In Gonaives, the coastal city where his parents live in a tan block home stained nearly to its roof by a mud-line left behind from Haiti’s devastating 2008 hurricane season, Marc-Henry Jean first dreamed of an education in the United States.
He turned the dream into a reality, earning a bachelor’s degree in business with a concentration in management from the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee in December.
Now he’s raising his sights with a plan to promote positive community interaction through a brand, “Yes to Love, no to hate,” and a book carrying a similar message of spirituality, unity and hope.
“The call is to promote love, to educate people about the power of love and change their communities,” said Jean, 31, who will sign copies of his book, Growing Together in Prayer, Reflection and Action, on Monday, March 4, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at USFSM’s Selby Auditorium. “With love, we are capable of doing great things. With love, we can make a country like Haiti become a county like the United States.”
The event also serves as the U.S. launch of “Yes to Love, no to hate,” which includes a clothing line produced in Bradenton, where Jean lives with his wife, Rose, a schoolteacher and model, and their 5-year-old daughter, Markayla.
“We want every single person who has the opportunity to wear a ‘Yes to Love, no to hate’ product to be an ambassador promoting love, promoting unity, because more than ever before, we need that in the United States and around the world,” Jean said. “I’m truly honored to have the opportunity to launch this initiative here at USFSM because once I was a student, and today I am clearly capable of proving to the world that a student from USFSM is capable of achieving great things.”
Jean attended Christian-based primary and secondary schools in Haiti before enrolling in college at the Université of Paris 8 in Saint-Denis, France. He left the university during his freshman year and moved to Florida, earning an associate degree from State College of Florida.
From there, Jean enrolled at USFSM, an experience that resulted in both a four-year degree and transformed him into a self-described “volunteer ambassador” for the school based on the support he received the relationships he developed with faculty and students.
“That is very important to me,” Jean said. “I promote USFSM as much as I can everywhere I go. I always talk about how proud I am to be a graduate.”
He left a positive impression during his time at USFSM. Cihan Cobanoglu, a professor in the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership, said Jean shone on a community engagement project for a Food and Culture class in which he volunteered to work with a non-profit.
“He was an exemplary student,” Cobanoglu said. “I would call him a social entrepreneur, because he has all the characteristics of one.”
Jean’s inspiration for the book, which originally was published in French, grew from an epiphany he experienced following an earthquake that killed as many as 200,000 Haitians and destroyed an estimated 250,000 homes in 2010. The disaster further damaged Haiti’s already-fragile economy and created financial, educational and humanitarian challenges that persist nearly a decade later.
“My home country doesn’t define my destination; it motivates me,” Jean said. “It inspires me to work harder, to be more productive in anything I’m doing. I want people, when they look at me and what I’m capable of achieving, to find a source of inspiration. If this guy, who is from this place, is capable of doing this, what about me?
“I don’t do it to promote poverty as a good thing. I do it to show people that if you want to get out of poverty, go to school. Get an education. Come to USF, or go to another school so that you can improve the person you are and become a better-educated version of yourself.”
Jean takes an active role in the Sarasota-Manatee region, serving as a board member of Project Light Manatee, an English learning center for immigrants, and giving pro bono presentations at schools in which he shares a message rooted in kindness and mutual respect.
He hopes someday to build a manufacturing center in Haiti for “Yes to Love, no to hate” products, with a portion of the profits designated to assist disadvantaged individuals there and elsewhere. He has received early interest from investors about licensing opportunities, and already his schedule is filling with promotional appearances, including stops in Maryland, Quebec and Haiti.
“Yes to Love, no to hate” is, Jean explains, an alternative to mainstream branded apparel that, in his estimation, carries a more meaningful message.
“To me, dressing with a Nike product is dressing to impress, because they are expensive, so, most likely, they are made for people who have money,” Jean says. “Dressing with a ‘Yes to love, no to hate’ product is cheap, but it’s dressing to express.”
USFSM Associate Professor of Management Dr. Jean Kabongo described Jean as one of the top students in his class, and as someone who distinguished himself with an entrepreneurial spirit and an understanding of how to put useful ideas into practice.
“Marc-Henry’s message is powerful and meaningful,” Kabongo said. “It speaks to the universality of humankind and hopes to bring people together as one regardless of situations and circumstances. The message is also timely, given what’s going on in our world today.”
Assistant Director, Communications & Marketing
University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee