ORANGE, NJ — Orange Councilman at Large Elroy Corbitt is a black man without ties to the Caribbean island of Haiti, but he represents many Haitian-American constituents in the city.
Those constituents gave Corbitt to come out to celebrate Haitian independence on New Year’s Day along with Municipal Council President Charnette Frederic, Mayor Tony Vauss and other local dignitaries and members of the Haitian diaspora gathered at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church on Grove Street.
“I was very satisfied to have been in attendance at the 212th anniversary and celebration of the independence of Haiti,” Corbitt said Friday, Jan. 1. “I thank Councilwoman Charnette Frederic of Irvington for the invitation. I thought the youth did a fabulous job and the costumes they wore were like something from Broadway. We, as people of color, had the same struggles of slavery. I hope one day we can get past the different languages we speak and our different cultures and understand the power we would possess if we come together as one.”
Frederic agreed with Corbitt, saying that unity was the theme of this year’s Haitian Independence Day Celebration. Attending the event with the council members were: FamiCare founder Thecy Faustin, Ring the Bell for the Community Inc., Superintendent of Irvington Public Schools Neely Hackett; Municipal Councilwomen at large October Hudley and Renee Burgess, and others.
“We have Independence Day and we have Flag Day in the Haitian community and, last year, Flag Day, May 18, 2015, we had over 3,000 people come to Irvington, close Springfield Avenue, and then celebrated,” Frederic said Friday, Jan. 1. “Today is a celebration of Haitian-American independence and it’s just amazing for all of us to be here together at 537 Grove St., as we’re doing a great program teaching the people the culture and as we’re having fun together. Unity is one of the key things this year. Last year, the theme was ‘Let’s stop the division.’ This year, the theme is ‘Let’s rise up.’ The unity in Irvington is unheard of. It’s literally beautiful.”
Vauss said unifying the township’s disparate political factions and individual communities has been an administration priority since he took office on July 1, 2014, and that he’s glad to have a lot of helping hands from Frederic and everyone in Irvington who wants to promote positive change.
“It was my honor and privilege to attend such a wonderful event in support of our Haitian community,” Vauss said Tuesday, Jan. 5. “All the stakeholders in Irvington understand that we can accomplish more together than apart. And I’m glad that Destin Nicholas, among other people, is in support of the direction the township of Irvington is going.”
The event, organized by Frederic’s Civic Association, together with Faustin’s FamiCare and Ring the Bell for the Community Inc., recognized Haiti as the first New World colony to have fought for and gained its independence from Europe, and the 212th anniversary celebration in Irvington demonstrated the unification of Irvington’s Haitian-American community.
Nicholas, a former 2014 Municipal Council candidate and local businessman, and former 2014 mayoral candidate Gene Lamothe, who works in the township’s Building Department were present. Almost two years ago, the Haitian community appeared to be divided, with members supporting Nicholas, who ran as an independent; Lamothe, who also ran as an independent; Frederic, who ran for an at large seat on the Municipal Council as part of Vauss’ Team Irvington Strong ticket; or other rival mayoral and council candidates. As recently as last month, Nicholas was part of an ongoing effort to recall Vauss, then abruptly decided to pull out of that four-person movement in mid-December.
Both Nicholas and Lamothe said the 212th Haitian Independence Day Celebration at Sacred Heart of Jesus was proof of a new spirit of unification in town.
“Don’t expect an outsider to clean your house; you have to do it yourself,” Nicholas said Friday, Jan. 1. “Today … (for) Haitians living in the diaspora, especially in New Jersey and particularly in Irvington, it is time for us to be proud as Haitians and Haitian-Americans. It is time for us to learn to live with one another; time for us to stop hindering a brother, a sister, from taken a promotion; time for us to stop blocking roads for each other; time that we learn to help one another; and time for us to learn to live in unity.”
Nicholas said anyone who wants to see what true unity in the Irvington community means in 2016 could use him as an example. He said he has gone from being an active opponent of Vauss to an active proponent of the positive change in town since the new mayor was sworn into office.
“Take me as an example; I’m here to unite, not to divide,” Nicholas said. “We’re all here for the common good of all people. Today, I decided to promote unity, because I know all the great countries that succeed is because the citizens were able to cross party lines, work and banded together. I decided to speak of unity, because I know the division will take us nowhere. I decided to tell you about unity, because I know, if we are united, we will bring victory in everywhere we go.”
Lamothe agreed with Nicholas, saying that he had notarized the formal letter Nicholas submitted to township Clerk Harold Weiner’s office asking to have his name removed from all documents related to the ongoing effort to recall Vauss.
Lamothe said it is time for Irvington’s Haitian-American community to come together with the Vauss administration because the mayor has demonstrated he is working hard for the benefit and in the best interests of all township residents, regardless of race, religion, gender and ethnicity. He said he’s looking forward to 2016 being a banner year in town, with the leadership of his former political opponent.
“This is our 212th anniversary of Haitian independence, so we’re all here to celebrate with the community and African-Americans and everyone else,” Lamothe said on Friday, Jan. 1. “This is the biggest celebration that we’ve ever had. We proved tonight that, right now, in the township of Irvington, we are one. It’s not about Haitians or African-Americans. We are one people in one nation and one Irvington.”
Frederic said she was very glad to hear what Nicholas and Lamothe had to say on Haitian Independence Day.