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Benjamin Paley is a graduate student at Florida Atlantic University studying for a Master of Public Administration. He is the Distribution Manager of the FAU University Press where he also covers Student Government.

This Millennial Haitian-American Activist Is Not Backing Down From A Fight With Trump

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Francesca Menes is a rising star in Florida politics. 

-She was recently named as the Treasurer for the Florida Democratic Party and has long been an immigration rights activist.

-Her well run campaign for Florida House District 108 has some wondering what her political future is, but she hasn’t figured that out yet. 

A nine-year career and numerous accolades including the Miami Herald’s “20 Under 40 Emerging Leaders in South Florida” award, already follow 32-year-old Haitian-American activist Francesca Menes.

And after a strong but ultimately unsuccessful campaign for State Representative in District 108 last year, many in local political circles are wondering what the future is for the millennial leader.

Born to Haitian immigrants in Miami, Menes saw from a young age what public involvement can do for the causes that she cared about. 

“One of the first protests that my mother took me to that I can remember was when the coup happened in Haiti for Aristide,” Menes said in an interview with RISE NEWS. “Fifty-Fourth street was shut down with hundreds and thousands of Haitians, who were basically singing in the street ‘democracy, democracy for Haiti.’”

Growing up in Miami, though, Menes remembers not interacting with other groups besides her fellow Haitian-Americans.

She said that Miami, despite being a melting pot of many cultures, is still segregated — Cuban-Americans are in Little Havana and Haitian-Americans are in Little Haiti.

That’s something she has always tried to change.

First at Edison Senior High School in Miami, and after her family moved to Kansas City, the Central Classical Greek and Computers Unlimited Magnet High School, Menes was involved in debate and remembers learning about and debating many different issues.

“That is what helped solidified me in many ways was seeing how we can debate both sides of an issue, and actually try to push something for our communities,” Menes said. 

That appreciation for debate continued at Florida International University where Menes became involved in on-campus progressive groups.

The child of Haitian immigrants, Menes views the issue as a calling for herself.

“Being in college, I was part of that radical feminist group that just wanted to shut everything down,” Menes said. “We weren’t happy with the way FIU was operating, how they were completely out of loop, and how conservative the university was.”

After graduating from FIU in 2008 with a Bachelor’s degree in political science and women’s studies with a minor in philosophy, Menes served two years through AmeriCorps in the Public Allies program at Catalyst Miami, which according to Menes’ website “focuses on developing the next generation of leaders who are committed to long-term social change.”

Immigration law and enforcement is now an issue at the forefront of American public discourse, and President Donald Trump has made it one of his priorities.

The Trump Administration recently announced that it would be ending Temporary Protected Status for nearly 60,000 Haitians who currently live in the United States.

That means that those people will either have to fix their immigration status by July 2019 or risk deportation.

The child of Haitian immigrants, Menes views the issue as a calling for herself.

She has worked as the Policy and Advocacy Director for the Florida Immigration Coalition for multiple years. In that role, she helped push the state legislature to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants. 

Menes has certainly caught the eye of more established members of the Haitian-American political firmament.

“It is always amazing to me because, and I saw this working in Tallahassee, there is this conservative wing that is like ‘small government is better.’ And the more power that is at the local level the better,” Menes said. “What I learned over time is that it benefits them. If you are going to protect your communities and we [the Trump Administration] don’t like the way you are going to protect them, we are going to take away the ways to protect them, and that is basically what Trump attempted to do even though it was challenged over and over in the courts.”

While she may sound like a candidate, Menes is currently not considering running for office.  

Menes said that it was members of her community who pushed her to run in 2016 for the Florida House of Representatives in District 108 (an area that includes Little Haiti, Liberty City, Miami Shores, and large parts of North Miami).

She ultimately lost to Roy Hardemon in the seven-way Democratic primary.

In the aftermath of her strong electoral showing and the decimation of the Florida Democratic Party in 2016, Menes was picked to be the Treasurer for the state party.

“At the moment I do not have a yes or no answer [whether or not I am going to run for office again] because when I decided to run it wasn’t me it was a community that asked me to run, and I had that support system behind me to know that I wasn’t going into this alone,” Menes said.

But Menes has certainly caught the eye of more established members of the Haitian-American political firmament.

Marleine Bastien, the executive director of  FANM, whose mission, according to their website is to “empower Haitian women and their families socially, politically and facilitate their adjustments to South Florida,” recommended Menes for the Miami Herald’s “20 Under 40 Emerging Leaders in South Florida” because of her hard work and dedication to helping all immigrants.

“Her work has benefited immigrants in general, especially what she had done at FLIC,” Bastien said in a piece published by the Herald. “Anti-immigration laws have been defeated in Tallahassee because of her no nonsense leadership, and hard work. ”

RISE NEWS is South Florida’s digital news magazine. Follow us on Facebook to make sure you never miss a story!

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