Florence Moore and Urban Nation Outreach

Florence Moore and I go to the same church, Mosaic Baptist. Through Katie Baker, who has written articles for me, I found out she works for a program teaching English to immigrants. The issue of immigration is one that is hotly debate nationally. President Trump just closed the government for a month in an effort to get funding for his border wall. During his campaign for president, he characterized Mexicans entering the United States as “drug dealers and rapists.” Hidden behind his fear mongering is the reality of immigration, an issue of importance to Crown Heights, a place of amazing diversity where many immigrants end up. Going up and down a single block of Nostrand Avenue one can find business owners from the following nations – Israel, Jamaica, Bangladesh, China, Yemen, Ecuador, Russia, Guyana, the Dominican Republic and Colombia. Crown Heights has connections to the world.

So I asked to meet with Florence, and during an interview over coffee discovered the following: She grew up in Virginia with her parents, three brothers and a sister. Her siblings are spread through North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington D.C. Two of her brothers are pastors, and one doesn't know Florence long without finding out that religion is very important to her. She has been a life long member of the Baptist Church. She married in Virginia to a man who had a prosthetics business, and they had two sons – one now lives in Alabama and the other in Florida. Florence and her husband moved to Alabama for his business and it was there that he suddenly passed away in 2007. The business was sold and a new phase of life opened up for Florence.

Florence had developed an interest in West Africa, and she traveled there often, particularly to Senegal, but also nearby to other countries such as Gambia. These countries are mostly Muslim and the purpose of Florence's trips was to develop relationships – to get to know people and understand their concerns. During this time, Florence also went to London and Paris, particularly to explore the African communities in those places.

A bit less than four years ago, Florence's interest in Africa led her to New York City to work with the Urban Nation Outreach, an organization created after 9/11 to build bridges between the Muslim and Christian communities, to reduce fear and create understanding. Her specific job is to teach English to those who need it to navigate all the problems of living in a new country. She does this work in two places, one in Brooklyn and the other in the Bronx. Her clients tend to be women though she sees a fair number of men, and they tend to be Muslims from West Africa or Catholics from Latin Amercia. Under the heading of learning English come a multitude of subjects that these students need to learn. If they become ill they need to know how to deal with the healthcare system – emergency rooms, finding doctors, learning how to live a healthy life with the right food and exercise. Getting food means finding places to shop where one can find products not on the shelf of every American supermarket. And also learning to cook in a way that is a compromise between where one came from and where one is. Florence also teaches a set of skills related to employment – how to fill out a job application and how to conduct an interview, not as simple as one might think. For example, Muslim men from West Africa as a matter of morality will not look a woman not in their family in the eyes. This tends to make a bad impression, and they need to practice and become comfortable with the American way of doing things. Florence also teaches Civics and will explain the process of getting a Green Card and eventually applying for citizenship. One complication is that her students work on many different levels. For some they need to start with the alphabet and learn the sounds of the different letters; for others she is teaching higher level material – the basics of writing, using proper grammar, spelling, syntax and organization. All of her students need to know how to get the New York City ID, and many need to know about the legal system – to how to apply for asylum, how to deal with landlords and merchants, to get a bank account.

The fact that Florence is a woman can be a problem for some of her students. To deal with this, she stresses that she is a teacher and an older person who must be respected. However, if she maintains a formal relationship to get started, her students will soon open up to her when they learn to trust her, telling her about intimate problems having to do with relationships, marriage and family. Florence is a Christian with a firm set of beliefs; however, she will never initiate a discussion of religion. She will only tell about her views if someone asks and wishes to know more. Her job is to provide a service – to teach English and all the other things that English can be used for to make one's way in America.

The Latin American and the Africa communities have had many successes in Crown Heights. On the Nostrand Avenue Improvement Association website we have covered Rosa's Naye African Braiding and Jorge Salamea's Colina Cuervo, both thriving businesses serving large devoted clienteles in the neighborhood. Both these owners needed to learn English and whole set of practices to succeed in America. Florence is no doubt propelling a whole new generation of people on to similar success.

– John DeWind

UpdatesJonathan Judge