The Haitian Unity Parade — suspended over the last two years — will step off from Mattapan Square this Sunday (May 15) at 1 p.m. and travel up Blue Hill Avenue to Harambee Park where cultural events will be held from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The parade highlights Haitian culture with churches, organizations, businesses, and schools represented. It will also include elected officials from the city and the state, including Boston’s first Haitian American city councillor, Ruthzee Louijeune.
So much has happened in the last two years in the Haitian community, and beyond in Haiti, since the last parade took place in 2019. There has been great political upheaval in Haiti, another natural disaster, and a refugee crisis, but there has also been the celebration of– and the restoration of– many Haitian-owned businesses that were impacted by the pandemic.
Wilner Auguste, of Haitian American United (HAU) – which organizes the event, said Sunday will be a return to showcasing and celebrating the Haitian flag.
“I remember when we had the first parade in 2001, we tried not to compare ourselves to other ethnic groups that have celebrations,” he said. “It wasn’t the first time we celebrated Flag Day in Massachusetts, but it was the first parade. Now we are in the 20th year and it’s a great thing…In previous years, we’ve even held it in pouring rain. That’s really a great thing for all of us and HAU has worked very hard to make that happen.”
Flag Day is a prominent holiday in Haitian culture, second only to Jan. 1— Independence Day. It marks events that took place on in May 1803, when factions of Black Haitian revolutionaries agreed to meet and work out internal differences. They then mounted a larger force together to fight and defeat the French colonizers.
“They put everything that divided them aside and decided to fight for the independence of Haiti together,” Auguste said.
For Louijeune, the return of the parade will be a special moment in her young political career. She has attended in the past, but usually from behind the scene lugging a TV camera for her dad, Robert, who has a popular Haitian-themed show on Boston Neighborhood Network (BNN-TV).
“Also being on Blue Hill Avenue is so important to the Black community and is a corridor for the Haitian American community. Many of our businesses and churches and organizations are on Blue Hill Avenue and so it’s important to have this moment there,” she said.
Louijeune sees herself as the latest along a continuum of prominent Haitian Americans like former state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry and state Rep.Marie St. Fleur, who, along with other “trailblazers” inspired younger leaders like Louijeune, who is part of a young adult generation that was mostly born in Boston or came here at a very young age.
“I am part of a new generation,” she said. “There is a generational disconnect sometimes on how things are done here and in the Haitian culture. I’m excited because I think I can help bridge that divide and that will be on display.”
Ashley Louis, 34, who operates the Forever Young Adult Day Health Center in Hyde Park, will serve as the parade’s grand marshal. Louis, who is married with five children, was born in Boston and attended Boston Latin Academy. She graduated from Syracuse University with a diploma in accounting and finance and, later, advanced degrees.
“It’s going to be good for my kids to see me in the parade and know we are not just from America, but we have a distinct culture as well and it’s important to me and it should be implemented in our lives,” said Louis.
Passing on the traditions and culture to those who were not born in Haiti is one key element of keeping the Unity Parade going, but another critical piece is bringing back wonderful memories to the growing Haitian senior citizen population.
The senior citizen presence at the Unity Parade is always substantial, and parade organizers said there is a reason for that. “They can’t walk in the Parade, but they can see it and participate in other ways,” said Auguste.
“That’s something they used to have; they used to have a big parade in Port-au-Prince. When we do this parade on Blue Hill Avenue, that’s meant to encourage our senior citizens. They think about Haiti and the times long ago when they were in Haiti and how they enjoyed themselves when they were in school or were students on Flag Day. That is one of the reasons for the parade, and they enjoy it so much.”