“Empowered to dream. Compelled to Love. Called to lead.” Leadership is a key part of our vision for The Joseph School, and a key part to a brighter future in Haiti. As we celebrate Black History Month, we want to highlight some important leaders who have helped shape Haiti, from its eventful history to today.
Toussaint Louverture was born in 1743 in the French colony of Saint Dominque, now modern day Haiti. Louverture learned to read and write from his Godfather, priest Simon Baptiste and became trilingual and very well-read by his early adult years. When he was almost 50-years-old, Louverture was convinced to join the growing insurgency. He started as a soldier and eventually became a military secretary. By 1801, Louverture was ruling the now independent Saint Dominque as Governor. Toussaint Louverture is credited with leading the first successful slave revolt since Spartacus, and is an integral part in Haiti’s journey to freedom.
Jean-Jacques Dessalines served as second in command to Toussaint Louverture during the Haitian revolution. After the successful freeing of Saint Dominque, it was Dessalines who named the new country Haiti, after the island’s aboriginal inhabitants’ name for the country.
After fighting for independence for many years, creating a flag for the new nation of Haiti was an important task. Catherine Flon always had a passion for sewing and founded a workshop in her hometown of Arcahaie to teach other young girls how to sew. In 1803, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the new ruler of Haiti, tore up the French flag, removing the white stripe which represented French Colony power. His Goddaughter, Catherine Flon, sewed the remaining blue and red stripes together. This became the basis for today’s Haitian flag.
Henri Christophe was the first king of Haiti. He helped Toussaint Louverture during Haiti’s battle for independence and gained control of the young nation as president in 1806. By 1811, he had assumed the role of king. Despite some of his eccentricities in his later years, Christophe established many important systems in Haiti, such as the monetary system, education and hospitals systems.
Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti in 1969. She found passion for writing while she was very young and has gone on to write several books, short stories and articles to critical acclaim. Her first book, “Breath, Eyes, Memory” was an Oprah’s book club selection. She has also been indicated by The New York Times as one of “30 Under 30 Creative People to Watch.”
Michel DeGraff is a Haitian-American, tenured linguistics professor at MIT University. In addition, he is the Director of the MIT-Haiti Initiative, a project funded by the National Science Foundation for the development and dissemination of active-learning resources and methods for science and mathematics in Haitian Creole. DeGraff’s research focuses on syntax and how language changes over time.
Johny Placide is best known for playing for Haiti national team at the 2008 Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Though the team did not make it to the Olympics, Placide is remembered for his heroic efforts and passionate performance. Placide has gone on to coach the Haitian national team.