Haitian leaders and their supporters in metropolitan Boston worry that the political and economic clout of the Caribbean community isn’t proportionate to its healthy numbers – roughly 80,000 strong. To address that gap, state Representative Marie St. Fleur of Dorchester and other leaders are planning a fall conference on the “State of Haitian Americans in Massachusetts.”
The conference, which will take place in October, will include somewhat predictable sessions on education, health care, political empowerment, and economic development. But the gathering has the potential to arrive at creative conclusions.
St. Fleur, for example, believes that the Haitian community can contribute much to the current debate on bilingual education. Most Haitian families, she says, favor rapid immersion over long-term classes taught in Creole. She estimates that roughly one-quarter of all students in the Boston public schools are Haitian-American. That’s more than enough to establish a statistically reliable study of the efficacy of bilingual programs; the issue is starving for good data.
Similar potential exists on the economic development front. Haitians in Boston are more likely to be underemployed than unemployed. Many workers, St. Fleur says, are eager to climb career ladders but don’t know how to find them. Small store owners, too, need technical help to expand their businesses. The challenge is to determine why incomes remain so low among so many families where the work ethic is so strong.
So far Citizens Bank is the only sponsor to commit funds for this promising conference. The bank’s officials recognize that the major growth in the Massachusetts labor force comes from immigrants, and they wisely accommodate new workers with English classes and other services. This conference deserves a look from other far-seeing corporate sponsors.