Prominent human rights activist and Haitian community leader Jean-Robert Lafortune died earlier this month after enduring a long chronic illness. He was 63-years-old.
Jean-Robert spent most of his professional years (21 years) working for Miami Dade County as a Community Organizer and Director of Citizen Participation at the Community Action Agency. He was locally and nationally known for his volunteer work to improve the quality of life of the residents of Miami Dade County and his long-term advocacy for immigrants’ rights.
Jean-Robert Lafortune was born in Haiti and due to President François Duvalier’s dictatorship, he was forced to move from Haiti to Costa Rica where he lived for a year as a political asylee. He studied philosophy and math at the I”nstituto Formacion Prodesional del Magisterio” in San Jose.
He immigrated to the United States in 1980 and attended Miami Dade College and Florida International University, earning a graduate degree in Public Administration and International Development Education. After serving as the Assistant Director at Ideal Vocational School for seven years, Lafortune spent most of his professional years working for Miami-Dade County Government. He held positions as a community organizer and the Citizen Participation Division Director.
Lafortune was appointed by then Congresswoman Carrie P. Meek to head a major initiative to help get residency status for 50,000 Haitian nationals in the United States. He was a key figure generating a groundswell to get the Haitian Refugee Immigrant Fairness Act, HRIFA, passed by the United States Congress in 1998. Lafortune worked collaboratively with both Democrat and Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Congress in order for HRIFA to pass.
In the Presidential elections of 2013, when he suspected that the Florida elections were heading for a meltdown, Lafortune, under the advisement of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition sent communications to then Florida Governor Rick Scott to extend the elections days to allow every eligible Floridian to vote.
Also, in 2013, he received a Miami-Dade County Public Schools proclamation referring to him as a hero for the volunteer work that he had performed to uplift the Haitian Community in South Florida and the nation. He was also recognized by Florida Senator Bill Nelson for making a profound difference in his community and the State of Florida.
In 2003, he was recognized by the Miami Dade County United Way as being 10 professionals who had made a profound impact in South Florida. He also received several awards and recognitions. In 2003, he was named Social Worker of the Year by the Miami-Dade County Social Workers Association. In 2002, he was named Employee of the Year by the Community Action Agency. In 2000, he was recognized by the 2000 Census for his relentless efforts to get Haitians counted as he held multiple free of charge workshops and training to help low-income residents fill out the Census forms properly.
Lafortune held lectures at several universities in the State of Florida, New Jersey, and the Caribbean to brief scholars on the Haiti problematic. He advised U.S Policymakers on issues related to Haitian Migration and Haiti Policies that impact the State of Florida.
Family Action Network Executive Director Marleine Bastien, with whom he worked very closely stated:” Jean-Robert Lafortune was a quiet, yet a very powerful advocate for immigrants’ rights. He was a consensus builder, a trailblazer, an iconic personality who always tries to reach out to our better angels, and he’s definitely made an impact. The world has lost a staunch advocate, a champion for human rights. May He Rest in Peace and Power”
His funeral was held at the Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church at 110 N.E. 62nd St. in Miami on Oct. 26, according to the Office of Community Advocacy.
Source: Office of Community Advocacy