In 2007, a colleague approached Rosemonde Pierre-Louis, suggesting she meet with a fellow Haitian-American attorney – Midwin Charles. A lunch in Manhattan became the beginning of a long friendship and professional collaboration, through The Haitian Roundtable.
“We spent time celebrating one another’s birthdays, she was certainly there for me when my mother passed away,” said Pierre-Louis, chair of The Haitian Roundtable who co-founded the organization in 2008. “[Charles] represents so much for women in the law, not just for the Haitian community but for the Black community as a whole, she is a role model.”
The news of Charles’ death on April 6 left Pierre-Louis “gutted and devastated,” she said. It’s a sentiment shared by thousands on social media who shared the somber news. An attorney, legal analyst for CNN and MSNBC and radio host on New York’s 107.5 WBLS, Charles captured viewers’ hearts and minds on the air, with her brilliant legal analysis.
Within 24 hours of her passing, Charles, who was 47, was commemorated by prominent Haitian-Americans, media personalities, political leaders and ordinary people who knew her as an on-air personality.
PBS NewsHour White House Correspondent and fellow MSNBC contributor Yamiche Alcindor said she knew Charles as a professional colleague for more than four years.
“What she really meant to the Haitian community was that she was this brilliant, clear-eyed, influential voice on TV and in society that was just telling people the way that it is, speaking really plainly about complex legal issues,” Alcindor said in an interview with The Haitian Times. “There are so few Haitian-Americans on TV at a high level nationally, and she was a star who stood out because of that.”
Born to Haitian parents in July 1973, Charles was raised in Brooklyn, New York. She attended Syracuse University and went on to receive a law degree from American University in Washington, D.C., in 1999. Charles also founded her own Manhattan-based law firm, Midwin Charles & Associates LLC, combining private practice with her thought leadership on the air.
She has been appearing on television since 2005, years before Haitian-American news personalities, like Alcindor and now-White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, became on-air mainstays.
Charles’ family had not disclosed a cause of death as of April 7. She is survived by her mother Antonia Charles and sister Mitzie Charles.
Dedicated community member, groundbreaking analyst
Among the contributions Charles made to the Haitian community was planning the Haiti Dialogue series of discussions produced by The Haitian Roundtable, on issues impacting the Haitian community.
As a member of the Roundtable’s program committee, Charles also helped produce the annual 1804 List ceremonies recognizing influential Haitian-Americans, Pierre-Louis said.
Charles penned a column for The Haitian Times in the early 2010s and was a panelist at The Haitian Times’ Step Into Your Power Women’s Brunch in 2013.
Charles was also a distinguished member of the Haitian American Lawyers Association of New York (HALA-NY). In 2016, she became the first person to receive the HALA-NY Advocacy Award, the organization said on social media. Charles received the award for her outstanding representation of the Haitian community on national television, the Brooklyn Eagle reported.
Two years later, TV viewers heard her analysis as a Haitian-American in the wake of Donald Trump’s infamous “s***hole countries” comment. Alcindor and other social media users said Charles’ analysis in January 2018 stood out as one of her most memorable moments on the air.
WATCH: Midwin Charles, a Haitian-American lawyer, explains what you should know about Haiti in light of President Trump's recent comments. pic.twitter.com/h7ZA8XKkjS— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 13, 2018
“In 1804, Haiti became the first free Black republic in the world,” Charles said, after Trump’s slight. “As a result [Haiti] became a beacon for other Latin American countries and the like, for liberty and for democracy.”
True to form, Charles found the right words to educate the American public about Haiti and its contribution to the world at that moment, Alcindor said.
America heard Charles’ voice steadily amid its current nationwide reckoning on race, including her analysis of the jury selection in the George Floyd trial. But as that trial continues, “the absence of Midwin’s voice is deeply felt,” said Alcindor.
Fellow MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson was one of numerous media personalities to honor Charles in writing. Before meeting Charles in 2015, he had watched the late analyst on national news networks discussing police brutality incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere.
Along with Black women attorneys like Eboni K. Williams, Faith Jenkins and others who offered their perspectives on television, Charles was “pushing into a space that had been exclusively for white guys in expensive suits until then,” Johnson wrote in an article published in The Grio.
“Midwin was always rooting for women that she worked with, including Joy Reid, Tiffany Cross and many others,” Johnson said in the piece. “She was a champion for Black men and women.”
Going forward, The Haitian Roundtable will continue to share the legacy and contributions of Charles, while supporting her family in any way possible. “She was a beacon of light for our community, someone who was deeply passionate about her Haitian roots,” Pierre-Louis said.
For Alcindor, the legacy of Charles will be felt by Black women, for whom she has opened more doors to appear on television.
“She was someone whose voice was absolutely needed,” Alcindor said. “I think the way to honor her legacy is to speak truth plainly, and use whatever platform you have and whatever medium you have to make the world a better place and to call out injustice when you see it.”