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Inspired by culture and social activism, Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste pushes for a better Haiti

EVANSTON, IL — Growing up in two vastly different worlds — one, the tropical La Vallée-de-Jacmel in southwest Haiti and the other, an often frigid Evanston, Illinois, 14 miles north of Chicago — young Lionel Jean-Baptiste learned to appreciate one constant across both: social struggles. Haiti’s revolution was an inspiration early on and, when he immigrated to the United States at age 14, the country was deep into the civil rights and anti-war movements.

“I grew up full of pride in what my people had accomplished and was surrounded by the symbolism of their struggle,” said Jean-Baptiste, now an Illinois Supreme Court judge. “Once you have been raised to see the world for what it is and what it could be, then you are confronted with the possibility of making a difference — not by declaration, but by engagement.” 

Much of  Jean-Baptiste’s engagement has been directed toward Haiti over his decades in law, activism and advocacy. His work for Haiti reminds him of Sisyphus, the mythological figure forced to roll a boulder up a mountain, again and again.

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