By Sam Bojarski
Churches and community-based organizations throughout Miami-Dade County hosted “Souls to the Polls” faith-based events, in final attempts to encourage Black voter turnout before Election Day.
At the Shalom Community Church in North Miami, on Nov. 1, Rony Ponthieux, a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holder, attended a Souls to the Polls event organized by nonprofit FANM with his daughter Christina, 13.
“This election is the most important election in our lifetime, so we need everybody to get out and vote,” said Ponthieux, 52, a hospital worker. “There are millions of people who cannot vote, like the TPS recipients, the DACA recipients the undocumented people. [So] we want everybody to vote for us.”
An 11 a.m. service at Shalom Community Church drew nearly 100 people. Music greeted congregants when they poured out into the parking lot soon after midday. FANM Executive Director Marleine Bastien and Rev. Joanem “Fanfan” Floreal then led congregants and community members in a march to the North Miami Public Library polling station, for the final day of early voting in Florida.
Marchers chanted “let’s go vote” as they walked to the polls, while some bore signs spotlighting issues at stake in the election, such as TPS and climate change.
An Oct. 31 Souls to the Polls event hosted by FANM took place at Haitian Emmanuel Baptist Church in Miami. Underneath overcast skies that day, FANM led a march from that church to the Lemon City Branch Library in Little Haiti.
FANM has also held multiple get-out-the-vote events this month, including two Party at the Polls events on Oct. 24 and Oct. 27, respectively. Both occurred at Lemon City Library, an early voting location.
The events were designed “to get out the vote and impress upon the electorate how important, how consequential this election is,” said Bastien. “We will feel its impact for years to come.”
Other organizations, like the Haitian American Faith Based Network (HAFBN), have helped educate voters and encourage turnout in the final days before Election Day on Nov. 3.
On Nov. 1, HAFBN held an educational session at Free Methodist Christian Community Church in Little Haiti, designed to explain ballot referendums and their consequences to voters, said HAFBN president Lynda Jean.
Jean said voting is important this year, especially considering that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) might be at stake.
“We cannot stay home, even with COVID,” Jean said. “We have to go out and vote.”
HAFBN member Santcha Etienne, who attended the Souls to the Polls event on Nov. 1, said she is concerned about post-election tension, given the political division that has gripped the country. But she maintains optimism her work to encourage voter turnout will pay off.
“We are a team out there working [and] encouraging folks to get out and vote, that’s all we can hope for,” said Etienne, 39, of North Miami. “Because when you vote that’s when things change, and the change that we’re looking for in this election, it’s critical.”
Since early voting started on Oct. 19, Etienne has volunteered with HAFBN every day to drive voters without transportation to the polls. Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood has been one area of focus. Door-to-door canvassing to encourage voter turnout will continue through Nov. 3, Etienne said.
Etienne is concerned about the fate of nearly 60,000 Haitian TPS holders nationwide, if President Donald Trump were to win reelection.
“I have family who [are] TPS holders, I have friends who are TPS holders,” Etienne said. “I would not want them to go back to Haiti right now, especially [with] what is going on back home.”
In addition to the uncertain future of TPS, the election comes amid a pandemic that has caused widespread job loss among Haitian-Americans employed in Florida’s service industry, Bastien said.
“I don’t think I, in my lifetime, will see [an election] more important, not with what we’ve been dealing with for the past four years,” said Bastien.