A question I get often is what prompted me to start Zaka. This blog will allow me to share the journey and heart behind Zaka, but I also hope it sparks inspiration and understanding that all experiences can work towards a greater good if you lean into it. After leaving Haiti as a young boy, I spent 12 formative years on the East Coast, particularly in NY and CT. Back home, I was blessed with a world of love from my incredible parents, a supportive network, privilege and people who provided me with a positive example academically and athletically, including my older brother. But this environment, as wonderful as it was, shielded me from the reality outside my bubble. Despite living in Haiti and experiencing political upheavals and shared traumas, I couldn’t entirely relate to my peers due to my privilege and intense focus on education. Education was taught in our home to be the only savior to achieve our dreams.
Yet, at the same time, I struggled to forge connections and find community when I moved to the US. That hit hard. Living in ambiguity, maintaining authenticity to my Haitian roots while adapting to the culture and ways of a new land became a “Kompa” dance. The concept of race and skin color became tangible only after my arrival. The immigrant’s constant journey for belonging echoed within me. To belong, I navigated through school and the initial years of my career, striving to be humble, allowing my work to echo my voice, while quietly grappling with the discomfort of not fully relating.
I focused my full efforts into building my career within sports and entertainment and I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish through acquiring, licensing, and distributing over 300 independent films to some of the world’s biggest media companies. My success stands as a testament to the resilience and determination ingrained in my immigrant story, but I also struggled navigating the workplace that expected me to show up in a way that contradicted how I was taught to be successful. Not to mention, I quickly realized that I was one of a small group of immigrants that pursued entertainment instead of one of the four careers that most immigrant communities consider successful: Engineering, Accounting, Medicine and Law. A career in media is hard to imagine when you don’t have visibility or access to other immigrant professionals succeeding in that industry. That was also the moment that made me realize that immigrant children or professionals who wanted a career in other industries outside of what was expected of them would be inhibited because they lacked the blueprint and access on how to make it happen. I grappled with these experiences and how it was shaping my own values and path during the 11 years I called Los Angeles home, and the signs only became stronger with time.
Every Christmas I’d fly to Georgia to see my parents but my trip in 2019 was different. I visited the Haitian church I attended while visiting and noticed the children, teenagers, and fellow immigrants, looked at me with admiration. Their curiosity about my work in the entertainment and sports industry made me realize something amazing: they saw me as a superhero, doing something that seemed out of reach in their world of traditional career paths usually laid out for them by their immigrant parents’ expectations.
During that same year, a more negative narrative surrounding immigrants emerged due to events unfolding at the US-Mexico border. Cruel labels like “shithole” were uttered towards countries in Africa and Haiti where most of these children migrated from. I was surprised by those ignorant comments given the US is known as “the land of immigrants.” Given that roughly 45% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants, I knew that I wanted to create a safe and vulnerable platform for immigrants to be developed, celebrated and seen.
Zaka was born in 2019 from that moment in church, but also through the varied experiences of my personal and professional journey.I imagined a welcoming haven for immigrants and individuals with strong ties to their cultural heritage, where success is redefined by representation and openness. My personal experience as a young immigrant played a pivotal role in shaping this vision. Navigating a new country without a clear path tests our resilience but can also have an impact on our mental well-being. Balancing identities, being both tied to our roots and conforming to a new culture, is a constant battle. Zaka stands as a haven for these journeys, celebrating resilience, cultural pride, and community value.
In fact, Zaka was a revered figure in Haitian history, who embodied resilience and positivity, resonating across cultures. I chose to name this platform Zaka to reinforce what truly helps us to succeed, the fabric of the immigrant person’s spirit—resilience, cultural pride, and a sense of community.
Zaka, our career advancement platform, isn’t just about workshops and events. It’s about celebrating heritage and culture, finding inspiration, and gaining knowledge from fellow immigrants. It’s about nurturing dreams and creating a path for future leaders who share similar stories.
I invite you to join us in shaping Zaka into the ultimate hub for immigrants, first and second gen, where you will have access to 50 career workshops and 150 Thought Leaders in the first year.
Let’s build a community where success isn’t confined by borders or backgrounds, where every dream has wings to soar.