More than three dozen community members gathered Sunday at Flatbush and Church avenues, singing hymns and bearing the colors of the Haitian flag, for the unveiling of a Pierre Toussaint Boulevard street sign.
The effort to co-name a section of Church Avenue after the venerated Haitian-American philanthropist was led by District 40 Council Member Mathieu Eugene, who emceed the street co-naming ceremony. Multiple elected officials and community leaders spoke at the April 25 event.
“With unity there is strength and force, that is what the Haitian community is made of and that is what Pierre Toussaint stood for,” said Kings County Civil Court Judge Dweynie Esther Paul. “Now this will always be a reminder of hope, of mercy, of dignity, of strength.”
Other speakers included Flatbush Avenue Business Improvement District Executive Director Lauren Elvers Collins and Dr. Kesler Dalmacy, a former Haitian presidential candidate. Both speakers thanked Eugene for leading the initiative to co-name the street. Elvers Collins also expressed hope that Toussaint would be canonized as a Catholic saint.
The Pierre Toussaint Boulevard sign now hangs from the same lamppost bearing signs for Flatbush and Church avenues. A section of Church Avenue, between Nostrand and Coney Island avenues is co-named for Toussaint.
This latest co-named strip is now the third street in Flatbush to be co-named after a prominent Haitian figure. In 2018, sections of Nostrand Avenue and Rogers Avenue were co-named Toussaint Louverture Boulevard and Jean Jacques Dessalines Boulevard, respectively.
Sunday’s co-naming came about after Eugene sponsored a bill in 2019 passed by the New York City Council. Eugene partnered with the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens and the Pierre Toussaint Guild to host the co-naming ceremony, the council member’s office announced in a statement.
“Pierre Toussaint dedicated his life to charity and to helping those in need,” Eugene said in the statement. “His legacy of compassion and good will towards people of all backgrounds is a testament to the significant role that our immigrant community has played in the founding of the United States.”
Born a slave in present-day Haiti, Toussaint was brought to New York City in 1787 and freed after the death of his owner in 1807. He became a highly successful hairdresser and philanthropist, working extensively to house refugees and raise funds for orphanages and schools. He is considered the founder of the modern-day Catholic Charities.
After his death in 1853, Toussaint was entombed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown Manhattan, a church he helped found with financial backing.
In 1996 Pope John Paul II gave Toussaint the title of “venerable,” a key step on the road to sainthood.