Lamercie Ogé Petit will be celebrating a milestone this March 1, 2023: She will turn 100 years old, making her one of New York City’s newest centenarians. (The city is seeing a noticeable increase in older adults who are immigrants, according to the Center for an Urban Future). Mayor Eric Adams’s office plans to deliver a mayoral certificate of recognition and Ogé Petit’s family is preparing a grand celebration to mark the occasion.
Born and raised in Haiti, Ogé Petit once operated the Port-au-Prince restaurant Printania. She came to live in Manhattan in 1963 during the height of the Civil Rights Movement and, once she was settled, helped countless relatives migrate to the U.S. as well.
Ogé Petit became a nurse’s aide and worked in that capacity at the Florence Nightingale Nursing Home until retirement.
Ogé Petit raised three children and supported two grandkids at her residence on Manhattan’s West 93rd Street, where she has lived for the past 60 years. She became a well-respected member of the Haitian community on Manhattan’s West Side and can recall famous neighbors who lived nearby: Herbie Hancock (jazz pianist), David “Fathead” Newman (saxophonist and sideman with Ray Charles’s band), Sonia Sanchez (poet), Gaye Adegbalola (member of Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women), and actor Lou Myers (“Different World” and “The Cosby Show”).
Ogé Petit’s granddaughter Ayanna Legros contacted the Amsterdam News about the upcoming milestone birthday. When we interviewed her, Ayanna worked with her father, Lionel Legros, to help Ogé Petit answer questions about her memories and her new centennial mark.
AmNews: What was the best decade of your past 100 years? And the worst?
Ogé Petit: The ’60s were my best and worst decade. I opened a bar/restaurant and purchased a taxicab. These were optimistic years because once I opened my own business in Haiti, I stopped traveling to places like Cuba, Panama, Miami, and Curacao to buy luxurious goods for resale in Port-au-Prince. Unfortunately, in 1961, President Francois Duvalier decided to extend his mandate. In 1963, an attempt at kidnapping his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, became an excuse to massacre military families like the Benoit and establish severe repression throughout the country. In 1964, Duvalier became president for life. As my personal life significantly improved in the early ’60s, the political situation in Haiti worsened. The exodus of Haitians ensued. This led me to take one of the major decisions of my life: to migrate to the United States.
AmNews: In your eyes, how much has the world changed in the last 100 years?
Ogé Petit: I have always been hopeful of the world changing for the better with time. Growing up in the rural southern city of Jacmel, Haiti; migrating to Port-au-Prince; traveling to several countries and eventually settling down in the United States exposed me to major scientific and economic breakthroughs. I have witnessed technological advances that have contributed to major improvements in healthcare and the longevity of mankind. Billions of people around the world have had to migrate in search of a better life. This has in turn led to an exponential increase in cultural exchange.
As a Black woman, traveling to the United States during the Civil Rights Movement was a stressful experience. However, seeing Barack Obama, son of an African immigrant, become president of the United States four decades later gave me hope for humanity.
AmNews: What do you think of how the lives of Haitians have changed over the years?
Ogé Petit: While many Haitians were able to come to the United States and start a new life, many poor Haitians arriving as boat people on the shores of Miami in the ’70s were mistreated, rejected, and sent back home. This was painful to watch.
AmNews: What about the changes you’ve seen in the lives of Black people in the U.S.?
Ogé Petit: When I came to the United States in 1963, many Black people were struggling for basic human rights. Access to education, healthcare, housing was limited for most. In the past 30 to 40 years, the music industry, sports, theater, education, and even politics have opened their doors to Blacks. During the Clinton years, I was able to visit the White House. As stated earlier, I witnessed to election of the first Black president, Barack Obama. What an accomplishment!!
What about the changes you have seen in the lives of your personal family members?
Ogé Petit: My family members who migrated to the United States have been able to make the best of their lives. They have gone to college, married, raised children, they now have extended families and have purchased homes. While I will be 100 in a few weeks, my young sister, Celita Ogé Rock, will be 98 years old in July.
Ogé Petit’s family said the opportunity to celebrate her with honor and dignity is a gift they will always cherish. “I am excited to celebrate my grandma and her resilience (especially during COVID-19),” Ayanna Legros told the AmNews. Felisitasyon! (Haitian Creole), Félicitations! (French), Congratulations! (English)