Haitians In America, Letters to the Editor

NHAEON: An Evolving Force for Haitian-American Interests

Haitian-American voters, NHAEON
A line of voters outside a South Florida polling station drew thousands, including Haitian-Americans, voting their interests during the November 2020 elections. Photo by: Sam Bojarski

By Lesly Kernisant, M.D.

The Haitian Diaspora has traditionally contributed a huge amount of resources to the economic growth of its homeland. While some diaspora-inspired development initiatives can bring a good social transformation in both origin and resident societies, there is often a lack of collective support and weak coordination among the different diaspora factions that are currently promoting active engagement in the homeland. 

Of the more than 50 Haitian diaspora civic and religious organizations, almost all of them are operating in silos. Some are involved in humanitarian activities with invaluable impact at the local level. There are very well-known, religious, scientific, alumni, professional, regional, social, and mission-specific organizations that have become the pillars of great support in their immediate community. 

However, any attempt at unifying them under an umbrella to create one powerful voice with national reach has failed because of different personalities entrenched in a culture of unbendable individualism. Such division or lack of a cohesive diaspora force is what continues to slow down many great diaspora projects aimed at achieving sustainable development for the country. 

At this moment of change in priority of the new world order, the Haitian diaspora remains the only lifeline left to effectuate needed transformational changes in the motherland.

Hopefully, with a new breed of second-generation of Haitian-American professionals, business and political achievers, the Haitian diaspora is now well positioned to engage in transnational activities and networks. It can now act as a powerful lobbying force in the host countries to advocate policies favorable to its home country. In so doing, a lot of resources, including capital, knowledge and networks can be activated very quickly to help uplift Haiti from this depth of despair.

In this new Biden-Harris administration, it is important for Haitians to focus on how to access available resources for growth. First and foremost, there is a need to have a unifying theme, a core set of requests and a seat at the decision-making table of this new U.S. governing team. While credited for many successes in the diaspora communities, most of the currently active Haitian diaspora organizations lack the membership size or the fundraising capacity to sufficiently have the kind of national reach to successfully marshal the complexity and farreaching breadth of diaspora-led development projects for Haiti. 

In my view, the new emerging group of Haitian elected officials under the banner of the National Haitian-American Elected Officials Network, or NHAEON. This non-partisan coalition comprises elected and appointed officials willing to put their ideological differences aside to promote their ancestral homeland through key legislation and policies that ensure key economic and cultural benefits to Haiti. 

The organization represents a broad cross-section of the Haitian diaspora from multi-state communities makes this fast-growing organization the most suitable voice to channel our collective grievances and coordinate our collective capacity to effect change and promote development of our Homeland. The NHAEON membership has grown significantly over the past five years, a clear indication of how politically involved the new breed of young Haitian-American trailblazers has become. When compared with other diasporas, such as the Indian, Cuban and Jewish communities, the Haitian-American brand has, for too long, remained fairly silent in the political dialogue at the highest level of the U.S. government. 

As we speak, the administrative structure of NHAEON is now being reconfigured to expand their circle of operation on a much wider and more inclusive, national and international scale. It is therefore imperative that everyone realizes that considerable donor funds will be needed to enable them to sponsor, in a sustainable manner, action-oriented, investment-backed projects for their country of origin. Active lobbying, promoting the needs of Haitian people on any public policy stage by this newly empowered advocacy group is a dynamic reality for both the diaspora and Haiti. 

I trust that this group of politically well-connected compatriots can lead the way to shift the Haitian diaspora from a strategy of watchful passivism to constructive activism. Working with the young dynamic members of NHAEON, we can definitely highlight the richness of our culture and help improve the economy back home.

Dr. Kernisant is a longstanding advocate based in New York.

Jan. 28, 2021

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