Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with People CHICA's LatinXcellence series, spotlighting the incredible people who are changing the world through their work and activism. Today we focus on Dominican American actor and rapper Jharrel Jerome, an icon for the Afro-Latino community.

Por Alma Sacasa
Septiembre 25, 2020

Here at People CHICA we celebrate our Latinidad 365 days a year, but during Hispanic Heritage Month, we go extra hard. Established in 1988, Hispanic Heritage Month (also known as Latino Heritage Month or Latinx Heritage Month) recognizes the generations of Latinos who have positively influenced and enhanced our society. All month long, we'll be celebrating with a series called #LatinXcellence, highlighting people who are making a difference in Latino culture today through their art, work, and activism. 

Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Jharrel Jerome comes from the city that doesn't sleep, which is no surprise — the 22-year-old doesn't seem to sleep, either, and is already making history. Like Omar Epps, Marlon Wayans, Wesley Snipes, and Nicki Minaj, he attended the famous Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, and while he was still in college, he garnered a ton of critical acclaim for his role in the Oscar-winning Moonlight.

Last year, he made history as the first Afro-Latino to win an Emmy for acting, for his portrayal of Korey Wise in the Netflix series When They See Us, about the five teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of rape in the 1989 Central Park jogger case. "Most importantly, this is for the men that we know as the Exonerated Five," he said in his moving acceptance speech. "It's for Raymond, Yusef, Antron, Kevin, and King Korey Wise." At 21, Jerome was also the youngest actor to ever win in his category.

He also recognized the Afro-Latino community in his win: "It's a blessing. And I hope this is a step forward for Dominicans, for Latinos, for Afro-Latinos. It's about time we are here."

He recently returned to his first love, music, with his new single "For Real" featuring Kemba. "Before I became an actor, hip-hop was my first love," he wrote about his return to music. "I grew up listening to everything old school, from Slick Rick, to the Tribe, to Big Pun. I was the one spitting off top at the lunch table in the sixth grade. If there was a freestyle cypher happening at the park, I was there. Being from the BX, rap was in my blood whether I knew it or not."

Jerome also shared how acting has opened up many opportunities for him. "Before my life changed, I had no idea I'd want to turn rap from a hobby to a career," he said. "But given my acting platform and these unbelievable blessings through the past few years, I decided to hone in on my music. Since 2016, I've been putting all the bank I've made from my films into studio sessions and recording equipment; trying to find my sound, my voice, my cadence, and my style." Whatever he does next, it'll definitely be worth watching.