Special to South Florida Times
LITTLE HAITI — Viter Juste immigrated from Haiti in 1973 and settled with his family in the Miami area. The following year, the native of Gonaïves opened Les Cousins, a book and record store in downtown Miami but later relocated the business to the 7800 block of Northeast Second Avenue.
“Father had heard that Haitians were traveling to Nassau to get records, books and other items from Haiti,” his son Carl wrote in a tribute to Juste. “He dreamed of a corridor along Northeast Second Avenue with Haitian businesses, churches and cultural organizations.”
Over the years, Juste saw his dream come true and in the early 1980s, he became known as the founder what is now Little Haiti, a neighborhood in northeast Miami that had one of the largest concentrations of Haitian-Americans in the country.
Carl said his father wanted to name the thriving community “Little Port-au-Prince,” after the capital of Haiti, but regarded it as too long. So he gave it the name Little Haiti.
But Juste also led the struggle for civil rights for the newcomer Haitian immigrants, including protesting against the Miami-Dade County School Board’s policy of prohibiting children of undocumented Haitians from attending school. Juste wrote letters, rallied others and declared he would find a large tree, place chairs beneath it and teach the children himself.
The school board changed its policy and out of the struggle came the Haitian American Community Association of Dade, which targeted discrimination against Haitians.
For his contributions to the Haitian community, the Haitian Heritage Museum awarded Juste its HHM Father Gerard Jean Juste Visionary Award during its eighth annual Cocktail Gala held Feb 25 at the museum, 4141 N.E. Second Avenue in Miami’s Design District.
About 100 people attended. Juste, 88, a resident of a Miami nursing home, could not attend. Carl accepted the award on his behalf.
“We’ve come from outcasts to contributors, from refugees to politicians,” said Carl, an award-winning Miami Herald photographer. “We had visionaries and they all had dreams for a better day.”
“I stand in the shadows of these two great men,” he said, referring to his father and Gerard Jean-Juste. “And because I am in their shadows, I am not alone.”
Juste, no relation of the late Catholic priest and revered community activist for whom the award is named, was among six honorees.
Award-winning novelist Edwidge Danticat received the HHM Cultural Achiever Award. Haiti, she said, is a place of great art and many talented artists. “But this fact is overshadowed by politics and disasters,” she said. “When you come from Haiti to the (United States), you value and support places like museums that preserve culture.”
Manny and Jean Cherubin, president and CEO, respectively, of Tele-America Broadcasting Network, got the HHM Haitian Pillar Award. Danielle Knox, host of Lifetime Television’s The Balancing Act, was presented with the HHM Honorary Haitian Award. Design and Architecture High School student Malkia Saint Albin received the HHM Scholastic Award.
Funds raised during the signature gala will assist the museum to expand, according to Reginald Bonhomme, an advisory board member. “With more space we will be able to expand our art collection, showcase more artists,” he said.
The not-for-profit museum is the first and only Haitian museum outside of Haiti, according to Eveline Pierre, its co-founder and executive director. Its goal is to showcase Haitian art, historical artifacts, films and literary works.
Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net
Photo: Viter Juste