It is believed that leaders are not born, but are created. Created by circumstances, events, and immortalize by forces beyond conscience effort. Miami's Haitian community gathered and shared memories of friends, politicians, and comrades as they bid adieu to Haitian leader Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste. His unexpected death at the age of 62 brought a shock wave to all who continue to demand equal treatment and social just for Haitian migrants. Some 3,000 admires and mourners packed the inside of Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church while thousands more stood in the rain outside to pay homage to the Roman Catholic priest who went from a little-known figure on a Miami street corner to the central figure in the Haitian civil rights struggle.
Rev. Gerard 'Jeri' Jean-Juste laid the foundation regarding the definition of a leader. Soft spoken, but also a street-fighter with a maverick personality that often transformed to both activist and the master of ceremony with the major goal to bash his enemies and rally against the unfair immigration policies of the US government. His priestly manner and ease with people made him just the right person to lead the Haitian movement in Miami and in his homeland of Haiti. He understood the power of the media and brought awareness to the plight of Haitian refugees. He kept the Haitian plight on the front burner reminding local, national, and international communities of their responsibility in finding justice for Haitians in the US and abroad.
Rev. Jean-Juste, the champion of the poor, did not shy from controversy. In 1980, reported in the Miami Herald, he blasted the Catholic Church in Haiti for recognizing the marriage of Jean-Claude Duvalier and his bride. Called the church a 'prostitute.' He was fired as director of the Haitian Refugee Center for 'ineptitude' and 'erratic and unproductive behavior' in the view of the Christian Community Service Agency. He responded by forming Haitian Refugee Center, Inc., but ideological differences would create problems, forcing him once again to form his own-grass roots political watchdog group, Veye Yo, Creole for 'Watch Them' in 1985.
Rev. Jean-Juste would return back to Haiti for the inauguration of President Jean-Bertrand Aristed (1991), but was arrest in his own parish on weapons charges, and accused of being a 'threat to the public order' in 2004 the year of Aristide's final ouster. A year later, he would be arrested again on charges of murder of journalist/poet Jacque Roche. In 2006 after mounting international pressure from human rights activists, Jean-Juste was finally released from Port-au-Prince jail after serving 192 days. He was diagnosed with leukemia and returned to Miami to seek treatment. In the same year, murder charges against him were dropped, but he still faced weapons possession and conspiracy charges. Those charges were also eventually dropped.
Citing the rosary as his only weapon, Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste understood the sacrifices that had to be made for social justice. From feeding the poor, preaching to the forgotten, and defending the downtrodden, Rev. Jean-Juste has left a legacy that demands the question 'Who among us is best suited to speak on behalf of the poor, the lost, and the forgotten?' Hopefully our lost is heaven's gain, and each of us will be empowered to become leaders in our own right, for the path has been paved only we can choose to walk in his steps.
Please visit the 'Tribute and Tears' gallery at www.irisphotocollective.com for more photos of Reverend Gerard Jean-Juste's memorial service.
R.I.P 'Jeri', gone but not forgotten.