Representation Matters: African Americans in the Rio Grande Valley

Local News

HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — Racial reckoning and reconciliation have been at the forefront of 2020 across the country, however, the African American community in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) feels progress has moved at a lower pace.

The lack of progress could be due to the importance of role models at a young age, but that may not be easily accessible to the African American youth in the RGV.

“All lives matter, but Black life does not matter less,” said George McShan a long-time educator in the RGV who has poured his life into empowering students from all social-economic, and ethnic backgrounds.

After serving in the Harlingen School District for over 30 years, McShan said one thing has remained constant: Black students have struggled in the Rio Grande Valley.

“The unspoken word is that African American students don’t necessarily have a voice,” said McShan. “Because they don’t see anyone who resembles them, or looks like them.”

Just 1% of the Rio Grande Valley’s population is Black according to the most recent census data.

Below is a closer look at various African American populations in cities across the RGV:

  • Edinburg’s African American population is 2%.
  • McAllen’s African American population is 1.1%.
  • Weslaco’s African American population is 0.3%.
  • Harlingen’s African American population is 1.1%
  • Brownsville’s African American population is 0.6%

So how do you mentor Black students when they don’t see Black faces?

“That’s a huge challenge, we have a parental involvement program, which is excellent, but we really have not targeted African American students in our school districts. We’ve had a lot of success with African American students, my own children, other children that I know, but there is not a mentorship program for African American students,” said McShan.

Adding, Black students need mentors.

Something dreadlocks stylist Meesh Duru, owner of Dread House, says would have benefited her as a teen growing up in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Seeing other people who look like me make big accomplishments encourages me,” said Duru. “[It] lets me know that I can do the same.”

Duru started Dread House, her own dreadlocks business, to cater to Black hair in the RGV.

“Because there is a lack of Black hair salons, sometimes we’re not able to able to go out looking our best,” said Duru. “When we look our best and feel our best, we perform in the best way that we can.”

At 13, Duru and her family moved to the Rio Grande Valley from D.C.

“It was definitely a culture shock,” she said.

Despite the differences between the two communities, Duru hopes to see Black and Brown communities unite.

“Historically, we have gone through similar injustices, and have been held back in multiple arenas professionally and unprofessionally when it comes to housing, [and] when it comes to schooling.”

McShan believes changes can start in school.

“We need to look at how we got to where we are because we all stand on someone else’s shoulders,” he said.

McShan hopes to see more RGV students learn all aspects of Black history.

“We need to have a better understanding by connecting and having programs that are systemic,” he said. “[We need to] make people feel that they are wanted, appreciated, in a way that changes their lives so that they can reach their hopes and dreams in life.”

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