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8885: Ouster causes Haitian discord (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Ouster causes Haitian discord
Activist's backers suggest sexism

She's a respected activist who has helped recast the role of women in 
Miami's Haitian community while giving credibility to one of its struggling 

Then the unforeseeable happened. Without warning, six of her board members 
voted to oust her.

That decision last week by the Haitian American Foundation not only has left 
former executive director Leonie Hermantin without a job, but it also has 
left female supporters wondering if her ouster has less to do with 
Hermantin's performance and more to do with her sex.

Along with Marleine Bastien, Gepsie Metellus and others, Hermantin is among 
a group of female power brokers that has claimed leadership in traditionally 
male-dominated Haitian civic affairs.

Now some have talked protest. Others have kept the foundation's phone 
ringing off the hook. Rosie Gordon-Wallace visited the foundation's office 
at 5080 Biscayne Blvd. to lodge her ``personal protest as a Caribbean 


She and others have taken the dismissal as a personal slap, a reaffirmation 
that women still lack parity in the workplace and leadership roles.

``It isn't just a Haitian woman who has been fired,'' said Gordon-Wallace, a 
local gallery owner from Jamaica who promotes Caribbean artists. ``It's a 
woman who has done a good job.''

Gordon-Wallace said it pains her even more that Hermantin's firing was at 
the hands of a fellow countryman.

``It's very painful as a Caribbean woman to see in our own organizations we 
are treated in this manner,'' she said. ``It could have been done with 
dignity -- this banishing of your woman.''

The reality of male dominance, however, isn't unique to Caribbean women.

Julia Dawson, a feminist activist and member of the North Miami chapter of 
the National Organization for Women, said Hermantin's firing follows an old 
but entrenched pattern.


``It's fine you are here, filling in the gap. But as soon as there is a man 
willing to take over the reins, you are expected to bow out gracefully, 
understand if you are dismissed,'' Dawson said. ``It smacks of sexism. 
Without a better explanation, it seems like a raw power play by a male 
figure who feels he should be in the top-dog position.''

Ringo Cayard, the agency's founder who led the charge against Hermantin and 
is now the organization's interim director, refutes charges that her firing 
and their ongoing disagreements had anything to do with her being a woman.

The board's reasons, he said, are rooted in Hermantin's failure to provide 
him and the board with the proper respect and to keep members informed of 
several issues, including a June visit by Gov. Jeb Bush.

``If she were a man, she would have been fired from the first mishap,'' said 
Cayard, who stepped down as director several years ago to devote time to his 
business ventures in Haiti. ``She had the benefit of being a woman. I have 
five daughters, and I know how difficult it is to be a woman in America -- 
to be a black woman in America.''


But Hermantin's supporters point out her accomplishments on behalf of the 
foundation: services for the Haitian elderly, which include a new center 
that will open this year; a venue for would-be entrepreneurs in Little Haiti 
to display their products; visibility and powerful connections statewide -- 
Bush called Hermantin on Wednesday after her dismissal.

Hermantin, who is out of town, could not be reached for comment.

While taking responsibility for some mishaps, Hermantin has said she should 
have been given an opportunity to resign.

An urban planner who moved to Miami seven years ago, Hermantin quickly 
immersed herself in issues affecting the Haitian community, first as an 
assistant director working under Cayard at the foundation, then as director.

Founded 11 years ago, the foundation has had a troubled past. In 1994, the 
city suspended loan payments after discovering that a building where the 
foundation was located was owned by Cayard. Five years later, the city 
suspended funding again because of the agency's failure to pay federal 
payroll taxes and back salary.

Besides working to resolve that debt, which amounted to about $150,000, 
Hermantin also worked to bring credibility to the group.

``I don't know what is going to happen without Leonie. The leadership of the 
organization is very important for it to be successful,'' said Ralph Kénol, 
who was elected to the board last week but left the meeting before the vote. 
``It's very sensitive to who is directing it.''

Kénol, who acknowledges board members may have had a legitimate ``beef'' 
over Hermantin's leadership, still questions the legality of the process 
they used to express it.

Whether being a woman played a role in her dismissal, he said, he does not 

``Leonie Hermantin is a very, very powerful person in her own right, 
regardless of being a woman or not. She had a vision,'' he said. ``You feel 
she has a desire to get things done for her community and she has the 
interest of the community at heart.''

But that vision and desire isn't always well received when coming from a 
woman, said Lorna Owens, a consultant on empowerment issues for women.

``Leonie commands respect, and it's quite possible by her demeanor and the 
way she conducted herself, she stole the limelight from the foundation,'' 
she said. ``It happens all the time. I don't know if that is good or bad. 
There is a Jesse Jackson of the world, and there is Operation PUSH.''

With a board meeting planned for next week, Cayard, Kénol and others are 
bracing themselves. Even those who are upset admit to being confounded and 
confused over what to do next.

Even Gordon-Wallace, who went to the office, concedes she's not sure her 
personal protest will have any impact.

``She thought she was bigger than the board,'' Cayard said. ``We, HAFI, made 

© 2001 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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