Great gifts include heavy burdens

Who: Cholet Josue M.D.

City: Pompano Beach

Quote: “I’m someone else’s survival guide”


Photo courtesy Anita Mitchell
Photo courtesy Anita Mitchell

“When I was growing up in Haiti, I listened to stories while someone played conga drums. Now it is me playing the sacred rhythmic congas and telling the story of how I came from being plain, parentless and poor to becoming a practicing neuropsychiatrist in the United States.


I am bringing the Haitian art of sacred storytelling to Broward, starting with my own story, which has become the book, Twelve Unending Summers.

Storytelling brings us close to each other and the accompanying congas give it a meditative flow.


Life for me as a kid in Haiti was a combination of eating mangoes from the tree, smelling fresh citronella and playing soccer with an unripe orange. I knew everyone on Delmas street in Saint-Louis-du-Nord. These things were why I was able to remain a happy boy even when I lost my father to tetanus complications and my mother moved to the Bahamas.


One day when I was 15, my uncle Franck came to where I was playing. ‘Your mother has paid a boat to bring you to her in Miami. You must go,’ he said.


In a half hour I was gone.


For seven days, I was on a 40-foot wooden boat with strangers, simply a scared, seasick and angry kid who had just left everything and everyone he knew. Between Haiti and the Bahamas, we endured a raging 20-hour tropical storm. I was certain that I was going to die. I learned later that I was part of a huge human trafficking scheme.


When I arrived in Miami I didn’t recognize my mother because she looked much older and greyer from when I was a little boy.


Mom and I took a bus to Pompano Beach and at first it was awkward between us because we had not been together for seven years. We made a home near other Haitian immigrants close to Blanche Ely High School off NW 6th Street just north of W. Atlantic Blvd.


I created a life for myself by learning English and playing soccer again. My cousin took me to the nearby Thomas D. Stephanis Boys and Girls Club and from going there, I formed my community. It was tempting for me to get in trouble because money was scarce but I knew education was the only way to rise above my situation so instead, I concentrated on school.


My mother got greyer and weaker and I became her caretaker. It was during this time that I decided I wanted to be a doctor. Because she had AIDS, she could not become an American citizen, and as her son, neither could I, which added more complications to my life.


After she died I was concerned that my life alone as an orphan in a new country was more than I could handle. I was now homeless and stayed with people who I knew for a few days at a time. School, soccer and libraries became my sources of stability.

After graduating Pompano Beach High School, I got a soccer scholarship to Elon College in North Carolina but I couldn’t enroll there because of my immigration status. My soccer coach had to lend me $120 for my bus ticket back to Pompano Beach after I visited the college. I had nothing extra to get food.


I enrolled in Broward Community College. I used to stay so long at the library there that the security guards had to kick me out at the end of the day.


The Boys and Girls Club helped me get the money to get my chemistry degree at FAU. They were also the character witnesses at my immigration hearing, 12 years after I came here in the wooden boat. When the letter arrived saying I had become a citizen, I applied to medical school at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.


Since becoming a doctor, I visit Haiti every few months so that I can treat patients for ten days as part of my commitment to building a hospital there.



The path in my neuropsychiatry practice is to help people make the best life for themselves by teaching them the tools of self-compassion, brain health and empathy. I am committed to teaching the prevention of illnesses through eating correctly and including psychology as part of total wellness. People live longer and better if they have close social circles.


I am committed to integrative medicine because it takes into account the whole person and their lifestyle and emphasizes the therapeutic relationship between the doctor and complementary therapies with the patient.


It’s not my way to complain about the difficulties in my life. Telling my story brings people together so that we can solve the bigger problems. If my story can serve as someone else’s survival guide then I have succeeded.”


 

“I am Anita Mitchell and I collect people stories, much the same way people collect shoes or baseball cards or Lladro porcelain figurines. During my 26 years at WSVN7, I had the front-row seat to people stories and it was there I learned about the extraordinariness of the ordinary.

Since retiring from television news, I serve on the Board of Directors of Different Brains, a charitable foundation that supports neurodiverse adults. I also serve on the Board of Directors of the Broward County Sports Hall of Fame. We honor local residents who have set unique standards of excellence through sports.

Since 2004, I have swum competitively with our local Swim Fort Lauderdale Masters Swim Team (SFTL).

I don’t really know how the writing and the swimming and the neurodiverse and honoring local sports figures are connected but I know in my heart that they are.

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