One of the stark realities of South Florida’s black community laid bare by Tuesday’s primary election is the near impossibility of a Haitian American to be elected to Congress.
Even in a place such as Miami-Dade County, which supposedly has one of the largest Haitian American communities in the nation, including very fine men and women fully capable of adequately representing the interests of all people, getting to Washington proved an elusive dream on election day.
In many other places, any candidates of the caliber of community activist Marleine Bastien, attorney Phillip Brutus, health care executive Dr. Rudy Moise and attorney Yolly Roberson would make for an irresistible choice.
The African American candidates were no slouches either. James Bush III, a teacher has many years of experience in the Legislature. Shirley Gibson, a retired police officer and business owner, almost single-
handedly created the city of Miami Gardens and is the first and so far only mayor of the largest majority black municipality in Florida. Andre Williams is an attorney and business owner serving on the Miami Gardens City Council. Frederica Wilson, a former educator and School Board member, has been blazing a trail in the Legislature.
The reality, though, is that, according to preliminary results, the Haitian American candidates polled a combined total of only 30 percent of the votes cast, compared with a combined total of more than 53 percent for the four African American candidates. This suggests that there was very little cross-over voting between the two communities, between the electorate of, as it were, Little Haiti and Liberty City – though the boundaries of House District 17 encompasses a much greater area.
It was Wilson who took the top spot, with just over 34 percent of the votes. Dr. Moise outspent her perhaps five to one, running a campaign costing some $1.8 million – including $1 million of his own money – but finished a distant second with 16 percent of the votes.
Do Haitian Americans deserve a seat in Congress? Of course. But the reality is that such a dream comes up against the hard fact that until retired Congresswoman Carrie Meek won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992 no blacks had been elected to Congress since Reconstruction. In actuality, then, African Americans in Florida are still relative newcomers to the seat of national law making.
The answer for Haitian Americans is to make an even greater effort to woo their African American neighbors. It cannot be done with claims that it is time for Haitians to go to Congress to represent their people. It may be possible by pointing out that Haitian Americans can do as good a job as anyone representing all the people.
The answer must also include the responsibility and wisdom of African Americans to embrace their brothers and sisters of Haitian descent on the basis of quality, character and kinship.
And now that Wilson seems headed for Congress, succeeding Kendrick Meek who wants promotion to the U.S. Senate, it is incumbent on her to reach across to her Haitian American constituents and not merely carry on the efforts that Meek made but also to build on it and make the Haitian American community feel they are truly part of this marvelous Diaspora to which all Americans of African descent belong.