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FORT LAUDERDALE — The National Haitian American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON
) will host its annual retreat in Arizona to discuss local issues and ways to strengthen the US-Haiti relationship.
The three-day event comes about a year after the western state elected its first official of Haitian descent, Christine Ellis. She represents
Chandler, a city
of roughly 250,000 residents southeast of Phoenix, on the City Council. Ellis is also the chair of this year’s retreat, the 13th edition of the event.
“The city is waiting for NHAEON to arrive,” Ellis, who’s been living in Chandler for 34 years, said. “Bring it on, we’re ready. Everybody is really excited about it.”
Christine Ellis swearing in as a city council member of Chandler in January 2021. Photo credit: Chandler Arizona
With nearly 500 attendees expected, this year’s gathering on Jan. 28 to Jan. 30 will be the organization’s largest to date, Ellis said. The invitation-only affair will be held at the Phoenix Chandler Marriott.
Founded in 2009, NHAEON comprises Haitian-American elected and appointed officials. Their goal is to assist and advocate for Haiti and Haitian-American communities. NHAEON has collected funds
for Aug. 14 earthquake
survivors and has been advocating for a better immigration system.
Under the theme of “Moving Forward, Together” this year, officials will speak about ways they can improve US–Haiti relations and implement any new policies designed to help the Caribbean nation through its political and economic instability.
Officials will also touch on local affairs, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, education and the U.S. economy. Some activities will also be open to members of the Haitian-American community for the first time, NHAEON Chairman Alix Desulme said.
“Elected officials can’t do it by themselves, we need the community,” Desulme said. “We have to move together in 2022, it’s a crucial year for Haiti. This is an opportunity to set the agenda to make sure that our priority is in line with what’s happening.”
Speakers scheduled include Florida District 20 Congressional candidate Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick
and Chandler’s Mayor, Kevin Hartke
. NHAEON members will also be voting for new executive board members, including a new chairperson, vice-chairperson, secretary, treasurer, parliamentarian and historian. The current board has served for two years.
“It’s important that whoever will be filling the shoes of those we currently have will be able to continue to engage the leaders in different areas,” Ellis said. “We need leadership that will have a togetherness mindset because together, we are stronger.”
Ellis hopes the retreat will help build a more close-knit Haitian-American community in Chandler.
“What I would love is a more cohesive group,” she said. ”Our goal is to make sure that the Haitians that are here know that they are being served and those who are coming [to know] it is a great community to be part of.”
Previously, the annual retreat was held in Florida for the past four years.