Yet another pillar of New York’s Haitian community has fallen.
Ernst Janus, 80, whose big grey beard and cocked beret were fixtures at many Haitian political and cultural events over the past three decades, died at Brooklyn’s Downstate Medical Center on Jun. 3, 2020 after his lungs collapsed. Suffering from lung cancer, his condition may have been complicated by Covid-19, for which he had tested positive. He had been in and out of hospitals and nursing homes for the past three years due to a range of illnesses.
Janus was one of the principal founders of the the Granchimen cultural organization, which he formed about 30 years ago with the late drummer Fritzner Augustin, Ernst Sévère, Patrick Lafrance, and others.
Born Mar. 2, 1940, he was raised in Port-au-Prince’s hillside neighborhood of Belair by his father, Léonce Janus, and mother, Rosalie Daguerre Janus. He attended the capital’s Lycée Pétion and became interested in theater, taking courses and acting in plays at the Institut Français.
He met his wife, Lucienne Delmas, in Port-au-Prince, and they were married at the St. Yves Church there on Jul. 10, 1965. Six months later, in January 1966, they emigrated to New York.
Settling first in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, Janus trained in Harlem and at Staten Island College to become a medical lab technician. He then worked for decades at Manhattan’s NYU Langone Hospital laboratory, mostly analyzing blood.
But his real passions remained progressive political change and Haitian culture. For years, he would meet with his circle of friends at the Church of the Evangel at 1950 Bedford Avenue to discuss politics, recite poems, play music and songs, and perform skits. Janus played guitar, piano, and the harmonica.
Eventually the meeting place moved to 815 Rogers Avenue and, finally, to its current location of 836 Rogers Avenue, the office of La Difference Auto School.
The circle of artists eventually formed Granchimen in the heady days surrounding President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s first election in 1990. They also formed the Rezo Solidarite Batay Ouvriye (Solidarity Network for Workers Struggle), a support group for one of Haiti’s most militant and long-lived unions.
Ernst Janus was also often on the New York Haitian community’s airwaves as a co-host of the Granchimen program, broadcasting first with Radio Lakay and later with Radio Tropicale.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Granchimen sponsored occasional cultural events in the Haitian community, and every Sunday evening drummers, dancers, singers, poets, and visitors would gather at La Difference Auto School for several hours of music and discussion. Janus could almost always be found there, having walked over from his basement apartment only two blocks south on Rogers Avenue.
“We have just lost a great man,” said Granchimen co-founder, Patrick Lafrance. “He was a man who was opposed to inequality and injustice, who believed in freedom.”
“Janus was a determined activist with a lot of conviction, who believed that the people’s struggle should be autonomous, meaning not to collaborate with the government,” said Ernst Sévère, another Granchimen co-founder and director of La Difference Auto School. “He took part in the creation of community institutions and inspired the next generation of young people to continue the struggle. That is his legacy.”
Both his older brother, Jacques Janus, and older sister, Anne Marie Janus Camy, are deceased. Ernst Janus is survived by his wife, Lucienne, who lives in Rosedale, NY, his cousin, Agathe Armand, and five nephews and nieces, Jacques Camy, Patrick Camy, Anne Marie Camy, Jonathan Janus, and Marjorie Janus.
A funeral or memorial service at the Frantz Daniel Jean Funeral Home on Foster Avenue in Brooklyn will be announced soon.