pierre toussaint haitian philanthropist
Community members led by Council Member Mathieu Eugene unveil the Pierre Toussaint Boulevard street sign. Photo by Sam Bojarski

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. 

pierre toussaint boulevard
Brooklyn community members honored Pierre Toussaint on April 25 by co-naming a street after him. Photo by Sam Bojarski

The 2018 co-namings were led by District 42 Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn, as part of the Little Haiti BK initiative. 

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. 

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America corps member. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

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1 Comment

  1. RastafarI love.

    Thanks for providing all of the extensive information about Pierre Toussaint. I didn’ t know that he was the founder of Catholic Charities! And, I want to get involved with the movement and process to get him sanctified. I realize that not all people of Ayiti descent consider him a progressive figure, but, I am very happy that he and his wife Juliette helped so many Haitians who fled the ravages of the War for Ayiti’ s independence, with shelter and so forth. I feel inspired by his works and I hope and pray that I too can provide similar aid to folks in need. Ayiti people should continue with this tradition of service and philanthropy. Blessed love.#1804 #Ayiti #blacklivesmatter #Ayitilivesmatter #housesforthehomeless #Haitianphilanthropistsmatter

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