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P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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How Nadine Duplessy Kearns Is Building A Haitian Women’s Community In DC and Beyond

  • 2016 haitian ladies brunch nadine and ambassador paul altidor

    Nadine Duplessy Kearns (1998 Fellow) at the 2016 Haitian Ladies Brunch with Ambassador Paul Altidor

When Nadine Duplessy Kearns (1998 Fellows) first moved to Washington, DC she was 26, a newly wed, and about to start a dream job in international development. She had moved from Boston, where she had attended the prestigious Boston Latin School for high school, Harvard for college, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts for graduate school. She had even been named a 1998 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow.

Everything was going according to plan and DC represented the start of Nadine’s career. But her new life lacked one key ingredient: female friends who shared her culture.

“I felt alone when I moved to DC because I wasn’t part of a big Haitian community,” Nadine explained. Having moved to Massachusetts from Port-au-Prince when she was 11, she grew up in a strong Haitian community surrounded by strong women who shared her culture and identity. In addition to three sisters, she had 30 female first cousins and six aunts. As an immigrant, she relied on these women to show her the way—to guide her towards opportunities to learn English, to the exam required by the top public schools in the city, to preparing for college applications—they were her rock and the reason for her success.

  • 2016 haitian ladies brunch crowd picture

    The brunch started out as just a few friends. In 2016, over 300 women attended.

    Photo Credit: Lydia Kearney Carlis for Eyemagination Imaging | C-Suite Pics

With no clearly defined Haitian-American organization for women in Washington, DC, Nadine set out to build her own community. She invited the few Haitian-American women she knew for brunch.

The brunch became something of an annual affair for friends. Over the years friends would bring new friends and soon enough the brunch grew from five, to seven, to nine, to eleven women. Then, in 2010, Nadine made a concerted effort to expand the network beyond her own personal connections. She asked everyone to purposefully invite all of their female Haitian-American friends and colleagues.

In 2012, when Paul Altidor was appointed as the Ambassador to Haiti, the Embassy of Haiti took note of the brunch and asked if they could host the event. With a new location and the hard work of a host committee made up women she had met at past gatherings, the brunch was really able to grow.

In early December of 2016, the DC Haitian Women’s Brunch held its eleventh annual brunch at the Embassy. Not only did a record breaking 300 women attend, but it was held in conjunction with the White House Council on Women and Girls’ White House Briefing for Haitian-American women and a weekend of networking activities.

The weekend was a major milestone for the brunch series, and for Nadine, who was moved to see Haitian-American women from across the country come together for the weekend. It reminded her of just how far the community has grown since she first moved to the city.

“When professional Haitian-American women move to DC from major diaspora communities like Boston, New York City or Miami, they can feel alone, like I did. When they come to the brunch for the first time they can finally feel that weight lifted. They are part of a community. We’re here for each other.” 

Nadine said that the annual brunch is an opportunity for women to meet, to reconnect with one another, and a place to form both professional and personal relationships. She has seen women go on to collaborate on projects and form deep lifelong friendships. The brunches are also a way for the Embassy to connect directly with the community and broaden their reach.

In the future, Nadine hopes that this annual convening will be a platform for a national Haitian-American women network. She also hopes that this network will go on to connect with professional Haitian women’s communities in Haiti.

In her professional life, Nadine is president and founder of AccessED, a consulting practice serving schools, community-based organizations, and foundations committed to increasing college access and success for low-income students. ∎

Header photo: Lydia Kearney Carlis for Eyemagination Imaging | C-Suite Pics