Brian Barlay is an African immigrant who just started his own business helping immigrants adapt to the culture of St. Louis. he sits in front of one of his paintings at the House of Jollof 503 in Florissant Wed July 13, 2022. Photo by Wiley Price / St. ...

Brian Barlay is an acculturation coach, and through his business he plans to help young newcomers to the St. Louis region create a balance learning to assimilate to survive, but not losing their identity.

Brian Barlay, a Sierra Leone immigrant moved to Jefferson City when he was just 15 years old, he brought along his dreams and hopes of achieving the American dream. However, they were soon spoiled with his first experience of life in a wealthy capitalist society – homelessness. 

“It was tough, my American dream was tarnished,” said Barlay.

Back in Sierra Leone, Heaven was at the top and America was right beneath it. Barlay thought everyone in America was wealthy, his mom told him, “son, welcome to America.”

But Barlay felt everything but welcomed.  He says it was pretty difficult to adjust to American culture in Jefferson City at just 15 years old. Mainly because his economic status dramatically changed once his family moved to the Midwest. 

“Back in Sierra Leone, my mom could afford everything for us and others too, but in America, my mom worked two or three jobs. I never got to see her. And I had to figure out life on my own, said Barlay. 

He was warned repeatedly to be conscious of all Americans, he became very shy and nervous not knowing how to navigate in a society that he was told to be afraid of. 

Barlay says at one point he became a prisoner of his mind. 

“I wondered when do I become the captain of my own ship,” said Barlay. 

Over time Barlay decided he wasn’t going to hold back anymore, he wanted people in the United States to know the real him. Someone smart, funny, and talented.

He started taking theater classes and through that experience, he understood American culture from various lenses which artistic expression provided.

Barlay got to thinking if he had someone to help him adjust to life in a new country or city he would have had an easier time assimilating.  He wouldn’t have experienced being homesick so much or being afraid to build relationships in social settings. And so Barlay Consulting was born in March of this year.  He took a leap of faith and quit his full-time job at Klem Academy. He put all his focus into helping young immigrants get to know St. Louis on a more personal level. 

“There is a need for this, especially for young immigrants,” said Barlay. 

Barlay says he is an acculturation coach, through his business he plans to help young newcomers to the St. Louis region create a balance learning to assimilate to survive, but not losing their identity. He will teach them how to maximize their time here in the Lou, by understanding the culture of St. Louis, and showing them the nuances that make us, us. He will also coach them on how to incorporate their skills and talents in professional and personal settings while building relationships, creating a friend/family circle in a new place. 

Barlay offers monthly networking events, bringing in young adult immigrants from all over to connect, build, and create their community. 

According to the Boundless data report, there is close to a 5 million Black immigrant population in the United States. 63% of Black African immigrants arrived in this country in 2000 or later. The report also shows the majority emigrated from Latin America and the Caribbean, 54% of Black immigrants came to the U.S. from Latin America, and around 42% came from Africa. 

“There are deep biases and racism when it comes to Black immigrants, and people tend to think Black immigrants don’t exist in St. Louis. The focus is on the Spanish and Asian communities,” said Barlay. 

He plans to connect with local universities, including, St. Louis University, Webster University, Washington University, and UMSL

He says connecting with the Black community is important because we all share African heritage. 

“We need to bridge that gap, I think about, who can I connect with, how can I bring both communities together,” said Barlay.

Ashley Winters is The St. Louis American Report for America reporter.

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