Afro-Latin: The Many Faces of Black America

Growing up in a family of immigrants is a special experience shared by many Americans. As a child of Costa Rican and Jamaican immigrants, I learned firsthand how important it is for schools and community organizations to build bridges to new American families.

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Khalilah Harris and her father Frank Nugent

I grew up with the pulse of merengue and salsa, reggae and soca music flowing both through my household and the windows to the city streets of Brooklyn, New York. Spanish was spoken fairly regularly at home and only spoken during visits to cousins and grandparents. Thankfully, in my neighborhood, just about everyone was from somewhere and building bridges between school and home designed to support the cognitive, social and emotional development of all students was a part of the fabric of the community.

We know the Black community in America is rich with many cultures and languages and has been evolving in the past few decades. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, the United States presently has the largest number of foreign-born Black people in history—a number that continues to increase. Navigating household, community and school culture can be a difficult situation for young people and it is critical schools are prepared to support our youngest new Americans.

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans (Initiative) is releasing the first in a series of tools developed in partnership with the US Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) to support educators and communities who work with Black students and families from around the world.

The fact sheet we are releasing today highlights key demographic data about where Black immigrants who are English learners are from, with careful attention to identifying languages spoken in their homes. Over 40% of students who are Black immigrants and primarily speak another language, speak Spanish. Many school district leaders are taking important steps to equip teachers and school leaders with the tools necessary to be thoughtful and effective. It is our hope this fact sheet, in addition to the forthcoming tools in the series, will support educators as they work to support the learning and development of ALL students.

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Khalilah Harris during a summer visit with family in Limon, Costa Rica

During Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans celebrates the richness of Latino people and culture in the United States. Like my grandmother who came to the United States with little education, leaving her children behind, temporarily, to create a safe and supportive space for them and my father who followed years later, many new Americans come to this country with a clear understanding of how education can increase access to opportunity and strengthen families in the process. The Initiative looks forward to continuing to provide tools to and partner with communities across the nation to expand educational opportunity and accelerate achievement.

Khalilah Harris is the Deputy Director, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans