June 21, 2009
The Reverend Gerard Jean-Juste probably did more for Haitian refugees in South Florida and, by extension, all of the country in his lifetime, than anyone else. A Catholic priest and a humanitarian, he defended the rights of this beleaguered minority and lived to see the growth of Haitian political power in Miami as more and more Haitians won elective office. So with these facts in mind, it is no wonder that when he died on March 27th following complications from a stroke and respiratory problems, people came by the thousands to mourn his passing.
According to a timeline in the Miami Herald, Jean-Juste moved to Miami in 1978 and was hired as the director of the Haitian Refugee Center. Eventually he had his own grass roots political watchdog group called Veye Yo. He returned to Haiti in 1991 for the inauguration of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically elected president in Haiti’s history. But arrests on the basis of weapons possession and murder and suspension from his parisih duties at St. Claire Catholic Church were signs that he could be a divisive figure at a time when taking a stand in Haiti can have dire consequences. Released from jail, he continued to officiate mass and feed neighborhood children. All the charges against him were eventually dropped.
Last year he received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of San Francisco in recognition of his advocacy work. It was the generous, caring Jean-Juste that drew 3,000 people inside Miami’s Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church in early June, while thousands more stood outside in the rain. The Haitian community has lost an important man, an eloquent spokesman for his people, and a purveyor of good in the world.