The Miami Herald
Dec. 28, 2003

Activist fights for cause of minority firms

  Beatrice Louissaint fought as a child -- and is still fighting as a champion of businesses seeking their share of the economic pie.

  Beatrice Louissaint arrived in Miami at the age of 5 in the early 1970s. Growing up at Northeast Second Avenue and 47th Street, she witnessed firsthand the birth of a

  ''My dad had the first Haitian church in Miami, and we were the first Louissaints in the phone book,'' recalled Louissaint, who now lives in Northwest Miami-Dade County.

  Her father, Jean Louissaint, is a Baptist minister who relocated the family to Miami from Haiti at the request of a white mission seeking a pastor to help meet the religious needs of what was then a fast-growing Haitian community.

  For the Louissaints, the lifestyle change was enormous.

  ''I got beaten up a lot by black American kids,'' said Louissaint, who arrived here not knowing English. ``My mom called me the cockfighter. I fought almost every day to protect myself because we were Haitian.''

  Fast-forward three decades: Beatrice Louissaint is still fighting. Today, it's on behalf of black and Hispanic companies seeking their share of the economic pie.

  As executive director of the Black Business Association for eight years, she went to bat for African-American contractors. Now, as president and chief executive officer of the mostly Hispanic Florida Regional Minority Business Council, she is championing the needs of minority-owned firms seeking to do business with corporate America.

  ''I don't know when I became so assimilated,'' joked Louissaint, who in 1989 founded the Haitian-American Women's Coalition to help mobilize Haitian women
  economically, socially and politically.

  Louissaint has spearheaded educational seminars and conferences aimed at helping Haitians adjust to South Florida. She brought to Miami Marjorie Judith Vincent, the first Haitian American to wear the crown of Miss America.

  ''I have truly seen some amazing things happen,'' Louissaint said.