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Meet Jessica Saint-fleur of Engage Miami in Little Haiti

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jessica Saint-fleur.

Jessica, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
In 2012, after Trayvon Martin’s murder, I experienced my first walk-out at Miami Northwestern Senior High. Although I didn’t realize the impact of it all at the time, it planted a seed of social justice within me and the urge to fight for the Black community. By 2015, at the height of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the stories consumed my friends and me at the Claremont Colleges. So much so we decided to rally together and make our voices heard. However, it’s only so long you could be so loud until people try and shut you up. By 2016, a Claremont Independent doxxed my friends and me to the point we received death threats. I couldn’t cope – it made no sense to me as to why people would hate Black folks fighting for their rights to safety and care in our community. After a while, I stopped caring to fight in the Claremont bubble and after graduation, I came back home to Little Haiti, determined to find my new purpose on how to best care for my community.

However, in 2018 when I returned home, it was almost daunting because of how much Miami had changed. There were more high rise buildings, coffee shops, and sushi restaurants than I had ever seen. Wynwood was the place to be and South Beach tourists were exploring Little Haiti as if we were a cultural zoo. Furthermore, as I returned home looking for employment, the market was tougher than I realized and just as I was about to give up hope, a friend recommended me to Engage Miami, a local non-partisan, non-profit organization that empowers young people of South Florida to get more civically engaged in local politics and the social issues we all face. Interestingly enough, I wish I had such an organization to teach me the importance of civic engagement and how to register to vote at the age of 16 – I didn’t get registered to vote or even have a basic understanding of politics until I had returned at the age of 22. I assumed I couldn’t comprehend the depths of politics in the United States, had a deep distrust of the system, and overall wasn’t motivated enough to vote in any election until the 2018 midterm elections.

Through Engage Miami, I quickly learned how important the Florida Constitution is and how we could make a real difference on a local level. Soon enough, I was teaching my community how to register to vote, the importance of local elections, and how to make your voice heard in local commission meetings. Additionally, once that election was over, I yearned to do more in my community, so Engage Miami got me in contact with FANM and the Community Justice Project who were researching displacement in the Little Haiti community and Climate Gentrification. I became determined to let my community know of the true nature of developers in Miami and how we could fight back displacement. Through months of canvassing in Little Haiti, sitting in lengthy commission deliberations, and rallies we were never able to stop Magic City’s large development project, however, I gained a deep love and connection with my community members and it makes me want to continue sharing that knowledge of civic engagement with my community so that we can come together and grasp that we have the power and autonomy to win equitable justice for all vulnerable inhabitant of South Florida. I believe if we help our community and tend to the most vulnerable, then we have a chance at winning a just future. I owe a lot to my family, friends, and the community members who have pushed me along this path – I won’t stop fighting for what I believe in and I refuse to let anyone shut me down ever again.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The system isn’t built for poor, dark-skinned, disabled people. It isn’t for the young, the weak, the sick or the elderly. I’ve seen family and friends struggle to pay bills no matter how hard they may work. I’ve seen the young people struggle to move out of their parent’s homes, struggle to transport themselves around the city just to get their education, and even give up hope of making it in this city. I’ve even seen the homeless and sick die on the streets in front of my home. So in order to rally the community to get involved in civic engagement and get out to vote, the distrust for the system and overall obstacles to overcome to simply get to a city hall or understand how the many rules work can be a hassle. That’s why I appreciate that Engage Miami has instilled in me to try to explain every single step in the process for it to make it easier to understand and work together.

Please tell us about Engage Miami.
Engage Miami is a non-partisan non-profit organization that aids in building political power for young people in South Florida so we can make sure the future is better for everyone, and it’s working. In 2018, we catalyzed a double-digit increase in youth voter turnout in Miami-Dade county, with the turnout at our primary campuses doubling since the prior midterm from 29.6% in 2014 to 59.3% in 2018 at Miami Dade College, where we won two on-campus early voting sites. Voters who pledged to vote with Engage Miami turned out to vote in the 2018 midterms at a rate of 65.7%, beating the overall turnout of the state and showing young people can and will turn out to vote when we invest in their civic leadership and power.

I am currently the Advocacy Organizer at Engage Miami, where I help our members develop their civic engagement knowledge and connect them to other local organizations that specialize in local issues.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
My favorite childhood memories typically involve going to Morningside Park, walking through the Ti Mache (Haitian flea market), and shaking down the mango or coconut trees!

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