Jacqueline Jean-Pierre, also known as “Mommy Kèkèt,” beloved neighborhood mother and icon of the Haitian-American community in Cambridge, died in Boston surrounded by love ones on November 3rd. She was 89.
On any given Sunday afternoon, local residents walked through the pathways of Corcoran Park on their way home from church or perhaps the corner store, bus stop or Star market. Steps away from the front door they would be greeted with a handshake and a hello (always by name) from a distinguished handsome older man with an unmistakable magnificent smile, “Papi Albert.”
As they strolled around toward the back door, they were instantly taken over by classical French music playing from the kitchen, background voices of Creole, and of course the aroma of “diri kole ak poul fri” (a sweet combination of Caribbean spices and sautéed meats) and Diri Djon Djon (mushroom rice). The sounds and smells served as a neighborhood “bell,” signaling that Mommy Kèkèt was ready for family and friends to socialize, bond and break bread.
These ritual meals were enjoyed on to-go plates and devoured in her kitchen, living room and perhaps best on the back patio on a dozen chairs and the rest standing. It was in these moments that her family convened and discussed a wide range of family matters, sports and local highlights of the day.
Mommy Kèkèt was born on August 3rd 1930, in Jérémie, Haiti. She immigrated in 1968 and worked tirelessly in Boston for 15 years first, preparing and building piece by piece the foundation for her family to follow. When her family arrived, they settled in Corcoran Park.
In 1950, she married her childhood sweetheart, Papi Albert. The two soulmates, blessed with everlasting love and endurance, were married for 67 years until Albert’s passing in 2017. They had 10 children, 18 grandchildren, and 24 great-grandchildren. In addition to her own family, she mothered, cared for and guided many other children across her ethnic community and neighborhood.
As a young child, Jacqueline earned the nickname “Kèkèt.” In a literal sense, the name Kèkèt has no significant meaning—many Haitian women have childhood nicknames that are a variance of their first name. Similar to Mother Teresa, Mommy Kèkèt’s name was synonymous with love, generosity and kindness. Whether hearing her name spoken in creole or reciting her name with an unmistakable Boston accent, it had a poetic rhythm, beat and blessing every time.
Mommy Kèkèt truly possessed the best qualities of humanity. Co-author of this article, Michael Daniluk, shared the following words earlier this month:
“Nobody that I have ever met in my lifetime lived the phrase, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ more than Jacqueline Jean-Pierre aka Mommy Kèkèt. She raised generations of West Cambridge neighborhood children as if they were all her own. She never hesitated to help someone in need and made it her mission to know the story of every kid in the neighborhood. Whether you were there for an hour or had been there for years, Mommy Kèkèt would make it a point to offer you food and listen to your story. She had a way of always making you feel important and loved. She completely embraced her religion and was truly an ambassador for the Catholic Church. Not just because she attended Mass whenever she was physically able, but because she flawlessly and faithfully carried out God’s work literally every day. I feel so lucky to have had her as a part of my life and so thankful that her family shared her with all of the kids in our West Cambridge neighborhood.”
The service held on November 16th at Saint Peter’s Catholic Church on Concord Avenue was attended by hundreds from her wide community across Cambridge, the Boston area, and as far as Haiti, Florida and the Mid-West. Mommy Kèkèt’s youngest son and dedicated caretaker, Moses, delivered a eulogy.
Moses talked about her commitment to the wellbeing of others. “My mother would open the doors to every kid in the neighborhood. We had kids in our house having a plate, even though my siblings and I had not even met them yet. My mom would just say, ‘They look too skinny, come feed them!’”
A childhood Corcoran Park neighbor, Tony Mosley, remarked, “Look at how her children treated their friends when we were young. Her family values and qualities passed down to them and then continued to rub off on our entire neighborhood. They always treated everyone like brothers. That’s how they were raised.”
The same feeling was again reiterated by lifelong Cambridge community service leader, Bobby Goodwin, “This is all that matters in life. Not wealth or money, but your community.”
Jamill, her son who has personified and embodied many of Mommy Kèkèt’s greatest attributes throughout his own life, said, “As people, we are all the same. We are equal. In this world, there is no one fish bigger than the other.”
His words gave comfort that while mom is gone she is always with us and her work and legacy can be carried on through all members of the family.
To Mommy Kèkèt, her family, children and community were all one in the same—they were her greatest joys, and in turn she was their greatest hero. May Cambridge carry her dream forward and share from Mommy Kèkèt’s warm spirit and endless pot of wisdom, love and kindness.