When someone directs the statement, “Tell me about yourself” to Fabrice Armand, the Haiti-born New Yorker is sometimes at loss for words. It’s not that he hasn’t much accomplishments to his name or anything. It’s just that he doesn’t know quite where to start. Fabrice Armand is an entrepreneur—but hold on—he’s also a producer, philanthropist, producer, marketing executive, and well a dreamer.
Not surprisingly, at the center of this dreamer’s reveries, is the land of his birth, Haiti.
“I am committed to making a difference in the lives of Haitians in Haiti,” says the man who runs his own company, the self-named Fabrice J. Armand Inc. “My goal is to re-engage in Haiti five percent of Haitians living abroad. If we are able to do that, I believe we can change the whole dynamic of the country. I think the first step towards re-engaging the Haitian diaspora lies with the Dual Citizenship legislation that has been recently enacted. The next step is working on the process and the implementation of this legislation. One of the honorees of my Haiti Cherie this year spearheaded this legislation.”
Haiti Cherie: Love, Pride, Commitment is an event that Armand originally launched on his birthday (February 28) in 2010 to help raise money for Haiti. It has since then become a looked-forward-to annual fundraising night in New York City, and the perfect occasion for New York’s young black elite and other shakers and movers to gather for some serious hobnobbing and philanthropy.
Since September 2011, Armand has been on the board of Haiti Cultural Exchange, an organization that, as its name indicates spreads appreciation of Haitian culture. Says the organization’s executive director Regine M. Roumain of Armand’s contribution to the organization: “He has been a true advocate of our mission to support artists, foster dialogue, and preserve and promote Haiti’s cultural heritage. He is a dynamic and dedicated board member and we are fortunate that he is a part of the organization.”
Mr. Armand sounded off regarding his work, his philanthropy and chatted about entrepreneurship and the love of his life, Haiti.
Q & A
Rainer Maria Rilke once said that the only journey is the one within. What factors have gotten you to the point where you are?
I think it is a combination of many things. My faith in God is paramount. I also believe that my upbringing, my culture, my idealistic nature, and my zeal not only to succeed but also to help make a difference in the lives of others motivates me. I believe that we all have purpose in improving the lives of others. We are individuals but we are all threads woven together in a bigger, colorful fabric of life.
Is it hard being a leader?
I do not wake up thinking that I am a leader. I think for me it is more about following my passion. I am extremely passionate and proud of Haitian culture, history, and the contributions of our forefathers. I am always amazed by the resilience of the people in Haiti. How many cultures do you know that have dealt with so many natural disasters, endured so much strife, and dealt with so much adversity? Yet, the Haitian people still believe that things will get better.
So you attended St. John’s University?
Yes. I received two degrees from St. John’s University. One was a bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies and the other was a Master’s degree in International Relations. I really enjoyed my learning experience at the University and honed many of my leadership qualities through my involvement as a resident advisor, orientation leader, and student government president.
You’re on the Board of Haiti Cultural Xchange.
Yes, I currently sit on the Board of Haiti Cultural Exchange, a nonprofit organization established to develop, present, and promote the cultural expressions of the Haitian people. We want to raise awareness of social issues, as well as foster cultural understanding and appreciation through programs in the arts, education, and public affairs. Our programs and services support emerging and established artists, promote cross-cultural exchanges, preserve the Haitian cultural heritage, and encourage dialogue around contemporary social issues.
HCX presents innovative programs including art exhibits, performances, and public forums. Through our ongoing youth development programs we engage children and young adults in an exploration of Haitian culture and foster a greater sense of pride. Our artist development services are designed to provide artists with access to resources and opportunities to work in the community.
My ultimate goal with HCX is to help them create a Haitian cultural center in New York. There are so many Haitians in the New York Tri-State area. I believe we need a place where people can learn about the richness of the culture, art, dance, and history.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about entrepreneurship?
I think entrepreneurs always need to remember that wherever they are today does not determine where they will be tomorrow. They have to always stay committed to their vision, keep their eyes on their goal, and always understand that most entrepreneurs always see the end result before everybody else.
Haitian identity is constantly changing.
I do not believe that Haitian identity is changing. I believe that other people’s perception Haitian identity through time has changed. For example, in the 1950-60’s, Haiti was perceived as one of the top destination for Tourism in the Caribbean. Major celebrities of the era such as Marlon Brando and Harry Belafonte visited Haiti. In the 1990’s there was a negative shift caused by the slanderous accusations of the 3H’s regarding the AIDS crisis. In those times, it was not cool to be Haitian and many people withheld their identity. The debut of hip hop group— The Fugees—made it acceptable to be Haitian again. One of the things that happened with most of these shifts is that we have allowed others to dictate our identity, narrative, and culture. I hope that we as a people take ownership of creating the story about our identity.
You formulated some strategies to help propel the Barbados tourism further as Vice Counsel of its Tourism Board. Do you have some plans for Haiti?
I am not vice counsel for the Barbados Tourism Authority. I worked directly with the Vice Consul of the Barbados Tourism Authority on new initiatives to target and attract young professionals within the Generation X/Y market segment to visit Barbados for the Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival as well as general leisure. I was able to help them achieve some of their stated objectives and was directly responsible for some of their key results.
Last December, I met with Stephanie Villedrouin, Minister of Tourism for Haiti. I made some key recommendations to her regarding tourism. Most ministers of tourism focused solely on Miami forgetting one of the biggest markets in the United States. One of my recommendations was to focus on and invest more in the New York market. The Dominican Republic has not made that mistake and they are reaping the benefits. She also used the same concept that my friends and I created for our Haiti is Me Campaign immediately after the earthquake in their I am Haiti tourism video. I thought that she had some great ideas as well for the development of Tourism in Haiti. Last summer I was able to get Haiti to participate for the first time in three years in Caribbean week that was held in New York.
When Stephanie and I met, we talked about me coming on board to help with the marketing and helping with Tourism but nothing never materialized due to a lack of budget.
You were born in Haiti?
I was born and raised in Haiti. I believe that my upbringing was extremely crucial into the person that I am today. I believe that attending St. Louis de Gonzague, a boarding school, provided a solid foundation for my future. Growing up in a boarding school forced to mature at a faster past than most of my peers.
I really never wanted to live in the U.S. Life in Haiti was simple. There was a certain aspect of family, culture, savoir vivre, and savoir-faire that existed within the country. Sometimes it is hard for my friends from different countries to grasp that comment because their perception of Haiti has always been so negative. I had great friends. I was the lead singer of a konpa band with Gaetan Policard, Pascal Laraque, and Phillipe Boncy. Yet, my move to New York was necessary for me to figure out my passion.
You’re not related to Jean-Claude Armand—the Haitian millionaire playboy of the 1950s, are you?
To my knowledge, I do not think I am related to Jean-Claude Armand. Do I wish I was related to him? Yes, because I believe that it would have made it easier for me to get the funding for some of the great projects and campaigns that I am trying to spearhead.
What challenges come with running Fabrice J. Armand, Inc.?
Although it is our first year, we constantly have to remind people about the value of the services we provide. Most of the time people are always trying to barter with us because they tend to forget that I have about ten years of marketing experience. The people on my team are experienced as well.
Your marketing experience is vast, including tenure as Marketing Coordinator at the American Civil Liberties Union. What do you feel is the biggest misconception about marketing?
I think sometimes people believe that public relations and marketing are the exact same thing and that is not true. In order for you to create a marketing campaign, one needs a marketing plan and a marketing budget for the “marketer.” On the PR end, once you retain your PR firm there are no other costs that you have to incur. Marketing is a mixture of creative and analytics in order to spur sales or whatever the marketing target is. PR is about creating a positive image through media, exposure. I think Olivia Popp besides being a fixer, she is also a great PR agent. I believe people think marketing sometimes can happen overnight. A good marketing campaign can take years before it becomes successful. This is the reason why we test sometimes in marketing. My former boss, Steve Abrahamson, taught me a lot about the importance of marketing essentials including messaging, testing, and implementation.
Obviously no matter how determined you are to make it sometimes, there are always stumbling blocks and thorns. What would you say have been your biggest hurdles in your journey?
Life is always going to be full of obstacles. Learning to move forward in spite of these obstacles is what creates your destiny; it is also what reveals your character. One of my biggest hurdles has been overcoming the access to capital. I have many great ideas and projects that are currently tabled because of a lack of funding. I believe that they have the opportunity to be extremely profitable and they also have a component for advancing culture and community. The old model of making money at the expense of others is uncouth and outdated. I believe that the modern-day businessperson can make more money if there is a socially conscience aspect to their business.
Haiti is center stage in almost everything you do.
I think this stems from my passion in wanting to make a difference in the lives of the people in Haiti. I also believe that Haiti has a lot to offer to the outside world. There are so many virgin entities in the country one such example is the fact that Haiti recently passed into legislation last December the ability to have condos in the country. The people are hard working, loyal, proud and really just want an opportunity to fulfill their dreams.
Among your many accomplishments, is producer credit for a Broadway play.
Yeah, I was one of the producers of the off-Broadway play Box. The play was a moving piece that drew a parallel between the story of Henry Box Brown, a slave who mailed himself to freedom in 1848 and for Haitian stowaways attempting to ship themselves to America in 1988 under the Duvalier Regime. It was a tremendously moving production. I had the opportunity to work with other great producers Emelyn Stuart the CEO of Stuart Films, Michael Peoples from Michaela Productions, and Kevin Brown known for his role on the television comedy “30 Rock”. I also had the opportunity of working so many great actors, Ayinde Howell, Lawrence Saint Victor, Rashad Edwards, and Brandon Alexander. I worked with a great casting director, Tiandra Gayle and a great acting coach and director, Marishka Phillips. It was a terrific play and everybody that saw it raved about it. I am hoping that one of these days that we will get an investor so that we can put it back up again.
Why do you think many people view you as the go-to person for fundraising?
It would be presumptuous on my part to believe that I am the go to person for fundraising. I had the privilege of working with some great clients in the past and I hope that I can continue to work with many more in the future. Fundraising is sometimes a misunderstood trade. People sometimes forget that you need money in order to make money.
Now, you are a businessman, and you are also a brand. And in our age, to build a brand is to have an online presence. Does your visibility ever cause you any problems? For example, do you feel paranoid, knowing that all someone has to do is Google your name and find all there is to know about you.
I do not think that I am quite there yet at being a brand. I think people in the Haitian community know me because of my passion and the work that I do within the community. I am definitely not a Hill Harper, 50 Cent, or Bevy Smith. It is still hard for me to get access to press and funding for the projects that I am involved with. I am fortunate that some people have featured my in their projects as in the “How to be a hero series” from the Andrew Goodman Foundation. I think that some of the exposure I receive creates a perception of me that is sometimes not entirely correct. For example I am an extremely private person.
What advice do you have for those who want to be entrepreneurs, but are afraid of taking the plunge?
I speak on panels about this all the time. There is no substitution for planning. I made the mistake of not planning adequately before I started my company. I think that people need to have a plan of action from the beginning. A prospective entrepreneur needs about a year’s worth of salary reserve to start a new enterprise. This will allow them the opportunity to be able to execute their vision without thinking about the financial burden of paying bills. Getting an investor is always ideal but we all know that we do not live in an idealistic society.
Believing in yourself and your product is extremely crucial in regards to your overall success. You cannot get someone to buy into your vision if you do not believe in it yourself. I cannot tell you how many times I am turned down, I am told by companies that I solicit that I am not a celebrity and they do not see the value in supporting my philanthropic activities. Some of these companies sometimes are making tons of money from the demographics that I represent and yet they do not find value in supporting some of my initiatives that service these communities.
If you really want to be successful you have to be willing to work hard and sacrifice. If you are consistently working hard doors are bound to open up. With that said, you cannot be afraid to work 17 hour days, weekends, and holidays to accomplish your goals.
What’s next for you?
I am excited about an economic development project that I am helping a friend find investors for in Haiti. It is about 318 acres of land in Port-au-Prince. We are trying to create a mini-city. It is a gorgeous property and we are looking to get some major developers on board.
Yes, the property is about 15 minutes from the airport. In order for the project to succeed, we have to create a city that is self sustaining. The city needs to have supermarkets, restaurants, lounges and bars etc. Just think about Belleville but bigger, and better.
On a very personal note, I [looked] forward to Haiti Cherie: Pride Love and Commitment which is my annual birthday benefit in which we raise money for Haitian organizations that are making a sustainable impact in Haiti. Haiti Cherie went well, we were able to bring Haiti to NY with the different cities. We were also able to display the culture, honor some great individuals and we were able to raise $20,000 from the event.
Thanks to my sponsors, DateValet for offering people the opportunity to win a $1,000 date for Valentine’s Day by just registering on their website and Hennessy for believing in this event since its inception. I would also like to thank my close friend and news broadcaster, DeMarco Morgan, for always being the master of ceremonies for my event. Most importantly, I am grateful for our Event Chair Alexander Smalls—celebrity restaurateur and executive chef of the new Minton’s and The Cecil Restaurant; Ron Duprat—Bravo’s Top Chef contestant; our honorees Mona Scott-Young, Rodney Leon and Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste and the members of my host committee and everybody that has volunteered, and supported my initiatives. This movement would not be possible if all these pieces did not come together to create this great event.
Photo Credit: third photo Daphney Boutin/RNY Media’ others provided by Mr. Fabrice Armand
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