PORTRAITS BY CHUN-LI 'KEN' HUANG
Two years ago, Ted Dolce dragged two big suitcases and a backpack through Grand Central Station, after flying in from Miami. He got on a train to Poughkeepsie and didn’t bother to sit down. “I was told that Marist was right outside of the city, and it’s a quick train ride. And then I was told, ‘You can sit down. Poughkeepsie’s not close.”
“So then I get here, I’m like, ‘Where am I?’” he recalled. When his mom called him, expressing her worries about terroristic threats and unfamiliarity with her son living in “the city,” Ted broke the news to her. He told her, “Mom, I can’t do this. I need to leave. I need to leave now.”
As Ted said, his mom, whose native French Creole is her preferred language, told Ted that she would buy him an open ticket to Miami—only after he spent two weeks in New York. If after that time, Ted felt like he still couldn’t do it, he could come home.
WHERE HE CALLS HOME—Ted was born in Haiti and grew up living with his mom and younger brother, and the three took frequent visits to the Dominican Republic, where many of their family friends lived. “My childhood was a blissful childhood,” Ted said. “I was dark skinned but never really experienced racism or the ugly things because my mom sheltered me for the good. She wanted me to enjoy my childhood before I saw the world,” he said.
“My life in Ayiti and the Dominican Republic revolved around the three L’s, ‘Lekol. Lakay, Leglize,’ which means ‘School, home, church.’ To a Haitian kid, those are the few places you should be at all times." When he was about 8, Ted and his family moved to Louisiana, which Ted refers to as “Nawlans.” Right before Hurricane Katrina, his family fled to their godmother’s house in Northern Louisiana to avoid being impacted as hard. When they returned to their neighborhood, their house was unrecognizable.
"It is a passion of mine to deal with injustice—I think it is just something I gravitate towards."
“My mom has this weird charm where she can just make me feel like I’m the biggest person in the world. Usually she doesn’t freak over storms, because in Haiti we get barreled down by storms all the time,” Ted said. “But she was like, this one’s gonna be big." Even as a well seasoned Haitian native, Ted describes the aftermath of Katrina as “one of the saddest moments of my life.” “When we came back and saw our house, it wasn’t even a house anymore. It was gone. That’s why I don’t have any kid pictures, because all my kid pictures were in my house,” he said.
After moving in with his godmother for a little, Ted and his family eventually settled in Miami. This is where Ted finished his middle school years, went to high school, held a job, became class president, and headed his student body government. It is where Ted calls home today. “I love Miami. I can go down a street and hear Spanish, go down another and hear Russian. The world is at my fingertips when I’m home,” Ted said. But when asked if he thought he would eventually end up there he replied with a laugh, “Hell no. My mom’s there—are you crazy?”
Though he said he plans on visiting Miami often, he also recognizes that Miami is a painful place for him in many ways. When Ted was growing up in Florida, discrimination was something he was no stranger to. He also experienced an encounter with sexual harassment and a brief period of homelessness. “When I came to Miami [for] elementary school, I remember being bullied…because I was Haitian. And when I got to middle school…I trained my accent and sort of minimized my Haitian heritage.” Though Ted said he believes there is more acceptance now than their used to be for the first black republic, he knows it wasn’t always this way. “In the 80’s and 90’s it was really hard for anyone who was Haitian…the people that you thought were on your side weren’t…basically you were like a fifth class citizen.”
For Ted, knowing the history of the Haitian struggle is unsettling in light of recent events. “When [Trump] said the things he said about Haitians, I was like, I fear the younger Haitian kids who are growing up are going to feel what I felt. I thought that part was gone.”
Ted Dolce was born in Haiti and lived in various places across the United States South (including New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina), before finally settling with his family in Miami. Overcoming discrimination for his race, sexuality, and country of origin while growing up, Ted became highly attuned to issues of injustice, and brought this passion with him to Marist, where he majors in criminal justice, is a student advocate for BSU and ARCO, and most recently, was elected Marist's Student Body President.
‘SO, THAT’S ME.’—A criminal justice major, Ted is heavily involved in BSU (Black Student Union) and is the former president of ARCO (Appreciating Races and Creating Opportunities). Ted uses these platforms to help people who are oppressed on campus so that they will not have to experience hardships like the ones he felt growing up.
“It’s a passion of mine to deal with injustice, I think it’s just something I gravitate towards,” he said. “If I see an injustice, it flares up something in me. And sometimes that can be a good thing and sometimes that can be a bad thing… I’ve lost a couple of friends like that but then I realize, ‘Were you really my friend?’ So, that’s me.” Tyrie Etienne, a friend from Miami who has known Ted for two years now, describes him as someone with “a genuine and kind heart.”
“When Ted came into my life I was at a completely different place and very unsure about pretty much everything. But he helped me believe in myself and challenged me to be a better me, and never in a demeaning or intimidating way. He always has an inspirational and caring nature,” Tyrie said.The warmth Ted puts into his personal friendship overflows into the work he does on campus to try to change Marist for the future generation. When he first came to Marist, Ted knew all of the black people and most of the people of color at Marist. “I used to say, there’s a black Marist, and there’s a white Marist. And there’s a straight Marist, and there’s a gay Marist. [But] there has definitely been an increase in change, just in the time that I’ve been here. I think those changes have been instrumental in making people feel like the experiences of the juniors and the seniors and those that came before, are not necessarily shared with the freshmen. That is what I think I am most proud of,” he said.
Two weeks after Ted first told his mom he needed to leave Marist, he called her up to tell her he would no longer be needing that open ticket to Miami. As it turns out, she never actually bought it in the first place. “She was cursing me out in Creole, like ‘Yeah, I wasn’t going to spend my money.’ She said, ‘You don’t like to start things and quit them, I know you.’”