By Garry Pierre-Pierre
The story had not even been published when Councilwoman Farah Louis called a hasty town hall meeting with her Brooklyn constituents to push back against the article. The 45th District is one of many areas that The Haitian Times is taking a look at how elected officials who represent districts with large Haitian residents spend their discretionary funds. The first one looked into Mathieu Eugene of the 40th District.
The meeting did not go as planned. Louis did not give anyone a chance to ask questions, except her supporters who extolled her virtues. Louis threatened to cut off funding for organizations if they speak publicly about her funding or otherwise.
To be fair, Louis gave roughly $200,000 to Haitian community organizations, more than triple the amount Eugene doled out. Although she worked for her predecessor, now Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, she is relatively new to the council and I’m convinced that she will do better.
The broadside at the Haitian Times is surprising because Louis flirted with journalism having interned and contributed articles for the Haitian Times. Beyond that, I credit Louis with keeping the Haitian Times going at its lowest point eight years ago.
Louis had gotten wind that I was considering shuttering the site, which was proven to be quite a challenge as we went from a print publication to a digital platform. Louis was adamant and passionate about the role of the Haitian Times in the community. She told me in no uncertain terms that the Haitian Times could not be closed.
I told her that I was worn out and if she wanted me to keep the site running, she’d have to help me find someone to manage it. She introduced me to Vania Andre and here we are today. Thank you Farah.
At that time, I didn’t know that Louis would run for public office and eventually winning Williams’ seat on the city council. She beat back formidable opponents, despite some oppositions from some Haitian community leaders to make history as the first Haitian American woman to be elected to the City Council.
The Haitian community that Louis partly leads right now is very different than it was 20 years ago. It is more splintered and less visible as the area is under the vise of blistering gentrification. Many of the area residents are unaware of what was done to get us here. Back then we were courted by politicians for our vote, not the other way around.
Many an organization have shut down after its founder retired to Florida or passed away. The community has no common agenda and lacks direction. Those that are around are deeply underfunded and eke out, barely able to provide assistance before, during and perhaps after the pandemic.
I do understand how frustrating and at times it is akin to herding cats. But a leader should rise to the challenge and find a way to build the organizations’ capacity to better serve the community.
It is absolutely clear that no neighborhood in New York City is homogenous. We are the most diverse city in the world and a council member represents everyone and not just a single group. Resources must be shared equally among constituents. That’s only fair.
There are some people who see the Haitian Times series as somewhat a “hit” job on Haitian leaders. The truth couldn’t be further than that. What the Haitian Times is doing is called accountability journalism. We have leaders entrusted with millions of taxpayers’ money and there is little reporting on that.
It’s partly a failure of local journalism that news organizations have turned away from our basic role of holding the powerful accountable. Our mission is to inform, entertain and educate our readers and the community as we forge ahead in our new adopted land.
The City Council will see historic changes as more than 50 seats are up for grabs because of term limits. This came about under changes in the NYC charter provision that was passed 15 years ago. Many good government groups felt that the city’s legislative body had become unimaginative, stale and ineffective. The logic is that new groups with different perspectives will better reflect the city.
In the upcoming months, the Haitian Times will conduct candidate debates and endorse those whom we feel will fight for their district, including the Haitian community. The pandemic and the social justice reckoning in today’s America have shown that if the media are not properly engaged in reporting disparities, then we should close up shop and let Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have at it. These companies have told us ad nauseum that they don’t do journalism.
We know that too few people vote in local elections, giving power to officials with no oversight. This democracy requires a robust press, particularly at the local level. The Haitian Times will continue its look at people who represent communities where Haitians live. I guarantee you it will not be a “hit” job. We don’t do those.
Currently, we are embarking on a listening tour of the community to find out what their informational needs are and how the Haitian Times can serve them better. I will let you know what we find out.