[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

#4185: Agency tries to improve lives of Broward Haitians (fwd)


Published Monday, June 12, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 Agency tries to improve lives of Broward Haitians BY BRAD BENNETT 

 When Jacqueline Estimond's husband sliced off two toes while operating
a forklift three years ago, the family with five children was left with
no income. The lights were cut off in the family's small Lauderdale
Lakes apartment; soon, there was no money for rent. Estimond, who was
born in Haiti, got help with her electricity bill, rent and moving
 to a larger apartment from Minority Development & Empowerment/Haitian
 Community Center of Broward County. Today, Estimond is the family's
breadwinner, working to help other Haitian immigrants with housing and
utilities as an advocate with the social-service agency. The agency
provides help to a growing Haitian immigrant community that lacks
 the political clout to make government serve its needs. Estimond's
story demonstrates the Haitian center's mission -- not just to provide
 assistance, but to help struggling Haitian immigrants help themselves
and each other. ``We were able to work with her and assist her,'' said
Jean Virgile, executive vice president of Minority Development, which
has hosted occasional town hall meetings to discuss issues of concern to
Broward's growing Haitian population. ``Now she's working with other
people, helping them with the exact same services. This really defines
empowerment. The help was not to do it for them, but to show them how to
do it for themselves.'' Established in 1996, Minority Development &
Empowerment uses grants and private donations to help Haitians with
immigration issues, translation services, housing and job location, and
other services. The agency has also worked with the U.S. Census Bureau
and Broward's Haitian residents to improve the 2000 Census count, which
could result in additional federal funding for services to Haitians.
 Haitian immigrants tend to underreport their numbers for fear that the
government will use census information to send them back to Haiti.
 Minority Development workers -- whose numbers have grown to 27 from 12
in the past year -- tell Haitians that census information is
confidential and cannot be used by the U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service. Officially, the 1990 Census counted 23,221
people of Haitian ancestry in Broward. Haitian leaders say the number
now is closer to 100,000. Haitians are spread throughout Broward,
principally in Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, Lauderhill and Deerfield
Beach as well as Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Hallandale Beach and Coral
Springs. Many Haitian immigrants have made Broward their county of
choice because they don't have to deal with a dominant Hispanic
community or learn to speak Spanish as they do in Miami-Dade County,
said Marvin Dejean, a spokesman for Minority Development. Also, the cost
of living is lower in Broward, Dejean said. To serve the needs of this
burgeoning group, the agency has expanded into other areas, such as
building bridges between Fort Lauderdale police and the Haitian
 community. While hosting several Haitian town hall meetings with
police, Minority Development officials have also worked with police to
identify a Haitian liaison who speaks Creole and English.
 English-speaking police and Haitian leaders hope the liaison will
smooth relations between police officers and Haitians who have
complained of police mistreatment and brutality. ``Police officers don't
understand Haitians. They don't understand what they're saying,'' Dejean
said. Many Haitians are too fearful of authority to file formal
 complaints against police, he said. But among themselves, Haitians
complain that police are too rough and confront them with a mix of
racial prejudice and language and cultural bias, Dejean said.
 The police department has narrowed a field of dozens of liaison
applicants to one person, police spokesman Mike Reed said.
 The department will not identify that person until he or she has
completed a background check and accepted the job offer, Reed said.
 Haitian leaders hope to have the person on the job by the beginning of
July. ``This is going to be a major plus for the city of Fort
Lauderdale,'' said Francois Leconte, president and chief executive
officer of Minority Development. The agency is also working with the
Florida Department of Children and Families to create a separate liaison
between the Haitian community and DCF. That person would help to
instruct Haitian immigrants -- who are accustomed to using physical
discipline on their children in Haiti -- about the American
 distinction between legal discipline and child abuse.
 Minority Development hopes to open a shelter for children placed in
foster care to help ease the transition, Dejean said. ``There's not
enough Haitian foster parents,'' he said. ``So they're being placed
 into foreign homes.''  Minority Development also plans a voter
registration drive aimed at helping Haitians become U.S. citizens so
they can register to vote in the November election. By building
Haitians' political power, Minority Development hopes to persuade
 government agencies such as the INS to treat Haitians in South Florida
the same way it treats the Cuban exile community. ``We can sit around
and complain, but if you're not involved in the political
 process, there's not much you can do,'' Dejean said. Later this year,
the social service agency plans to hold events with music, food,
 booths and volunteers, urging Haitian immigrants to fill out voter
registration forms. ``We're going to do a massive public relations
campaign that will include appearances on Haitian radio, the medium of
choice for this immigrant community,'' Dejean said. He cited the irony
of the government's decision to send 400 Haitians smuggled on a boat off
Key Biscayne earlier this year back to Haiti -- even while it spent time
and resources deciding whether to keep one little Cuban boy -- Elián
González -- in the United States. ``We need to get involved and
participate in the political process,'' Leconte said.