This is an opinion piece by Jim St. Germain, the co-founder of Preparing Leaders of Tomorrow (PLOT), a non- profit organization that works with at-risk youth, in New York. He’s the author of A Stone of Hope, a memoir released by Harper Collins and a presidential appointee from Barack Obama.
I migrated from Haiti to the United States on September 11th, 2000, when I was 11 years old. My family came to this country for the same reasons that millions of others throughout history have traveled here -- we were told that here in America, hard work would lead to a better, brighter future.
I struggled to acclimate to American life while growing up on the tough streets of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. When I was 15, I was arrested and removed from home, and spent several of my teenage years in New York City’s juvenile justice system. However, as a result of hard work, sacrifice, and steadfast pursuit of an education, along with the support of family, friends, and mentors -- including many Americans who believed in my potential and ability -- I have been able to succeed.
I am the co-founder of Preparing Leaders of Tomorrow (PLOT), a non-profit organization that provides mentoring to at-risk youth. I hold an Associate’s degree in human services from the Borough of Manhattan Community College, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. I am currently pursuing my Master’s degree at New York University, and six months ago Harper Collins published my memoir, A Stone of Hope.
I sit on the Board of the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC), a national organization dedicated to safeguarding children’s legal rights, and I was appointed by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Department of Justice's Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. I am a community leader, and most importantly, I am a father to a 4 year-old son, Caleb. Before reaching the age of 30, I have begun to realize the American Dream for which my family and my ancestors so dearly sacrificed.
Haití was the first black independent nation on earth, which fought its way out of the claws of colonialism — the precise force that made America and European nations great in the first place.
Haití was the first black independent nation on earth, which fought its way out of the claws of colonialism — the precise force that made America and European nations great in the first place. President Trump and millions of Americans seem to misunderstand or ignore Haiti’s rich history. It was Haitian strength and perseverance in the face of colonial brutality that made the Louisiana Purchase possible. If not for the Haitian people, the United States would likely be half the size it is today -- Haiti’s victory over France during those years had a dramatic effect on America’s expansion. Additionally, the city of Chicago was founded by a Haitian man named Jean Baptiste Point du Sable. In 1779, thousands of Haitian soldiers fought and died in the Battle of Savannah against Great Britain to help the U.S. gain its independence.
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Indeed, many nations--including Haiti--have had their fair share of calamities from political corruption and instability, poverty, lack of upward mobility, and more. However, Haiti has represented the best of humanity from its birth, because it embodies the words from the U.S.’s Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The gratitude Haiti has received from the United States for this allegiance has included the removal of democratically elected governments, over 30 years of U.S. occupation, embargoes, imbalances in international trade agreements that have decimated Haiti's agriculture industry, and a $21 billion tax levied against Haiti by France and its allies. Haiti has essentially had to pay for the right to be free, pay for the right to retain its status as a sovereign nation. Such economic theft has set Haiti back enormously, and has paralyzed the country economically, which directly results in the poverty we see today.
Haitians, however, are a strong people with a desire to serve.
Haitians, however, are a strong people with a desire to serve. Haiti produces hard working doctors, nurses, business men/women, factory workers, intellectuals, and servant leaders. Haiti has produced journalists like Yamiche Alcindor; literary champions like Roxane Gay; athletes like Jozy Altidore, who have represented the U.S. on the world stage; Ralph Victor Gilles, a Haitian automobile designer and executive at Chrysler; U.S. Representative Mia Love, a GOP member of Congress from Utah; my dear, close friend, Edwin Raymond, who risks his life everyday as a New York City Police Officer, at times guarding Trump Tower; and Alix Schoelcher Idrache, who teared up as he stood alongside his peers during his graduation from United States Military Academy at West Point, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for a commander-in-chief that believes he’s from a “shithole" nation.
Bigotry will not drive us back to Haiti, President Trump, and the United States is better off because we are here to stay.