The fight for change: Ruthzee Louijeune, Boston city council at-large
Since the 1950s, the Haitian community has been an undeniably strong force in Massachusetts, making it the state with the third highest Haitian immigrant population in America Throughout the decades they have established churches, non-profit organizations, and community outreach programs for those who have newly immigrated. Despite the enormous presence of this growing population, Haitians are drastically underrepresented within local and state government. This has not gone unnoticed to Ruthzee Louijeune, a Boston City Councilor. On Oct. 14, 2021, I had the great fortune to attend a meet and greet with candidate Louijeune and one of her strongest supporters, State Representative Liz Miranda. Ruthzee’s journey was not borne out of sheer luck or happenstance, but rather from communal commitment, hard work, sacrifices, and the adversities her family experienced.
In a new country where they encountered racism and discrimination, her parents struggled to provide for their four daughters. Louijeune recounts how her father scoured the newspapers for jobs when Store Twenty-Four closed,but his thick accent and black skin made it nearly impossible for him to land a job. Despite facing hardships, her family still welcomed others with open arms. “Growing up, I had no idea that people would even lock their doors,” she noted. “Our household was communal territory for newly arriving immigrants, for neighbors, who needed food, who needed a place to stay.” These experiences significantly influence how she runs her political campaign. It instilled in her the importance of supporting others and has taught her that housing, especially in Black and Brown communities, is extremely hard to obtain.
Using a historical framework, Louijeune shed light on how today’s housing crisis is the result of the political tactics employed by the United States Federal Housing administration in the 1940s and 1950s. “Our communities became what they did, because they were intentionally created that way,” she explained. The FHA put incentives in place to ensure that new suburban communities would remain whites only by refusing to give Black people loans and forbidding them to rent or own houses in primarily white areas. Louijeune worked with Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance to improve housing and make homeownership opportunities more accessible. In addition, she negotiated a $10 million deal with MAHA to combat the lack of intergenerational wealth amongst first-generation home buyers. Their long-term goal aims to break down barriers and close the racial wealth gap.
Miranda, a longtime friend and endorser of Louijeune, believes that together, they can transform their city into a place that is safe and equitable for all citizens.At the meet and greet I attended, she asserted that “Every issue is a Black and Brown issue that needs to be solved ... People are ready for somebody who is ‘realer,’ somebody who is going to show up. And I need a partner.” When it was her turn to speak, Louijeune recounted her experiences in Boston Public Schools and how her participation in the community shaped her perspective about not only her city but the world as well. Louijeune said she sees herself as a public servant, someone who is dedicated to improving the quality of life of the people within her district. She expressed great disdain for the empty promises often made during campaign trails as they often are not upheld, leaving vulnerable populations like those who are immigrants, have low-incomes, or have disabilities, in the dark. She exclaimed, “I hope to never become a politician, this is all about being a public servant.”
Louijeune said that she is a collaborative problem solver who knows first hand the issues that working-class families face. “I once had a case where there were 27 people in a three-bedroom apartment. I was like… you’ve got to be kidding me.” A Harvard Law School graduate, she worked as an appointed member and student attorney to mitigate overcrowded homes by advocating for accessible housing for the residents. Emily Polston, her campaign manager, said that it was not only Louijeune’s dedication to progressive reforms but her passion for helping others that persuaded her to move across the country and work for her campaign. In an office above a Black-owned flower shop, Louijeune stood before the residents of Roxbury and Dorchester. She stated that she is indebted to them: “What I do promise everyone in this room is that I will show up, I will listen, and I will try extremely hard.”
Now, with the third largest number of votes, she is the first Haitian person to ever serve as city council for Boston at-large. On Sept. 21, 2021, video footage circulated showing federal agents on horseback pushing and berating Haitian migrants at the Mexican border. “We are supposed to be a land that welcomes immigrants, but yet we are turning them away every chance that we get,” Louigeune said. “Whether under the Trump administration or under the Biden administration, this country has said loudly: Haitians, we don’t want you here.” Outraged by this inhumane treatment, Louijeune, along with other concerned government officials and citizens across the nation, urged the Biden administration to take actionThis led to the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the actions of the Border Patrol agents.
However, this issue is still prevalent today as Black immigrants face race-based discrimination in the United States, at a disproportionate rate. As more Black immigrants come to the United States, Louijeune voiced a central question: “Is this an opportunity for America to undergo a positive shift in reforms and political ideologies, or will people stay complacent and stagnant against racial discrimination and xenophobia?”