North Jersey's New Black Community

By Alvarado, Monsy | The Record (Bergen County, NJ), February 28, 2014 | Go to article overview

North Jersey's New Black Community

Alvarado, Monsy, The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

When Patrick and Majory Appiah first attended Sunday service at the First Presbyterian Church in Hackensack, they were the only couple from Ghana to join the church.

That was 1997, when the newlywed couple were still adapting to life in a new country. They are now part of a sizable African and Caribbean black immigrant population that attends weekly service at the Passaic Street church, which has seen a transformation in its membership, said the Rev. Steven McClelland, the pastor. Congregants with European ancestry still make up the majority of its members, while 25 percent are from Ghana and nearly 10 percent are from Caribbean nations, he said. The church also serves immigrants from Nigeria, Ethiopia and Latin America.

The new congregants reflect the rise in the black immigrant populations from the Caribbean and Africa who are calling Bergen and Passaic counties home. While North Jersey towns with historically larger black populations -- such as Teaneck, Englewood and Hackensack -- saw a decrease in blacks counted in the 2010 census because some moved to the South, the numbers for West Indian and African ancestry rose slightly in several areas.

Estimates by the American Community Survey for 2012 show that there are around 12,000 people of West Indian heritage and about 6,000 of sub-Saharan African ancestry living in Bergen County -- an increase from the 9,439 people of West Indian descent and 3,718 from sub-Saharan Africa counted in the 2000 U.S. census. In Passaic County, the survey shows there were around 8,000 residents in 2012 who identified as West Indian and around 2,500 from Africa. In 2000, those census numbers were 7,332 for the West Indies, while the African numbers were at 2,851.

More than 4,600 immigrants from Haiti, Jamaica, Ghana and Nigeria were among those to obtain legal permanent resident status in New Jersey in 2012, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Studies show the Caribbean migration has slowed since the last wave started in the 1970s, when mass changes were made to immigration laws. The exceptions are Haitians, who have arrived in larger numbers in recent years due to the 2010 earthquake. But the Caribbean population still surpasses that of Africans, as many have lived in enclaves in the New York metropolitan area for decades.

Between 2000 and 2009, the black African immigrant population rose 92 percent -- making it among the fastest-growing immigrant populations, according to a 2012 report by the Migration Policy Institute on African migration to the U.S. Meanwhile, the black Caribbean immigrant population rose by 19 percent, the study shows.

This black migration helped boost the U.S. black population from 2001 to 2006, according to a 2007 publication by the Population Reference Bureau called "Immigration and America's Black Population."

"The [black] immigration levels have increased rapidly, but they are small numbers relative to the total black population and small to the total U.S. population, but they have some impact,'' said Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute who co-led the research on black and Caribbean migration. "I tend to think of the black population as stable, growing slowly, in most parts of the country, but it depends what region you are looking at. In an immigrant hub like New York, you will see more turnover."

That turnover is happening at McClelland's church, where last year the congregation held a Ghanaian Day celebration and where the new immigrants are being appointed to church boards and other positions.

Rising visibility

Black immigrants, their culture, traditions and foods have become more visible in North Jersey, where they go to school, work, organize Caribbean Day festivals and flag raisings to honor their homeland.

Englewood's pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes are about 60 percent Latino, according to the superintendent. However, the schools also serve more than 120 students from Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria and Ghana, he said. …

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