On This MLK Day, Some Thoughts About Black Immigrants

This is the day we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, the man who died leading a movement to achieve equality for black Americans. It is trite but true to say we are all the descendants of immigrants. Some of my father’s ancestors were Scotch-Irish. They were poor but industrious. Like a lot of immigrant groups, they weren’t particularly welcome when they arrived.

Recently there has been discussion about the role of black immigrants in today’s America. What do they have to contribute? What many of us don’t realize is that among all black immigrants, 32% have some attained some college education or an associates degree. Among native-born Americans, the number is 31%. 45% of African immigrants over 25 have 4-year degrees.

It’s perhaps a good day to remember Private Emmanuel Mensah, an immigrant from Ghana who chose to serve this country because of his profound belief it its principles. Private Mensah died a hero just a few days after Christmas, not in combat, but saving people from a burning building. He was visiting the Bronx when the deadliest fire in recent history erupted; he ran into the building several times and carried people out. The final time, he did not emerge. Although 12 people were lost, Private Mensah saved four lives.

From the beginning, this country has been a magnet for visionaries – people who could imagine a better life for themselves and their families, and were brave enough to risk everything to come here and work for it. Visionaries, and heroes, come in all colors.

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