Black and Latino communities need to work together in order to achieve economic and educational parity with Whites, according to a recent session at a legislative conference.

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) sponsored the “Blacks & Latinos: Our Quest for Civil Rights” forum Sept. 15 during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 46th Annual Legislative Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Johnson told the gathering of 35 people that people of color should stick together on issues of common concern.

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U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson hosted issue forum on Black-Brown relations. (Courtesy Photo)

“It is important for people whose experiences intersect should correspond together,” he said. “They should come together and form a coalition that represents political power for our communities.”

Fourteen percent of all U.S. citizens are Black and 17 percent are Latino. Latinos are the fastest growing population in the U.S. and anchor the majority-minority status of such states as California, Texas and New Mexico and have strong percentages for states with people of color populations such as Maryland, Nevada and Florida.

Dr. Ramona Houston served as the moderator for the forum. Panelists included Clarissa Martinez de Castro, deputy vice president of the National Council of La Raza; Donald Cravins, Jr., executive director of the Washington Bureau of the National Urban League; Alejandro Y. Castillo, national director of the  U.S. Department of Commerce/Minority Business Development Agency; Kevin F. Gilbert, a member of the executive committee of the National Education Association; Carol Frazer-Haynesworth, an arts entrepreneur; Guesnerth Josue Perera, director of communications for the Afro-Latino Forum; and Hernando Viveros Cabezas, president of the Afro Columbian Global Initiative.

Houston, who noted that she has both Black and Latino ancestry, said that both groups suffer from negative stereotypes.

“In this country, Blacks and Latinos are considered lazy, dirty, untrustworthy and ignorant,” she said. “Blacks and Latinos have inadequate access to health care, have high teenage pregnancies and HIV-AIDS rates, have high dropout rates and don’t have easy access to higher education and suffer from high unemployment and employment and economic discrimination. Not only that, we face bigotry in our communities because Blacks say bad things about Latinos and Latinos do the same.”

Despite the problems, de Castro said that those of Black and Brown skin should work together.

“Both of our communities deal with these adversities but have resilience,” she said. “We can beat those obstacles.”

de Castro pointed out that her organization and Black groups have worked together on common issues such as affordable housing and access to good education and there will be collaboration in the future.

“We are planning to work with African American organizations like the Urban League on reforming the criminal justice system,” she said.

Cravins said that the National Urban League welcomes input from Latinos.

“We want you to come to the Urban League when you need help,” Cravins said. “When we do our annual State of Black America reports, we now include statistics dealing with Latinos. We are also working with Latino organizations to stop voter suppression.”

While the discussion centered on U.S. Blacks and Latino relations, there was a mention of Black Latinos in Central and South America. Cabezas mentioned that there are 100 million Black Brazilians and they constitute 51 percent of the country’s population.

In his country of Colombia, Blacks make up 10 percent of the population and Cabezas pointed out that they are an emerging political and economic force.

“Like in the U.S., people of African descent have struggled for respect,” he said.

Castillo explained that the Black-Brown relationship should have an economic component.

“We need to add another color to this discussion and that is green,” she said. “In addition to fighting for civil rights, we should be fighting for economic rights.”

Castillo said that the Brazilian market is open for Black and Brown entrepreneurs and that the world should be their marketplace, not just their own neighborhoods.

Gilbert said that educational attainment is a boon for both groups to grow together and be prosperous and powerful.

“Education is the gateway for opportunity,” he said. “Both Black and Brown communities need to work to dismantle the school to prison pipeline, improve the English Language learners system and make sure that students of color have resources to learn.”