By Sarah Brutus + Photo by Johny Luc
When did you move to the United States?
I was born in Hinche, in Haiti. I came to the United States in 1997 and came straight to Miami. Prior to coming to the United States, I graduated from law school in Haiti, Class of 1996, from the law school in Port Au Prince.
What did you do when you arrived in the United States?
When I got here, my family encouraged me to get into one of those nursing programs, as many Haitian families do. So I started taking classes at Lindsay Hopkins for English, and CNA/HHA courses. For my first job, I had a friend of my mom’s take me to clean houses with her. They were paying me about $6.50 an hour. After that, I worked in a few nursing homes. After that, I had a live-in job with a rich American lady. I lived there and worked for her. I needed the money for my wedding. I worked there for about three months, and at the time they were paying me $562 a week. My fiancé (Mike Nestor) and I got married and we had our first child. We have been together for 17 years.
What did you guys do after getting married?
We went to Naples and saw all the job opportunities that were there, and decided to go there. I was able to get a job at the Ritz Carlton as an office coordinator for $9.50 an hour. In Naples, a lot of people kept coming to us with applications and letters that they needed us to help them with. In a week we were helping over 200 people. I took some money that I had and told my husband we were opening an office to help these people, but not for free. So that’s how we started our first company. After having our first son, we decided to move back to south Florida. We lived in Pompano.
Tell us about your work with the United Methodist Mission.
Both me and my husband were working, but it was still tough for us to make ends meet. Then, one day, a friend told me about a United Methodist Church program that allows you to go to school and later appoints you to a church. They offered to pay all your bills, plus a salary. I got a PH.D in Theology. I was appointed as a pastor. It was a disastrous experience. I served for five years.
How did you obtain your Masters in Law?
My husband decided that he wanted to go to law school and found a program in New Orleans at Loyola University. My husband also filled out an application for me to be admitted into the program without me even knowing. On our way to New Orleans, he told me that both of us had been admitted. I told him he was insane. His response to me was that we could barely take care of our three kids and our only chance in the United States was to become professionals. So we committed ourselves to law school. This is a message to all the Haitians who come to the United States and never push themselves. Because had they pushed themselves a little bit into some type of profession, their life could have been much better. It was a great experience for me to push myself. I am currently working on an online PH.D in human resources from Tulane University.
How do you feel about education and the degrees you have earned?
It really gives me a sense of pride as a Haitian woman to be able to do what I have done. I was raised by a single mother and never knew my father. Everything that I have done has been because of my hard work. I thank God for being able to have courage and the ability to give my children what I never had myself.
As a Haitian woman, what is your message to other Haitian women?
I would tell them not to be discouraged. Make moves, and get something better for yourself than what people may just be offering you.
How did SECO, the company, come about?
I told my husband that I wanted to start a staffing agency. I didn’t know all the ins and outs of it. The next morning he told me that he’d incorporated the company under the name SECO.
We started SECO with our income tax money with a small contract with 10 people. Now it’s a $10-million company.
What do you think has given you your drive and motivation?
My drive? I get it from me. When you grow up not having people clap for you, you learn to clap for yourself. I’m the kind of person who no one can bring down. I’m already up.
Tell us about your non-profit organization.
Our organization is based around education. In Haiti, we don’t have the basic civic education that’s needed. We also want to look into the environment. Even women’s issues, such as being raped, need to be addressed. Structures for severely autistic children in the country need to be created. There are no real programs to treat and teach these children.
What advice would you give women who have families and spouses but who also want to be entrepreneurs?
I would tell the women that men have a mind of their own. If you rely on anyone to do everything for you, your dream will not come to pass, because the man has his own dream as well. God created women to be a helper. However, you also need to be able to help yourself.