested assistance or campaign materials from The Haitain Powerhouse, underscores the value of having a headquarters, Juste said.
“This is a utility, this is a great help,” Juste said.
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