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8885: Ouster causes Haitian discord (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
Ouster causes Haitian discord
Activist's backers suggest sexism
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
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.
`SMACKS OF SEXISM'
``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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