What do you do when you see notable influencers who are recognized time after time for their work on social media, but you rarely see anyone who looks like you?
This has been my observation in the digital space for the last few years. And this is not to say that these big-league influencers don’t deserve it, in fact they do. I follow many of them, and many follow me.
However, there are some dynamic people—particularly Haitians using social media to build global communities—who are newsmakers. Their work shows that they have a greater purpose than just themselves, and therefore they deserve to be acknowledged.
It is often said that there are two types of people in the world—those who use their art to build houses and others who build cathedrals. The latter is better.
While most people build houses, only a few have the tenacity and will to build cathedrals. When you build cathedrals, your work last for centuries as opposed to a few decades. Think of some of the grandest cathedrals in Europe that are over 500 years old—the Sistine chapel, for instance. We can even bring the idea of notable architecture closer to home; Haiti’s own Citadelle Laferrière is still standing almost 200 years after its construction.
The Haitian social media influencers use their art, ideas, hard work, passion, and conviction to create platforms to elevate and to help preserve the country. Their bold, spirited view of Haiti reminds me of one of the country’s eminent forefathers, Jean-Jacques Dessalines.
Like Dessalines, these men and women operate in a series of firsts. Just as Dessalines was the first ruler of independent Haiti, the first emperor, the first to succeed in his mission to permanently eliminate French rule in Haiti.
As Biography.com reports, “In a series of victories, Dessalines’ coalition of blacks and mulattos were successful in forcing the French to surrender and leave the island.”
The 1804 BOSS social media Haitian influencers are also some of the first to create and use their platforms in the digital space for change, ensuring that the structural, social, and cultural barriers holding Haiti back are slowly crumbling.
They have followers who are engaging and supportive and who listen and buy into their worldview. When you follow them, you are never confused as to what they stand for and where they are heading.
You may not agree with them, but they always elicit reactions from people. They are using social media to shape Haiti’s story to one that has a human element, with personal connections. They are not like a typical boss, but they handle Haiti’s business and narrative like an 1804 BOSS. They work for the proud, independent Haiti that Dessalines fought for.
Their platforms vary from technology to education, from food and culture to government, to citizen journalism and digital media.
I follow their work because they bring meaning and substance to the conversation. I hope they continue with the same fervent passion as some of Haiti’s leading disrupters. I want you to know them and to follow them.
And you can go beyond following them by supporting their work in order to collectively raise the stakes for Haiti.
Here are the ten 1804 BOSS Haitian Influencers on Social Media:
1. Èzili Dantò is the leading human rights advocate for Haiti. With over 25 years of experience, she started out as the lawyer for the first democratically elected Haitian president. Attorney Dantò is an award-winning playwright, performance poet, and activist, born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and raised in the USA.
She is a member of the New York and Connecticut bars and is an internationally acclaimed fighter for Haitian women’s and children’s rights. She worked for over half a decade on one child sexual abuse case, bringing to justice the first US charity worker, who got nearly 20 years in federal prison for sexually abusing young Haitian boys for over a decade. Since then, she has worked on over a dozen other child-trafficking, pedophilia, forced prostitution and sexual abuse cases in Haiti.
Èzili Dantò is also the founder and president of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (HLLN) since 1994, and the Free Haiti Movement since 2004. HLLN supports and works cooperatively with Haitian freedom fighters and grassroots organizations promoting the civil, human, economic, and cultural rights of Haitians living at home and abroad. You can connect with Èzili Dantò’s work on Facebook, by visiting the Free Haiti Movement page.
2. Michel DeGraff is a disrupter in the linguistic field. It has been remarkable to watch how he has managed to use social media to educate thousands about his work in Haiti. Born in Haiti, he is Professor of Linguistics at MIT. His work mostly concerns the development and structures of Creole languages, with focus on his native Haitian Creole (also known as Kreyòl in Haiti). One major thread in his research demonstrates the fundamental ways in which Creole languages are structurally and developmentally on a par with non-Creole languages, such as French, English, Spanish, etc.
In a related vein, DeGraff’s research suggests that linguists and non-linguists alike, including educators, policy-makers, and government leaders, have for much too long misunderstood or misrepresented the history and structures of Creole languages and their crucial importance for the wellbeing, the human rights, and the future of Creole speakers. For example, DeGraff documents some of the erroneous yet popular beliefs—Kreyòl is broken French, Kreyòl cannot express science, and Kreyòl isolates Haiti— and how they negatively affect education and research in and about Haiti and socio-economic opportunities for Haitians.
One of his current projects is the MIT-Haiti Initiative, which aims to improve Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) education in Haitian high schools and universities, with Haiti becoming a model for other communities where children cannot access quality education in their native language. See the link here to learn more about Michel DeGraff.
3. Laurette M. Backer is known in the social media world as the influencer who tweets with an analytical perspective. It takes an incredible amount of skill to engage at that level with 140 characters on Twitter.
Backer wears two hats in her multiple roles. She is the lead administrator of a private pre-school in the commune of Tabarre in Haiti. She also specializes in social networks, web training, and blogging, and she is a skillful activist. Backer firmly believes that education should be a priority in Haiti and is the best means to “fight against fanaticism and Manichaeism,” for our world and the best hope for Haiti’s future.
Backer worked for 20 years in project management consulting and customer service in several industries (private and public) in the United States. She has developed innovative policies and procedures to implement systems.
Passionate about social networks and Web 2.0, and after her 20 years of corporate experience in the United States, she moved back to Haiti in 2012. Thereafter, she decided to embark on an adventure by founding a consulting firm, Ayida Consulting.
Backer currently lives in Port-au-Prince and offers consulting services in various fields, including campaigns and training for social networks. She guides organizations in their understanding of the web and the importance of learning how to listen, to speak, and to interact on the internet. To find out more about her professional career, please check her profile on LinkedIn.
4. Henry Beaucejour is the influencer with a goal to bring Haiti’s youth into technology by 2030. He established the Numerique 2030 platform to move that message forward.
With his background in journalism, Henry Beaucejour started to become aware of how far Haiti is lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to technological development. This led to the creation of Haiti Tech News in 2011, the first and still the only technological source in Haiti.
The online tech magazine is committed to the technical sector in Haiti; it’s mission is to advise, educate, and work with the Haitian people. The publication is available in four languages. He believes that as more people gain the knowledge they need, new businesses can emerge, both in the public and private sectors. In addition to being a social media influencer, Beaucejour is heavily involved in business development, particularly in the technology consulting field. You can connect with him on Twitter here.
5. Wynnie Lamour is making moves in New York City as a Haitian linguist and educator while connecting and building communities. Wynnie founded the Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York in the fall of 2013. An educator with a focus on language and communication, she has spent the last several years teaching Haitian Creole in the New York City metro area to a wide array of language-learners, including non-profit professionals, public school teachers, and entrepreneurs.
Wynnie has a BA in Linguistics from Cornell University and an MA in Urban Affairs from CUNY Queens College. Both degrees have allowed her flexibility to blend effortlessly into many different sectors. Wynnie’s philosophy of teaching is rooted in the idea of mindfulness, which promotes community and connectedness, while establishing a sense of pride and respect for both the Haitian language and culture.
Wynnie’s work has included a translation of an excerpt of the Frankétienne novel Dezafi, published May 2013 in Transition Magazine (Issue 111 “New Narratives of Haiti”), a publication of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University. Wynnie has placed social media at the center of all her work in an effort to create a community that is easily accessible. Wynnie is currently working on creating a Haitian Creole Learning Academy for young people, along with a media-rich children’s book. Learn more about Wynnie’s work here.
6. Hugues Girard is a thought leader in the political, social, and economic conversation in Haiti and its diaspora. He is one of the most effective and visible Haitians on social media, respected by many of his peers for his smarts and intellectual consciousness. His depth in Haiti’s politics makes him adept in assessing and articulating the country’s national social dialogue.
An independent citizen-journalist and micro-blogger operating in social media, Hugues is also a frequent co-host of the popular Friday night Blog Talk Radio show, Legacy of 1804, by Kiskeacity.
In addition, he is also a homeschooler with an emphasis on IT and online education. He recently served as Academic Director for ESOL & Adult Literacy at HOPE Learning Center in Tampa, FL. As a New York and Florida state-certified and International Baccalaureate-trained teacher of Spanish and French, Mr. Girard has broad experience in the pedagogy of K-12 to community colleges.
7. Cindy Similien-Johnson is guided by the principle: “Live to love; work to improve the lives of others; and create a legacy.” Her life’s work includes the love of writing, women’s empowerment, and Haitian culture. And she uses her social media platform to elevate Haiti and the Haitian diaspora.
A graduate of Barnard College-Columbia University, Ms. Similien-Johnson is a prolific author of several books, including How to Stay Motivated: Inspiration and Advice for Everyday Living; and Living Expectantly: 30 Days to Living an Abundant Life. She founded CSJ Media Publishing to share messages of inspiration and help others discover and fulfill their purpose. She recently published a children’s book entitled Haiti Is, which celebrates her childhood memories of Haiti. She is also a columnist for the Haitian Times.
With more than ten years of experience in the non-profit sector, Cindy founded Goal Chic, an initiative whose mission is to educate, engage, and empower women and girls in her community in Brooklyn, NY to be successful in their careers, find their purpose, and manage their personal finances, health and wellness, and relationships.
In 2016, she was nominated and invited as a changemaker at the inaugural United States of Women Summit convened by First Lady Michelle Obama and the White House. The Summit rallied thought leaders, activists, community leaders, and citizens to celebrate their achievements and create an action plan for the future. Cindy was also the winner of the 2016 Caribbean Life Impact Award.
8. Pierre Stanley Baptiste went from cooking meager meals over fires made with pine cones in Haiti to studying business in the US. Pierre now teaches the art of leveraging scarcity in Haitian Creole and English at Pierre Stanley Baptiste and speaks about his experiences, including recent engagements at universities. As a Clinton Global Initiative University Fellow, Pierre founded Impact Ayiti, a non-profit that teaches entrepreneurship to disadvantaged high school students in Haiti. He has received a Volunteer Award from President Obama for his work in the United States.
A Huffington Post contributor and author of the Haitian Creole inspirational ebook REVÈY, Pierre has a breadth of experience in public speaking, social entrepreneurship, and social media. He also has a not-so-secret love affair with writing, coffee, hiking, and wine. Having lived all his life in a country where opportunities are scarce, he has unique insights to help anyone challenge their scarcity mindset and create a life of achievement. You can learn more about his work here. Twitter @pierresbaptiste www.pierrestanleybaptiste.com
9. Max Guybert Lyron is a young Haitian professional who is currently Director of IT and Digital Communications at the Ministry of Communication in Haiti. In 2012, after having worked at Evolution Studios (Assistant Creative Director) and Le Nouvelliste (writer), he joined the public service and has since worked at several government institutions, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Defense. Max also partners with local digital and marketing-related businesses.
Armed with a degree in social communication from the State University of Haiti, Max focuses on technology, digital communication, visual arts, and public governance.
He is also a Microsoft®-certified professional in Integrated Platform Management for Governments. Guybert Lyron leads at the Ministry of Communication and is currently in charge of managing the government’s online presence.
As an influencer, he makes it a mission to stay abreast of the latest in the field of communication and social networks. He has taken professional development training at the University of Montreal, MIT, and the National School of Public Administration of Quebec. Furthermore, he has a big interest in big data and social physics.
With a high-quality digital audience, including the main institutions and political leaders in the region (Caricom, AEC), Max Guybert Lyron has a particular influence on social media on governance, internet of things, and digital transformation.
10. Dynamic Haitian Cynthia “Chef Thia” Verna is a culinary expert specializing in gourmet Caribbean-fusion cuisine. She is an accomplished author, a seasonal artist, and soon-to-be national cooking show host. She discovered her passion for food at eight years old and since then has worked at prestigious establishments and events on three continents.
Chef Thia made her debut as co-host of a national US television show in April 2016 when the second season of Caribbean cooking series Taste the Islands premiered. Produced by South Florida media house Blondie Ras Productions, Taste the Islands is the only national Caribbean cooking show in public television’s repertoire. In the 13-part series, Chef Thia’s vibrant personality and love of simple, fresh, creole-infused cuisine shines through.
Chef Thia has been consulting with American food service giant Aramark since 2010. She has been published in several magazines and newspapers, including Le Nouvelliste, Ticket Magazine, Viv Magazine, the Miami Herald, Fleur D’epices and Modern Flavor Magazine.
She is now promoting her bestselling memoir Ordeals: Calvaires, a candid story of her experience as a rape survivor. She currently lives in Miami with her three children and spends a few months each year focusing on her unique brand of bottle art. Follow Chef Thia at Chef-Thias-Cuisine.
There is hope for Haiti as the country keeps producing these men and women who lead in their fields while using social media platforms that bring the community together. Of course we need at least 100 more courageous Haitians to keep changing Haiti’s narrative. It is my hope that these ten will inspire many others to start telling their own stories.
Your turn! Do you know any of these ten 1804 Boss Haitian Influencers on Social Media? Are there any who exemplify the work these influencers are doing whom I missed? Tell me in the comment section below.
About the author: Daniella Bien-Aime is the founder of the Bien-Aime Post, a digital media platform that focuses on business, leadership, education, and social media within the context of Haiti and its diaspora. Follow her on Twitter @dbienaime.