First-ever Haitian heritage center set for Boston's West End

For years, Haitian American activists have sought a space in the city to serve as a hub to celebrate the achievements, history, and rich culture of one Boston’s largest immigrant populations. Now, they’ve found it along Boston’s waterfront, in a 2,000-square-foot-storefront space in a new building on Lovejoy Wharf, near North Station and the TD Garden.

The Toussaint L’Ouverture Cultural Center has recently secured a 25-year-lease on the ground-level space through a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) process organized through City Hall and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).

The site— officially 131 Beverley St.— is located in a new storefront on the water with dock access and neighboring tenants Night Shift Brewery, Alcove Restaurant, and Converse’s world headquarters. It is also a short walk from the TD Garden, the Orange Line, and the Freedom Trail.

The site will serve as a year-round Visitor’s Center and as a venue with programming, exhibitions, a library, a gift shop, and other amenities celebrating the Haitian experience. Greater Boston boasts the third largest Haitian community in the United States.

Marvin Dee Mathelier, who chairs the cultural center’s executive committee, calls Lovejoy Wharf “an interesting and strategic location,” adding, “It’s not just going to be for Haitians; it’s for everyone because Haiti has done so much on the global scale, and we need to tell that story to everyone.”

The center is named for one of the heroes of the Haitian Revolution, the first successful slave-led rebellion, which resulted in the creation of the Republic of Haiti in 1804. Wilner Auguste, who leads Mattapan-based Haitian Americans United, Inc. – which helped to create the center – says that the agreement comes with a one-time, $50,000 build-out stipend and a rent-free lease.

“If you see something like that and you don’t have anything and you’ve been talking about it a long time and we still had a long way to go, then you have to take action on what you have,” Auguste said. “In the future, maybe we find a place in Dorchester or Mattapan and then maybe we would move. In the meantime, this is what we found and what we got. It’s a great start and an interesting location.”

City Councillor Ruthzee Louijeune, the first Haitian American city councillor elected in Boston, hailed the news.

“I am thrilled that, after years of dedicated organizing and advocacy, the TLCC has finally found a home in the thriving West End, at Lovejoy Wharf,” Louijeune said. “This is a fantastic opportunity not only to support Boston’s Haitian community but also to ensure that the West End continues to embrace the rich diversity we see across the city.”

“We can’t wait for TLCC to breathe new life into this space and be a new focal point for the area,” said Arthur Jemison, Boston’s chief of Planning. “I want to thank our partners in the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture for their collaboration on finding the right tenant for this space, and I look forward to seeing the end result.”

Mathelier said it was a surprise when they were named because the Haitian proposal was up against applications from more established organizations. But the proposal for the first cultural center in L’Ouverture’s name resonated. “I believe Haitians will come and everyone else too,” he said.

Now, he said, the community must come together to assist their architect, Killion Mokwete, of Social Impact Collective, with preferred amenities and design for the space. Supporters are raising funds for overall construction so that it can open by May 25, the Saturday before L’Ouverture’s birthday in Haitian Heritage Month.

Part of the business plan is to operate the visitor’s center, and to have a place in conjunction with the Haitian Artists Assembly for art, poetry, and dance exhibitions – which are now, Mathelier said, often placed in odd locations like Logan Airport, and to have private rentals in the evening to assist the revenue stream.

Success will also be found in hiring an executive director who can excel at private fundraising. Already, he said, they have launched the ‘Road to TLCC’ campaign that will kick off on Dec. 13 in Jamaica Plain’s Ula Café (6-9 p.m.). Beyond that, the annual Haitian Independence Day Gala on Sat., Jan. 6, will feature the cultural center as a focal point for fundraising. That event will be held at Dorchester IBEW Local 103 union hall on Freeport Street. See for more information.