In Miami, a child of Haitian immigrants helps his fellow countrymen find work (2024)

On a recent afternoon in Little Haiti, more than 100 recently arrived Haitians bustled around tables of community organizations offering social services and employers scouting for workers. People passed heaping plates of diri kole avec poule fri — rice and beans and fried chicken — from one pair of hands to the other. The sound of Creole filled the air.

Among the fair’s participants was Kendy Duvine, from the coastal city of Port-au-Paix, a departure point for Florida-bound migrant voyages. Duvine, 25, fled his country when bandits attacked his parents’ home. As he ran for his life through the streets, he saw a crowd of people getting on a boat, destination unknown. The next thing Duvine knew, he was in Key West.

That was a year and a half ago. Since then, Duvine has navigated his new life in the United States while his mother, stepfather, and three sisters are still back home. He came to the community activity in Little Haiti hunting for work, so he can get a room of his own to rent.

“I hope to find a job to not only take care of myself, but also my family that is in misery in Haiti,” Duvine, the oldest of the children, said.

In Miami, a child of Haitian immigrants helps his fellow countrymen find work (1)

The community fair was the brainchild of Sammy Lamy, a born-and-raised Miamian whose parents came to the U.S. from Haiti. Along with his sister Erlendre, Lamy founded Jobs4Us, an organization focused on helping immigrant workers find jobs, around January 2023.

In Haiti, Duvine finished his high school studies and learned ceramic work for construction. But before he could start his profession, the violence forced him out. That lack of experience has been a roadblock to getting a job in the U.S., he said. Other fair attendees also cited language barriers, immigration issues, and a lack of suitable opportunities as challenges in the job search.

“I can’t find any job,” said Wanita Fidēle, 18, from Port-Au-Prince.

Florida has 53 available workers for every 100 open jobs, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Lamy, who quit his associate job at a real estate development company, wants to connect migrant workers eager to work with companies looking to hire.

“When you look at the jobs report, they say there’s 8 million job openings. Where are these millions of jobs?” Lamy said.

A mother’s legacy

Lamy’s parents came by boat to Miami from Haiti in the late 1970s. They were among the first from the island to brave the dangerous journey across the Florida Straits. He grew up seeing his mother, Micheline, helping family, friends and even strangers who had just arrived in South Florida get on their feet. She would help them find jobs and go to church.

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The recent waves of Haitian migrants coming by boat and through the U.S-Mexico border moved him to act, Lamy says. He recalled the infamous footage from September 2021 that appeared to show immigration agents on horseback whipping Haitian migrants at a time when thousands of people from the island showed up near a Texan border town.

An independent investigation from the federal government eventually concluded that the agents had not whipped or struck the Haitian migrants, though it found that the agents had acted “inappropriately.” But the image, which ignited a national furor, left its mark on Lamy.

“I thought, ‘I need to do something. I have to be an advocate for my people,’” said Lamy at the recent community fair, as he fielded rapid fire questions in Creole.

Then, Micheline died of cervical cancer in September 2022. She was his reason for starting the organization. Lamy started connecting people who had recently migrated to existing job fairs and other employment opportunities. Seven months ago, Jobs4US held its first fair. Around 400 people, mostly newly arrived Haitians, participated. So did 14 prospective employers.

Companies “were hiring on the spot,” Lamy said.

Job opportunities, health care

The Magic City Innovation District in Little Haiti was the primary host of the latest fair with Jobs4Us, held on the last day of Haitian Heritage Month. It was geared towards sharing community resources, legal services and social support with recently arrived people from the island.

Medical providers offered cancer screenings and HIV tests. A mobile spa offered chair massages. Staffers from the Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center and Family Action Network Movement, which have long helped immigrants from the island settle in South Florida, offered their services to the diaspora’s new faces.

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CareerSource South Florida had an air-conditioned truck outside with computers where people could sign up for employment-search support. Another organization helped participants register for email addresses and learn basic technology skills. Lamy recalled a Haitian job seeker who almost missed a job interview because her video conference platform was registered in the wrong time zone.

Besides facilitating the fair, Magic City Innovation District was looking for carpenters, truck drivers, iron workers, masons, electricians and roofers, among other occupations. Konscious Kontraktors, a construction and consulting company focused on socially conscious development and community self-determination, had a full list of sign-ups.

“Our job is to galvanize as many names as possible and be able to pinpoint and put them in the jobs that are necessary,” said François Alexandre, CEO of Konscious Kontraktors, who was born in Haiti and raised in Plantation.

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“I want prosperity”

Fidēle, the teenager from Port-Au-Prince, came to the United States last year through a parole program the Biden administration established last year. She was fleeing violence in the Haitian capital. She’s one of more than 184,000 Haitians who have come to live and work in the U.S. through the 2-year parole program since it was announced in January 2023. Her great-aunt sponsored her and several relatives, including Fidēle’s mother, grandmother, godfather, cousins and siblings.

She’s currently taking English classes, and hopes to get her GED and become a doctor one day. She was first in her class back in Haiti. She listed out all the jobs she’s looking for: as a teacher, security guard, cook, cashier or cleaner.

Fidēle came to the fair with her friend from English class, Louise Michelle. Michelle, 39, from the southern city of Jérémie, used to worked as a teacher’s aide and as a salesperson in Haiti. She feels safer in the U.S., but said language barriers are an issue.

“There’s security, but there’s difficulty in not finding work yet,” she said, adding learning English can be difficult when there is no one at home to practice with.

Michelle wants to support her aunts, brothers and sisters back home. And she dreams of becoming a nurse one day, because she loves to help people, she said.

“I want prosperity, to get better,” she said.

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‘That opportunity they are looking for’

Since holding its first job fair at Florida International University, Jobs4US has hosted eight others, including out of state. The organization teamed up with the New York State Department of Labor to host an event in Brooklyn. More than 40,000 people in all 50 states have either registered for job assistance with them or participated in one of the organization’s fairs, said Lamy.

Next up for Jobs4Us, he said, is creating an internal training program based on what prospective employers and employees say they need. The group is searching for donors and partners to launch a pilot program for home health aides, the occupation the government projects will have the highest number of new openings in coming years.

Among what Lamy deems Jobs4Us biggest milestones is a collaboration with a wholesale food distributor. The company, C&S Wholesale Grocers, has hired 43 newly-arrived Haitians to be warehouse workers as part of a resettlement program. It has paid for their relocation and transportation assistance, and also offers housing, language courses, and professional training.

“It’s very labor intensive, fast-paced work,” Lamy said, he said, adding “it’s that opportunity” newly arrived Haitians are looking for.

In Miami, a child of Haitian immigrants helps his fellow countrymen find work (6)

In Miami, a child of Haitian immigrants helps his fellow countrymen find work (2024)


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