From Where We Are

USC Marshall student receives scholarship to catapult dream of developing first Haitian library

In an interview with Annenberg Radio, USC Marshall scholar Bérénice Sylverain shares her plan to build a one-of-a-kind Haitian studies library, while also disclosing her late mother’s influence along the way.

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JAMEELA HAMMOND: Bérénice Sylverain, a U.S. Marshal student, was awarded a UK marshal scholarship to develop the first ever library dedicated to Haitian studies out of nearly 1000 applicants. She was one of just 41 recipients this year for the prestigious scholarship, which includes Supreme Court justices and Pulitzer Prize winners among its previous awardees. Berenice, thank you for joining us and a sock posse.

BÉRÉNICE SYLVERAIN: Thank you so much. I’m so pleased to be here.

JAMEELA HAMMOND: Thank you so much for joining us.

COLBY MARTIN: So, Bernice, what does it mean for you to be a part of this prestigious group to create your passion, which is to build a library dedicated to Haitian studies?

BÉRÉNICE SYLVERAIN: Well, for me, what this means is, you know, I’m basically a vehicle for the change that I would like to see in Haiti. And this is the next step for me being a Marshall scholar, which would allow me to study Latin American studies and comparative social policy. And at the moment, there is so much that is needed in Haiti in terms of how the government is structured, how things are run. And so honestly, this is just me trying to be that voice for the Haitian people and for the country.

JAMEELA HAMMOND: Absolutely. And that’s that’s incredible and this is incredible work that you’re doing. But for folks to get a true grasp of this, this passion that you have and being half Haitian, this is incredible, by the way. You know, but how did you discover that Haitian studies and literature were your niece?

BÉRÉNICE SYLVERAIN: It’s I think it all started out with my mother, honestly, since I was a little girl. You know, my love for Haiti, I was born there, but I left at a young age. And then once I started to really delve into my studies first as a comparative literature major that I realized exactly what I wanted to do, and I had people who guided me towards that choice, especially, you know, I, you know, the mentors that I worked with at Columbia when I was there for my undergrad and I just knew it. You know, you just feel it in your heart and in your bones when something is meant for you. When I started to just read the literature and the history and trying to understand the diplomats in the bureaucracy of Haiti, then I knew for myself that this was what I needed to do was to be a part of this movement and the need for change and advocacy.

COLBY MARTIN: It’s really quite amazing to see what you have done with this movement and how much you are actually progressing it and what you stand for with it. Now, going back to your mother, I know that she had a pivotal role in your life up until she unfortunately passed away when you were 17. In what ways have you kept your mother’s spirit alive and how has she inspired you towards the actions and the goals you have, and still intend to take?

BÉRÉNICE SYLVERAIN: Yes. Well, the I think the first step in keeping my mother’s spirit alive is by talking about her and sharing what she had done for me. You know, in terms of inspiring me to be the woman I am today and to have the type of love that I have for literature and just, you know, our country, our nation, which is what I like to say. And so I think in with everything that I’ve done in my life thus far has been the way she’s influenced me. You know, sometimes I have people say, Well, you are her legacy, right? She wasn’t finished. She died at a young age and she wasn’t finished. And so I’m her continuation. And by doing these projects, by working towards, you know, creating this library tech that is her living on Google.

JAMEELA HAMMOND: Absolutely, absolutely. You know, there were so many there were new things that I learned, you know, about Haiti just in the article written like the legal documents from when Haiti was first established as a country that are in England. What was the most surprising thing that you learned about Haiti?

BÉRÉNICE SYLVERAIN: Well, I would say so when I had first learned that some of the documents were in England independence papers and so forth, it was actually discovered by university students. And I was in shock and especially learning the relationship that Haiti had with England during the early 19th century. What’s even more amazing to me? You know, I think a lot of people think of Haiti has a think of Haiti as having a relationship to France. You know, France being the colonizer. But a lot of people don’t realize that Haiti had actually a very strong relationship with England, especially before the war and after the war.

COLBY MARTIN: Bérénice Sylverain is a USC Marshall student who was awarded a Marshall Scholarship to develop the first ever library dedicated to Haitian studies.