Investing in Young Men of Color Benefits Everyone - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Investing in Young Men of Color Benefits Everyone

Investing in Young Men of Color Benefits Everyone

By Linda M. Rodríguez


Because birthplace should not limit opportunity. Ever. 

By Linda M. Rodríguez

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As JPMorgan Chase’s head of The Fellowship Initiative, Linda M. Rodríguez has seen firsthand the impact of investing in young men of color in economically distressed communities.

Exploring careers, building skills, discovering new passions and expanding personal and professional networks are a big part of the transition to adulthood. However, because of systemic barriers to opportunity, young men of color often face significant challenges when it comes to advancing their education and careers.

These challenges can have far-reaching effects. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while unemployment rates decreased among men aged 20 to 24 from 2017 to 2018, men of color still have higher rates of unemployment compared to White men. In addition to employment discrepancies, earnings gaps also persist. An intergenerational study released in 2018 revealed that in 99 percent of neighborhoods, young Black men that grow up in families with similar incomes to their White counterparts earn less in adulthood. 

If men of color were to graduate at the same rates as their peers, they’d collectively earn up to $170 billion more annually.

The Brookings Institution

To tackle these challenges, JPMorgan Chase created The Fellowship Initiative (TFI) in 2010. The program, which has since expanded to Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and New York City, provides young men of color with intensive academic support, college preparation, professional development and mentorships. To date, TFI has supported 200 fellows by providing opportunities to participate in workshops and mentoring sessions, college campus tours, outdoor learning programs and global leadership development experiences.

The global leadership development program may be the biggest eye-opener and most transformational experience for the fellows. One summer, the fellows traveled to South Africa and spent a night at Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. It was a powerful, emotional experience for the young men, especially when they found themselves in Mandela’s tiny cell, trying to imagine his life. Those moments sparked countless hours of conversation about the importance of civic engagement and the impact that global social justice movements can have on inequality. Those experiences also led the fellows to reflect on their own communities and poverty in a global context. In the words of one fellow, the trip helped him “learn that mental toughness will bring them a lot further than physical toughness.”


This is just one of many examples that demonstrate how TFI helps fellows develop the skills they need to become leaders in their communities.

Despite their potential, millions of young men of color are unfortunately overlooked as a source of talent and remain unemployed or underemployed – even as employers struggle to fill open jobs. This is a missed opportunity.

Gettyimages 94786792

TFI participants spend time visiting the campuses of universities like Stanford and the University of Chicago.

Source Getty Images / Purestock

According to the Brookings Institution, if men of color were to graduate at the same rates as their peers, they’d collectively earn up to $170 billion more annually, increasing total average weekly earnings by 3.6 percent, while expanding gross domestic product by 1.8 percent. That’s why the private sector and businesses large and small can play a vital role in the success of young men of color by providing them more opportunities, especially skills training and meaningful work experiences.

A TFI fellow once told me, “Young men of color have dreams too.” His simple, powerful statement stayed with me. When you consider that many of our cities face enormous challenges, from poverty and violence to substandard schools, it’s important to remember that we have a responsibility to invest in the dreams of young people so that they continue to hope for a better future, regardless of the challenges they confront on a daily basis.

A previous version of this story ran in March 2017. 

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