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Alesha Cesar is the daughter of Haitian immigrants, who came to the U.S. four decades ago in the hopes of giving her a healthy environment to grow up in. 

She has never been to Haiti. But that hasn’t kept her from embracing her roots and spreading awareness of the country and its culture as the community service chair of the Haitian Students Association at Howard University. Her work comes at a challenging time for the country. 

In 2021, a group of mercenaries assassinated Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse. Since then, the country has struggled with the growing threat of violence as gangs now control key infrastructure. In March, the United Nations human rights office said the country’s key institutions were “close to collapse.”  

Cesar hopes her work on campus can help students see another side of the country she cares about. The student group hosts konpa dance sessions and serves Haitian food. The association was created in 1983 to “promote, sustain and increase a better understanding of Haiti, its people and its culture,” according to its website. 

Courtesy of: Howard University

“I’m taking my culture, I’m taking my traditions, what I’ve been taught from my parents, and my family,” Cesar said. 

Cesar said she hopes to collaborate with the Haitian Embassy — just 11 minutes away from campus — in the future. 

Howard has close ties to the country. It has provided health care to Haitians. Students can study Haitian Creole. The university hosted a prayer vigil after an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2019. 

And, after Moïse’s assassination, then-Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick gathered students together for a vigil on the campus lawn. It’s the type of empathy that Cesar says she has come to cherish from the university. 

He brought “us all to unite and to talk about the uproar, the destruction, the sadness in Haiti,” she said. It “allowed us to know that this is a safe space for us.” 

Adebola Aderibigbe is a fellow with the HBCU Student Journalism Network, a project of Open Campus.

Adebola is a sophomore at Stillman College majoring in journalism.