Haitian Grandma Teaches Her American-born Granddaughter to Vote and be Politically Active

Author  Michelle C. Dreseris

Not everyone is lucky enough to have grandparents who live nearby, or who can spend time with them as they are growing up. 

Haitian Grandma Nancy Metayer is the Climate Justice Manager for the New Florida Majority, NFM, an independent organization working to increase the voting and political power of marginalized and excluded constituencies in Florida. She is a first-generation Haitian-American, born in Broward County, FL.

A graduate of Florida A&M University, with a Graduate Degree in Environmental Sciences from Johns Hopkins University, Ms Metayer attributes her political activism and passion for helping others to her Haitian-born Grandmother, Marie Theresa Maxime, 75.

“I lead NFM’s climate program. We focus on how climate issues directly impact people in vulnerable communities of color, the working poor, the disabled, young people, and the elderly,” she told Caribbean Today.

“As a child, my Grandma took care of us – like in many immigrant families – because my parents were working. When I watched the Haitian “boat people” on TV arriving from Haiti, I asked her questions,” she said. “She explained to me why this was happening, and told me, ‘Nancy, It’s very important to know who you are voting for when you are older, because the people you elect directly impact you.”

“Grandma said that although we do not live in Haiti, what happens in America affects millions of people internationally,” says Ms. Metayer.

Grandma Marie Maxime became a US Citizen a few months before the 2016 Presidential election. “She said, ‘I’m voting for Hillary Clinton, and you and I are going to vote together!” said Ms. Metayer.

“We always talk about which candidate will be the best for everyone, especially the Haitian community, and what damage the other candidate could do if they get elected,” she said.

When Grandma Maxime became a  Citizen, she bought herself a new outfit. “She dressed up in her American Flag colors to vote!” said Ms. Metayer. “Since then, we vote in every single election: Local, county, municipal, the Midterms, and Presidential elections!”

“Grandma has poor eyesight, so she makes me go into the voting booth with her. She doesn’t trust strangers to fill out her ballot. That’s our important tradition!” she said.

Under Sections 97.061, 101.051, 101.661, and 101.655, Fla. Stat., any US Citizen needing help to vote due to blindness, disability, or the inability to read or write, or who needs language assistance, has several legal options for voting. You do not have to reveal the nature or extent of your disability to get personal help. If someone other than the voting clerk or inspector helps you, you and the person you choose will have to fill out a declaration form, which both Ms. Metayer and her Grandma do.

“In my job, I speak to young people. Some of them tell me that they don’t know if their vote really matters. I tell them my Grandma votes in every election, and that their votes are very important!”

“Grandma Marie researches and analyzes before she votes. She listens to differing cable and media outlets – FOX, CNN, MSNBC, and others. She ‘religiously listens’ to Haitian radio! She cross-references the mixed and differing news, and political messages being broadcast. Grandma speaks to people with different views to make sure her research and gut instincts are correct,” says Ms. Metayer.

Always watching and listening to the news, Ms. Metayer’s Grandma Marie called her in August, very upset.

“Did you see the news? Republican Ron DeSantis called the Democrat Andrew Gillum a ‘monkey’?” her Grandma Marie told her.

While Grandma Marie is busy analyzing politicians for the next election, her Grand-daughter works tirelessly serving underserved Floridians through The New Florida Majority.

“We focus on issues like Climate Justice, political advocacy and building political coalitions, statewide Voter Registration, Democracy Organization, Gun Violence, Gender Justice, and other issues in Broward, Miami-Dade and Duval Counties,” she said.

“Communities of color, the poor, and vulnerable communities carry the burden of climate and environmental changes, like sea-level rises,” she said. “It’s my job to help people understand how Climate Change and rising sea-levels are affecting them in their every-day life, and to help protect their rights.”

“Many poorer residents in areas like Little Haiti, Liberty City, and Allapattah in Miami don’t realize that developers want their homes – and, are buying them for cash – because their houses sits 10-feet above-sea-level, while richer coastal areas in Miami Beach or Broward County are flooding regularly at sea-level!” said Ms. Metayer. Many of the people in Little Haiti, she says, are renters and people of color who have lived there for many decades.

“Developers are pushing local communities out – Gentrification of the areas – while local residents face increasing taxes and rents. We advise them not to sell their homes if they’re given an offer because they may not be able to buy another house in this area.”   

Ms. Metayer and The NewFM also attend Commission meetings, hold community events, and conduct other educational and activist activities to advocate for policies that will help empower vulnerable people.

“When Hurricane Irma hit us last year, the elderly, the disabled and young people were standing in line for many hours in extreme heat. We sued, and we won, so that people could file for their benefits by phone,” said Ms. Metayer.

“In Broward County, we campaigned against Florida Power and Light (FPL) who want to rebuild their power plant in Dania Beach using imported natural, or “fracked” gas. Dania Beach was the first Black community in Broward Community,” she said.

“Environmentalists understand that ‘natural gas’ are other words for ‘fracked gas’ - Hydraulic fracturing - that has had serious health impacts to communities around the country. It can cause problems with our drinking water, air quality, and many environmental problems.”

“They’re not drilling for natural, or ‘fracked’ gas, in Florida, yet,” said Ms. Metayer. “But, importing ‘fracked’ gas could become an excuse for them to begin drilling for natural gas here. That’s why environmentalists are so against this.”

FPL’s Dania Beach power plant will be the first in Florida to use “fracked” natural gas that would be trucked into Dania Beach.  “It’s explosive. It’s dangerous,” she said.

Well-trained by her Grandmother from childhood to be politically and socially active, Ms. Metayer has a final loving thought about her Grandma and mentor, Marie Maxime.

“Grandma thinks she’s too old to go back to school. I don’t. If she had just some of my education, she would be a great political strategist!” she said.