Haiti rises in the ATL

The metro area finds its place in the Haitian-American atlas

Photo credit:
Ask any Haitian or Haitian-American you know, and it’s almost a guarantee they have relatives living in at least three of the following American cities: New York, Miami, Boston or Chicago. Of course, that’s not unique to Haitians living abroad: As long as foreigners have emigrated to the U.S. (i.e., forever), they’ve tended to move to cities where a community of their own had gathered before them.But over the past five to 10 years, Atlanta has quietly found its place in the Haitian-American atlas. The Consulate General of Haiti in Atlanta, in fact, counts its local constituency at approximately 50,000. The fact that a Haitian Consulate even exists in Buckhead is a testament to the way that community has galvanized here, particularly since the 2010 earthquake which devastated Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas.This community consists of churches like Good Samaritan Haitian Alliance Church in Lawrenceville; restaurants like C’est Si Bon in Smyrna and Olé in Stone Mountain; and promoters like the Catch Me If You Can Social Club, which brings popular Haitian acts to the metro area on a fairly regularly basis. There is the well-established Haitian American Nurses Association, which partners with the Foundation for Haitian Development to organize an annual health fair with French and Haitian Kreyol-speaking volunteers. Yet, by and large, this community remains a secret society of sorts: those who are in know all the major players, the Haitian barbershops and grocery stores, the online radio stations and upcoming events featuring Haitian music, the gossip and the beefs. But then there are hundreds of people like Chenere Dieudonne, better known on Atlanta’s hip-hop airwaves and club scene as DJ Kash. Over the past two years, Kash has proclaimed himself “that fly Haitian kid” on both V-103 and Hot 107.9’s airwaves and become a fixture within the local West Indian community. “When I moved here, I didn’t really know where the Haitian community was,” says the Brooklyn native. “So I figured by making it known that I was Haitian and proud, that would bring the people to me.”What keeps first- and second-generation Haitians and Haitian-Americans like Kash — and Fulton County Youth Commission Director Reginald Crossley — from fully finding their place within the larger local community boils down to a lifestyle-driven generational gap.“A lot of people within the Haitian community here are content with going to work, coming home and interacting with the people at church,” Crossley says. “They’re not interested in meeting new people or even coming downtown. On the flip side are … young professionals who are proud of their heritage and promote it, but whose social lives are tied to our work in a lot of ways. So we socialize downtown and kinda fall into place within the larger Caribbean community.”The Haitian community is definitely here in the Atlanta area, though. And from the centrally placed vantage point of Saurel Quettan, president of the Georgia Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce, that community is thriving and more visible than ever. Quettan credits the earthquake as the final catalyst that brought some cohesiveness to the many smaller local Haitian groups that had been functioning prior to. “I would say going back 10 years before that, the community had been working to come together,” Quettan says. “In trying to work together after the earthquake, people started to pay attention to what was happening beyond their immediate circle, discovering new businesses and others with shared interests.”Within a year of the earthquake, the Haitian presence in Atlanta seemed solidified with the arrival of the Consulate and Delta’s announcement of a direct flight from Hartsfield-Jackson to Port-au-Prince. But still, that secret-society feel remains. To that end, Crossley believes the Consulate’s decision to work toward promoting Haitian culture in Atlanta over bringing Atlanta’s Haitian community together is a misstep. It’s one Quettan is eager to see if he can correct. The Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce lists a directory of Haitian-owned businesses and profiles of its members on its website (www.gahcci.org). Its “Buy Local and Buy Haitian” initiative is also supported by networking and social events that not only promote the businesses within the organization, but also encourage members of the local community to come together.That generational gap also seems to be closing: Last month, community organization Haitian-American Youth Reaching Out partnered with State Rep. Erica Thomas to celebrate the Haitian community and its contributions to the state of Georgia. Among the honorees: DJ Kash.