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[WATCH] Commissioner Siplin and Nation’s Haitian Elected Officials Celebrate Firsts at Leadership Dinner

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – Haitian American elected and appointed leaders across the United States convened for the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network’s (NHAEON) Leadership Retreat January 25-27, 2019, which culminated in its Leadership Dinner at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando Florida Saturday night.

Karen Andre, former White House Liaison for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was the mistress of ceremonies during the NHAEON Leadership Dinner Saturday, January 26, 2019. Photo: Willie David/Florida National News.

Karen Andre, former White House Liaison for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was the mistress of ceremonies during the NHAEON Leadership Dinner Saturday, January 26, 2019. Photo: Willie David/Florida National News.

Karen Andre, former White House Liaison for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama and Senior Advisor to Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum, was the mistress of ceremonies.

Haiti's Minister of Haitians Living Abroad Marnatha Irene Ternier. Photo: Willie David/Florida National News.

Haiti’s Minister of Haitians Living Abroad Marnatha Irene Ternier. Photo: Willie David/Florida National News.

The night’s guest speaker was Marnatha Irene Ternier, Minister of Haitians Living Abroad for the nation of Haiti. She delivered her entire keynote in Creole, and her passion for her people and homeland could be felt despite any language barriers.

After the meal, the organization recognized upwards of thirty Haitian American elected officials who were firsts–the first black or the first Haitian American–to be elected to their respective offices.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings lent his support during the NHAEON Leadership Dinner Saturday, January 26, 2019. Photo: Willie David/Florida National News.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings lent his support during the NHAEON Leadership Dinner Saturday, January 26, 2019. Photo: Willie David/Florida National News.

One distinguished non-Haitian guest in attendance, who was a first nonetheless, was Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.

One special honoree included chef and entrepreneur Wilkinson Sejour, owner of the Chef Creole restaurant chain. He made history when he opened a Chef Creole restaurant in Miami International Airport just four months ago and then made national headlines when he chose to feed the TSA employees at MIA during the recent government shutdown. Upon receiving his award, he exhorted the audience to never become complacent.

Orange County Commissioner Victoria Siplin, NHAEON Chairwoman, was also honored during the dinner for her leadership over the past two years, being presented with the co-founder’s very own award as a symbol of gratitude. When asked her thoughts on the number of trailblazers honored that night, Commissioner Siplin told FNN News, “I’ve always known…Our people do great things.”

NHAEON convened in Orlando to discuss immigration reform, the 2020 census, which will directly affect the upcoming redistricting across the country, and various other issues affecting the Haitian Diaspora. Commissioner Siplin did not disclose the outcome of those discussions Saturday night, but told FNN News that the organization will release the details at a later time.

The NHAEON Retreat concluded with a day of fun on Sunday, featuring a bus trip to Walt Disney World.

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Mellissa Thomas is Editor for Florida National News. | mellissa.thomas@floridanationalnews.com

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