More than 100 energetic youth from across the Eastern seaboard – representing Washington D.C.; Philadelphia, Pa., and even Boston, Mass. – gathered at Our Lady of Refuge Church in Flatbush Feb. 23.
The event called for lively music, cultural dances and enlightening conversations that would empower and inspire young Catholic Haitians to live out their role as leaders in their communities.
The annual Youth Rally was sponsored by Radio-Tele Solidarite, the National Center of the Haitian Apostolate and the Brooklyn Haitian Ministry. The 2019 theme was “Lead and Be Fruitful.”
“If they develop their faith, their leadership will develop,” said retired Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq, director of the diocesan Haitian Apostolate.
“This is a small percentage of our youth that we try our best to pray so that they can preserve the legacy of their parents, legacy of faith and of the Church. Because I think we don’t reach out to the majority of them. Therefore they need to be strong leaders.”
Developing the youth’s leadership skills through the eyes of faith meant a day filled with prayer, guest speakers, performances as well as a youth talk show and small group discussions.
When it came to what the youth shared with their peers, topics ranged from their shared experiences being a young Haitian Catholic to the sacrifices made by their immigrant parents as well as the teens’ personal journeys navigating the waters of independence as they grow older.
Representing his group from Brockton, Mass., Jezson Laurent, a sophomore in college, confidently approached the microphone in front of the crowd and shared the insight he gained from the small groups.
“Walking away from this event, I find myself taking a lot of lessons with me, but the one that I’ll definitely be most entrenched with is the idea that yes, my parents birthed me; yes, they did do something in my life; yes, they did make their efforts, but now it’s my time as my own man to make my own efforts,” said the parishioner from Christ the King, Archdiocese of Boston. “This is going to work in conjunction with them and not disserving their efforts or their worth.”
A parishioner from St. Jerome’s in Flatbush, Stephanie Sica, said she wanted to leave a positive influence on her younger family members. That’s what inspired her to become involved with her parish.
She said the youth rally was a positive event for the youth in her community.
“It’s very important because as a Haitian-American, my family are immigrants of Haiti and to see youth get to know more about their families’ culture and meet kids from other states and to see if we are alike. It’s great to see us come together and share our culture,” said Sica.
She was one of the panelists during the Youth Talk show who shared her wisdom and insight about growing up in a society filled with social media influences.
“I use my experiences to help youth understand that I understand what you’re going through and put myself in their shoes. We learn from each other.”
Being able to learn from their elders and their experiences was also a facet to the day-long event.
That’s why guest speaker Nadege Dady said her goal was to ensure that the youth would feel comfortable with her topic so that they could open up and share their experiences in their small groups.
The Dean of Students at the Medical School of Touro College, Manhattan, spoke about perspective in order to help the youth understand that they can view their current challenges through different perspectives.
“I wanted to set up the talk to let them know that nothing that they’re seeing is new,” said Dady. “In fact, there were times when it was more difficult and more challenging, especially for their parents and for those before them. There’s nothing to fear although it seems overwhelming and I can tell by the response that I got in the audience that it hit home.”
According to Dady, when she talked about bullying and abuse, she said as she observed the audience that “a good number of them raised their hands to say that either they went through something or they knew someone who went through something.”
When it came to the struggles that youth and young students are dealing with in the age of instant accessibility and unfiltered social media trends, the dean said it’s a pattern.
“It’s what we’re seeing in education – the struggles with mental health, the struggles with anxiety and depression. It’s at an all-time high and part of it is because of what they’re seeing in the immediacy.”
Even though the day was filled with hard-hitting topics from guest speakers and insightful commentary from teens across the states, the youth rally was not void of fun or excitement in pure teen spirit.
That was in huge part thanks to the emcee’s energy. Myrlande Cleozier made sure every time a member from a participating diocese would speak in front of a crowd or perform, that the entire group would support their peer through spirited cheers or shouts.
Sense of Belonging
The energy that resonated that day was one of belonging – whether it was a feeling of connectedness to their individual parishes or their dioceses, all intertwined by the cultural background that unites them – young, Haitian and believers in Jesus Christ.
Fabrice Gray, one of the high schoolers from Our Lady of Sorrows, in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. said he was glad his mom told him to come even though his schedule was hectic.
“It strengthens my faith because it shows me that there are people exactly like me who believe in a great something that makes their life better,” said Gray.
“I come from a predominantly affluent area. It’s very white, so I never get to experience this culture as much as I want to, especially when it thinking about God. I live in a very blue area where God isn’t apparent and really present.
“So seeing this and being a part of this is really big and it’s something that I think I’ll remember for a very long time.”