'Not the same Haiti': FAMU pharmacy school dean reflects on assassination in her homeland

Tony Judnich
Northwest Florida Daily News

CRESTVIEW —The recent assassination of the president of the Republic of Haiti “is not the democratic way to deal with the problems in the country,” says Margareth Larose-Pierre, dean of the Durell Peaden Jr. Rural Pharmacy Education Campus of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

Pierre became the founding dean of the campus when it opened in downtown Crestview in 2012. She moved to the United States from her native Haiti in 1980 and, while she has been able to visit her homeland just once since then, the roots of the island nation still have a strong pull on her heart.

Margareth Larose-Pierre, dean and director of the Durell Peaden Jr. Rural Pharmacy Education Campus in Crestview, talks about growing up in Haiti. Pierre immigrated with her family to the United States in 1980, and last returned to her native country in the mid-2000s.

The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise last Wednesday occurred at his home in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. According to news reports, the 53-year-old Moise was shot and killed by a group of alleged assassins in a plot reportedly involving at least three Haitian-Americans and more than 20 Colombians.

The background:Haiti President Jovenel Moïse assassinated at home; Biden calls it 'very worrisome'

The suspects:Florida resident detained as latest suspect in Haiti killing

Even before the 2010 earthquake that caused about 250,000 deaths and displaced hundreds of thousands of others, Haiti was “not normal in terms of all of the uncertainties that had been going on before then,” Pierre said Monday.

“And then with the earthquake, that really worsened everything,” she said. “The one thing I know about Haiti for sure is that change doesn’t happen quickly, at least good change.”

The assassination of the president, Pierre said, aggravated all of the country’s economic and political uncertainties.

“And that is very unsettling, because as you know, some of us who come here, it’s always our intent to visit at least, or have the ability to establish ourselves there and even help the less fortunate,” she said. “But when there is economic uncertainty, when there is political instability, it’s very hard for us to go back and help. So it’s very sad to me what just happened. No country should have to put up with something like that.”

Pierre has visited her homeland once, in 2007, since moving to the United States. She said she has a cousin and friends who still live in Haiti.

Her husband, fellow Haiti native Frantz Pierre, is an exceptional student education teacher at Crestview High School. He has distant relatives in Haiti and was able to visit their homeland a couple of years ago.

After hearing about the assassination on television, Margareth Larose-Pierre shared the disturbing news with her husband.

“I was shocked. Who wants to hear something like that?” she said, adding that she doesn’t really follow politics.

If she could, she said she would turn back time to when she was growing up in Jacmel, on Haiti’s southeast coast.

“I always tell my friends that I would love to go back to Haiti, being in middle school and walking the streets,” she said. “We walked everywhere. Life was great, but they tell me, “Nope, it’s not the same Haiti anymore. You can’t just pick up a bag and walk the streets. It’s different now.' ”

Pierre said while she greatly appreciates the educational and job opportunities available in the United States, she cherishes her early days of being educated in Haiti.

“I had great teachers,” she said. “Everyone was kind and they wanted us to do better and to succeed. The children were studying like crazy because they wanted to become somebody. Growing up, we wanted to see change, but change for the better instead of regressing.”

Giving back:Niceville family follows passion to help Haiti through Mission of Hope

Many of the friends she grew up with are doing well in the United States, she said.

“The more education you have, the better,” Pierre said. “I thought at the time when I was in Haiti the education was good: I learned several languages, from Latin to Spanish to English. The teachers wanted us to learn everything. So I always go back to that. I think education is the most valuable gift you can give to a child.”

She said many people “think everything is bad” when they hear about Haiti.

“But there are still so many millions of people living in the country, so there must be something good there,” Pierre said. “There are people who don’t want to leave Haiti. Things are good for them, especially for the ones who have money. And there are people who actually have their kids attending American schools in Haiti.”

She said when she thinks of Haiti, she recalls her coastal hometown of Jacmel and its beaches and food, as well as the nation’s hardworking people.

Milestone:The pharmacy school's grand opening

“We don’t believe in the handouts,” Pierre said. “If you hire a Haitian to work for you, you can guarantee yourself that that Haitian is going to work for the money. That’s one of the things that I appreciate about Haitian people.”

Crestview’s “Sister City” is Noirmoutier, France. As a member of the Crestview Area Sister City Program, Frantz Pierre helped revive the instruction of French at Crestview High School and will start teaching the language there this fall.

In August 2022, the Durell Peaden Jr. Rural Pharmacy Education Campus will celebrate its 10th anniversary. It currently has about 75 students.