The Haitian-American community of South Florida, formally established less than 50 years ago when the first boatload of refugees arrived on the Florida shores in the late ’70s, now boasts citizens, homeowners, entrepreneurs, elected officials, a vibrant cultural scene, viable business districts and an iconic neighborhood considered to be the heart and soul of Haitian culture in Miami-Dade County.
Little Haiti is the first and only geographical area in the history of Haitian immigration in the United States that acknowledges the presence of refugees, asylees, exiles and transplants of Haitian origin. On Sunday, the second South Florida Haitian-American Community Agenda Conference will take place at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex.
We have made great strides in the 15 years since the first agenda-setting conference was held. Many objectives set at the original conference were met. We now have a comprehensive cultural center, a historical society, a museum, a neighborhood resource center, scholarship programs for Haitian-American students provided by many Haitian-American organizations, media outlets, vibrant business corridors and a noticeable presence in state, county and municipal governments.
As a community, everything we’ve achieved was collective and hard-won — on the streets of Little Haiti and in local, state and federal corridors of power. That is why we celebrate the change that can happen when Haitian Americans come together.
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But more can be done. More must be done. It is not enough to be present in more spaces, in state, county or municipal governments. Stopping there is akin to settling. We must always reach for the highest bar: accountability.
This conference seeks to hold our community accountable, accountable for the things we want, accountable for the things we’ve done, accountable for the things we say we were going to do. Haitians have a history of not settling.
Thus, we cannot settle for the present state of things.
Civic participation in the Haitian-American community must be intensified. The level of educational attainment is not consistent with our values.
We want better care for our elders, comprehensive support for our vulnerable youth and families, expanded financial investments in our neighborhoods, plus equitable participation in public-sector opportunities.
Those are only a few of the subjects on which we absolutely need to put our voices together, come up with achievable solutions and work toward their realization.
We are an immigrant and minority group on the rise to success, and we must continue rising. We will only do that by being honest and constructive about the state of our community. Success will be ours if we continue to demand excellence from our youth, our leaders, appointed and elected, and of ourselves.
Haitian Americans of all stripes are invited to join us for this rendezvous to help create the vision for and build the community in which we want to live. It is time to review where we are, update the agenda and set new goals that will transform South Florida’s Haitian-American community.
Gepsie M. Metellus is Executive Director of Sant La, Haitian Neighborhood Center, which is hosting the 2014 South Florida Haitian American Community Agenda Conference at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex on Sunday.