When he was a teenager, Jean-Robert's owners moved to the United States, and with no way to survive on his own, Jean-Robert followed them. "They loaned me their name in order for me to come to the United States to be a slave for them in their home in New York," he says.
But when his owners realized it was illegal to keep him home from school, a door opened for Jean-Robert. He started high school, where a teacher took an interest and began tutoring him. "I loved it. He showed me affection. In a way, he restored some humanity in me," Jean-Robert says. "And then when my owner discovered that I was going to school full-time, I was no longer useful to them. I was kicked out."
Once Jean-Robert finished high school, he realized he really could do something with his life. "As a child in Haiti, one of my duties was to shine everybody's shoes twice a day, and it's a very dusty country. And the owner would say, 'You'll never be anything but a shoeshine boy,'" he says. "And I thought that's the profession that they had chosen for me—until I discovered education. Until I was able to obtain that high school diploma."
After high school Jean-Robert joined the U.S. Army and attended college under the G.I. Bill. Soon, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in international affairs.