Tale of Two Ceremonies: Hillary Clinton’s Speech Divides Brooklyn’s Haitian Residents

They might have been celebrating inside but outside no one was happy to know that former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was on the stage giving a speech.

This year’s Medgar Evers College (MEC) Commencement ceremony, held at the Barclay’s Center in downtown Brooklyn brought out two separate crowds of people, supporters and protesters.

Inside MEC graduates, family members, friends and faculty packed into the arena to celebrate the awarding of diplomas to about 1,300 undergraduate students.

“College isn’t necessarily about getting an A, it is about understanding the heart and soul of the people who helped you along the way. Never ever forget you went to a college named ‘Medgar Wiley Evers.’ The affection, the love, the respect all of that is in you and I am so hopeful in our future,” said MEC President Dr. Rudolph Crew.

Hillary Clinton receiving Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Medgar Evers College President Dr. Rudy Crew.

Clinton was this year’s keynote speaker and honorary graduate, as well as receiving a Human Letters degree for her contributions to equality and human rights work. She made sure to highlight the achievements of the many student graduates of the Class of 2017, including a Yemeni immigrant, a single mother and full-time working students.

“Yaya, who immigrated from Yemen. When he first came to this country he worked in the deli across the street from Medgar Evers. He made sandwiches for students and professors and today he is graduating with honors. I’m certainly glad he wasn’t banned from America,” said Clinton, referencing President Donald Trump’s harsh immigration policies.

The former First Lady and last year’s Democratic Presidential nominee, went on to tell the graduates the need for them to carry on the Medgar Evers legacy into their futures, “Keep going, carry on what you have learned here, the lessons you have learned at this college and through Medgar and Myrlie’s lives. Remember the work of justice is never finished.”

However, this speech only roused anger from Haitian immigrants outside who claim Clinton is a “fake Democrat” who abuses her political power for personal gain and has a controversial history with the African-American community.

Members of Komokoda NYC protesting Hillary Clinton’s Medgar Evers College speech outside the Barclays Center in Downtown, Brooklyn.

“Black people don’t deserve to have Hillary at the commencement because she’s a racist. In 1996 Hillary claimed black youth were ‘predators’ that only deserve one thing, jail,” said Brooklyn resident Fritzner Pierre, referring to a 1996 speech in New Hampshire, where Clinton spoke in support of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which her husband, Bill Clinton, had signed in to law.

In addition, members of Komokoda (Committee to Mobilize Against Dictatorship in Haiti) and advocates for the organization claimed that Clinton’s through their Clinton Foundation have stolen thousands if not millions of dollars in relief funds from victims affected by the 2010 Haiti Earthquake.

“I’m here to protest Hillary Clinton. I believe what she is doing is wrong to Haitian people and to me personally. She said she is going to help people who survived the 2010 Earthquake but it isn’t true. I’m a survivor of the earthquake and I haven’t received any funds or anything. Hillary only created her own foundation in Haiti and then stole $6 billion dollars from Haiti,” said Yole Cesar, a Haitian Immigrant and 2010 Earthquake survivor.

In the past the Clinton Foundation has cited the Washington Post’s Fact Checker ratings and Factcheck.org on multiple occasions as evidence that Clinton hasn’t made any corrupt dealings when it comes to Clinton Foundation funds and Haiti relief aid.

“In the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, President Clinton worked tirelessly to secure as much immediate relief for the country as possible. This money, which the Foundation raised in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, has been accounted for and funds were disbursed to leading non-profit organizations,” said a statement from the Clinton Foundation Press Office.

Local leaders and politicians claim that these protesters are outliers in a Haitian community more concerned with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and affordable housing.

Josue Pierre

First, I wouldn’t call it, ‘the Haitian Community protesting Hillary Clinton.’ When you get out there [in the community] and knock on the doors of Haitian-American voters and sit in on the private conversations, you find that those who supported Hillary, far outnumber those who do not,” said Haitian-American 42nd Assembly Democratic District Leader Josue Pierre, who worked on the Clinton Presidential campaign. 

“I found far more Haitian-American voters concerned with immigration, jobs and affordable housing. Walk the streets of Nostrand or Church Avenue, and if you could understand Creole, the main topics are TPS and affordable housing,” he added. 

More from Around New York