Francesca Menes was hand-picked by destiny to lead a movement started by Ella Baker and echoed by Fannie Lou Hamer.
Two decades earlier, a very young Menes stood amidst a crowd of protestors with her mother at a rally in Little Haiti, barely able to utter a phrase in English and bewildered by her community calling for stability in their homeland, during the time Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, had been ousted.
When you embrace this work, activism seeps into your soul.
Now 35, Menes stands as a devoted immigration activist and political educator who brings power to the people by teaching them how to leverage their collective voice, vote and advocate for public policy to effectuate change.
“Being Black in America, you start to realize how your life is shaped differently,” she said. “Everything comes down to politics.”
Menes, a firm believer in the Haitian proverb “men anpil chay pa lou,” meaning “with many hands the load is light,” finds every opportunity to lend a helping hand and carry the burden of her community.
In her current role as deputy organizing director at Local Progress, she works to equip local elected officials with resources to advance an economic and racial justice agenda, and ensure a smooth transition into office.
Menes previously served as the state committeewoman for the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, second vice chair of the Miami-Dade County Commission for Women, co-founder of the Black Immigration Network and co-coordinator for the Florida Wage Theft Task Force.
Last year, she found herself at the forefront of political education efforts during a crucial election cycle.
“Other people see the value in something you don’t,” she said channeling the same energy as former voting rights activists. “They understand the value of your vote, but you as an individual don’t.”
Menes also chairs The Black Collective, which creates detailed voter guides with descriptions of
seats, amendments and referendums on the ballot, and their influence on communities. She advanced the organization’s mission to elevate political consciousness and economic power in Black communities by fundraising to offer transportation for voters, translating materials, and hiring 20 canvassers and field organizers at an hourly rate of $20.
As co-host of Island TV’s Konekte (“connect”) segment, she received praise from listeners who thanked her for demystifying the world of politics.
“A privileged few shouldn’t be the only ones to access this information,” Menes noted. “You have to reach the community at the medium that is the most accessible to them.”
Her passion for people comes from a culmination of life events.
Growing up in Miami in the 1990s, Menes was exposed to a more siloed version of the city, where Black communities would ostracize those of a different ethnic background. The lack of unity, despite similar plights across ethnic groups, tugged at her heartstrings.
Those emotions crystallized for her while walking across Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge – site of the Bloody Sunday civil rights movement protest of 1965 – during a weeklong trip sponsored by the Close Up Foundation, a Washington, D.C., civic education organization for students and other young people. It was there that Menes felt the call to action, suddenly realizing that advocacy was the road she needed to travel. She used a political science degree from Florida International University to merge policy and voter education with community action.
“When you embrace this work, activism seeps into your soul,” she said.
An epilepsy diagnosis in 2013, as well as the death of her father and grandmother, threw her activism off course, but not for long. With more than 10 years of organizing and advocacy experience under her belt, Menes defeated nine anti-immigration and anti-refugee bills as part of the “We Are Florida’s Family” statewide campaign, and led a national campaign for Temporary Protected Status for Haitians.
In 2017, she launched grassroots advocacy agency CommUnity Strategies to empower people to use their voices to build collective power that transforms communities.
Understanding change as something incremental, Menes hopes to leave behind a blueprint for future generations, and expects her current work to create a better world for the next generation to live in.
“Yeah, I could’ve been that doctor or lawyer, but policy is what shapes our lives,” she said. “If it’s the cause of our problems, then we should be involved in it.”