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Black History Month: A nod to Haiti

A man gets baptized at LiveBeyond in Thomazeau, Haiti.
A man gets baptized at LiveBeyond in Thomazeau, Haiti. | Contributed/Sara Kauss

In honor of Black History Month, let us turn our attention to Haiti, a nation currently in severe crisis. Despite the current situation, it is important to acknowledge the valiant historical significance of the nation by honoring the important black figures who made Haiti a better nation for its own people, as well as others. Our hopes and prayers are to bring recognition to this nation and its people — unforgotten.

Jean-Jaques Dessalines (1758-1806)

In 1804, Jean-Jaques Dessalines, a leading figure for the Haitian people who launched the nation’s revolution, declared Haiti’s independence from France, at which point Haiti became the first Black republic in history. Following a model similar to that of the United States, this nation’s democracy was an amazing accomplishment in that era. 

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Pierre Toussant (1766-1853)

Pierre Toussaint, a Haitian philanthropist born into slavery, was moved to New York City alongside his slave masters. After gaining his freedom, he dedicated himself to charitable endeavors, founding an orphanage and raising funds for Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. His impact earned him recognition as a leading figure in New York's Black community. 

Catherine Flon (1772-1831)

Catherine Flon, a key figure in Haitian history, emerged during the Haitian Revolution. She is known for sewing the first Haitian flag, symbolizing the nation's quest for freedom and unity. Flon's renowned courage and patriotism have established her as a key figure in Haitian history. Her contribution to making the country’s flag remains a powerful symbol of Haitian identity and resilience in the face of oppression.

Philomé Obin (1892 – 1986)  

Philomé Obin was a renowned painter, celebrated for his vibrant depictions of Haitian life and culture. Obin's paintings, distinctly detailed and bold in color, captured everyday scenes and various historical events of Haiti. His work, having gained international recognition, made him a cultural ambassador for Haiti, inspiring future generations of artists. Throughout his career, Obin received numerous awards, leaving a lasting legacy in Haitian art history.

Madeleine Sylvain-Bouchereau (1905-1970)

Madeleine Sylvain-Bouchereau was a prominent figure in Haitian literature and education. Born in Haiti, she served as a pioneer in promoting Haitian equity and culture. As a teacher and writer, she advocated for the inclusion of Haitian literature in school curricula. Her works explored themes of identity and social justice, earning her recognition both locally and internationally, and leaving a legacy for other Haitian writers and educators. 

Paulette Poujol-Oriol (1926-2011)

Paulette Poujol-Oriol was a prominent Haitian-American educator, activist, and cultural advocate. Born in Haiti, she dedicated her life to promoting Haitian culture and empowering communities. Poujol-Oriol's advocacy efforts included education, social justice, and cultural preservation issues.  She served as an invaluable model in promoting bilingual education, immigrant rights, and gender equality. As a cultural ambassador, she showcased Haitian heritage globally through various festivals, exhibitions, and public engagements.

Azede Jean-Pierre (1988 – Present)

Azede Jean-Pierre, a Forbes "30 Under 30" philanthropist, is a Haitian-American fashion designer known for her innovative designs and humanitarian endeavors. Born and raised in Haiti, she blends traditional Haitian aesthetics with modern influences in her creations. Jean-Pierre actively supports charitable efforts focused on Haiti and empowers Haitian artisans and entrepreneurs. As a trailblazer in the fashion world, her work reflects a rich cultural heritage and a commitment to positive change.

Haiti: A nation historically significant and valued

These figures are merely a few among many Black Haitians who have left prominent, positive marks in history. May they be recognized and honored for their courage, resilience, and unwavering dedication to improving the world in which they have each lived, shaping history, and inspiring generations. 

Despite the fleeting nature of news cycles, the people of Haiti continue to hold a special place in the heart of God, and their contributions to humanity deserve to be remembered and celebrated. May we continue to draw inspiration from their legacies, standing in solidarity with the resilient people of Haiti as they strive for a brighter future.

David Vanderpool, MD, is co-founder and CEO of LiveBeyond, a faith-based humanitarian organization bringing general medical care, mother and child healthcare, nutrition, clean water, education, and community development to people worldwide. In 2012, LiveBeyond established a compound with all of the above in Haiti, and last year launched a program for children with disabilities in Israel. For more information, see

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