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#3630: FWD - Conflicts between black students prompt summit (fwd)


Published Tuesday, May 9, 2000, in the Miami Herald 

Conflicts between black students prompt summit

Long-simmering tension between Haitian and African American students and at 
least one near-fight in recent months have prompted community members and 
administrators at Sunrise Middle School to convene a ``cultural summit'' 

How serious the issues are is a matter of dispute.

``It isn't just a Sunrise issue; it's been going on in the community for a 
while between the two cultures,'' said Marie K. Compas, one of the meeting's 
organizers. ``It all comes down to one group not knowing, understanding the 
other. . .It's minor now, and we don't want it to get bigger; it's 
escalating, but it's not explosive.''

The meeting, which will bring together students and parents, will feature a 
panel of educators, community leaders, police and students.

It will take place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the school, 1750 NE 14th St. in 
Fort Lauderdale.

``People tell me things that are happening,'' said Marvin Dejean, a spokesman 
for the Haitian Community Center of Broward County, who will be on the 
nine-person panel.

``That's why I think we have to move in right now, while things are not 
deadly yet.''

Sunrise Middle had 1,398 students at the beginning of the school year; the 
black population of the school was 809. 

Although the district doesn't count Haitian students separately, the school 
is about a third Haitian, said Principal Rebecca Dahl.

Tension between American blacks and Haitians has arisen periodically since 
the 1970s, when large numbers of Haitians fled poverty and politics to settle 
in South Florida.

Conflicts simmered at places like Miami Edison High School where, between 
1973 and 1984, the Haitian student population swelled from 17 to 650, a third 
of the student body.

Four years ago, fears that tension among Haitian, Jamaican and 
African-American students at Sunrise Middle, Fort Lauderdale High and 
elsewhere prompted a community meeting much like tonight's.

Although school officials, Haitian and African-American activists and police 
would not pinpoint any serious incidents in recent months, most agreed that 
tension is on the rise . . . if it ever languished.

Recently, Dahl said, it came out in conversations with youngsters ``that 
there have been some escalating problems in the community itself.''

``If kids are telling us, `Hey, we need to talk, . . . we're going to 
listen,'' she said.

Participating in the discussion and question-answer session tonight will be 
Compas, multicultural chair and teacher of English as a second language at 
Sunrise; Antoine Jadott, Sunrise guidance counselor; Desmond Blackburn, an 
assistant principal; and school resource Officer Ernest Pagan; as well as 
activists from the African American and Haitian communities.