The notion that blacks and Latinos share a similar struggle for civil, economic, and political rights is not new. In Madison, however, there is plenty of work to be done to bring these two groups together and that’s where the 7th annual Black & Latino Unity Picnic hopes to make some headway.

“We really want to empower both groups – Latinos and African Americans – and find ways that we can really work together and unite,” says Clarissa Pearson, who has coordinated the Black & Latino Unity Picnic since it first started in 2009. “There’s a tendency to just say, ‘Oh, that’s a black issue’ or ‘Oh, that’s a Latino issue.’ We need to recognize that we are both in this together as part of the same struggle for better schools, work, and neighborhoods. We are really working on not letting the system divide us and the media to pit us against each other. We do have plenty in common.”

Pearson is organizing this unity picnic — held at Penn Park Sunday, Aug. 30 — with the goals of breaking down some of those barriers between African Americans and Latinos in Madison and sparking new friendships and coalitions.

Immigrant Workers Union (IWU) is the sponsor of the event and IWU’s Alex Gillis and Pearson have been organizing the Black/Latino Unity Picnic since its inception.

“Alex [Gillis] came back from California in 2008 where he was at a Black and Latino Summit and he got the idea from there,” Pearson remembers. “He was really excited about it and we’ve been doing it in Madison ever since.”

Alex Gillis and Clarissa Pearson are organizing the Black/Latino Unity Picnic.
Alex Gillis and Clarissa Pearson are organizing the Black/Latino Unity Picnic.

The event will feature numerous speakers, dancers, entertainers, a jazz group, a drill team, and spoken-word poetry and will be a great chance for people to discuss racial justice disparities, education, housing, and the economy. Food will be served by volunteers and everything at the event is free and open to the public. Like always, it will be held at Penn Park on Madison’s south side, the state of Wisconsin’s most diverse zip code.

“It’s a place where both groups can feel comfortable talking about stereotypes and differences or just to be able to understand each other more so we can work together,” Pearson says. “At the end of the day, we all want the same thing.”

And both minority groups do have some differences and some stigmas that Pearson feels they need to talk through.

“Just talking with my friends and their kids about that topic of having really frank conversations; we put that on the table about how we needed to be open,” Pearson says. “We addressed some of those things and it was really a positive experience. And we wondered, can we do that at the picnic? We’re not sure, but we have to try. Somebody has to be brave enough to start these conversations otherwise we are never going to get anywhere.”

The IWU hopes by bringing together African American and Latino neighbors, the communities can help each other tackle racism issues and harness their power.

“We are the two largest groups in America right now and we do have a lot of power if we are able to come together,” Pearson says. “People might always be talking about things that aren’t going well, but let’s talk about ways we can improve it. We really want to find a way to have an action plan.”

Many black and Latino leaders, business owners, and activists have recognized that the division has made both groups weaker in a moment in history that they needed to be stronger. The event is part of an overall grassroots effort to promote unity and collaboration between the Black and Latino communities. But it’s not just for thos two commounities … Pearson stresses that it is for the whole community.

“Everybody is invited regardless of whether they identify as black and Latino,” Pearson says. “It’s for everybody in the community. It’s just a great opportunity to come and have fun and to learn more about each other and hopefully develop some great relationships.”

For more information about the event, click here.