Investing in Young Men of Color Benefits Everyone

Investing in Young Men of Color Benefits Everyone
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Why you should care

Because birth place should not limit opportunity. Ever. 

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Linda Rodriguez is the program officer for Youth Opportunities at JPMorgan Chase & Co., and head of The Fellowship Initiative.

Extracurriculars activities are a big part of the high school experience — whether that means supplementing education with a part-time job or internship. However, one group — young men of color [YMOC] — faces more difficulty than any other when it comes to securing opportunities for employment or academic advancement.

This lack of education and economic prospects can have far-reaching effects. According to The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males (2012), the high school graduation rate for YMOC in New York State is a paltry 37 percent, compared with 78 percent for white males. As head of The Fellowship Initiative, a program that provides YMOC in Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and New York City with intensive academic support, college preparation and mentorship, I am committed to expanding opportunities for young people and helping businesses see why it’s imperative to invest in these teens.

The three-year program is administered by JPMorgan Chase, and though the 200 young Fellows have a full plate during the school year with Saturday classes, workshops and mentoring sessions, summers provide them with even more opportunities, including visits to college campuses, outdoor learning programs and global leadership development.

The college trips are particularly valuable because few TFI Fellows get a chance otherwise to visit places like Stanford and the University of Chicago on their own. The tours expose them to universities they may not have previously considered for their future college plans.

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

But it’s TFI’s overseas program that may be the biggest eye-opener for the Fellows. One summer, participants traveled to South Africa and spent a night at Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned for 18 years. The visit helped fellows understand the challenges facing their communities within the global context. They especially appreciated the chance to speak with former political prisoners about the brutality and impact of apartheid and the importance of social justice. While some of the fellows are all too familiar with the challenges that many low-income young people face in the United States, in the words of one Fellow, the trip helped them “learn that mental toughness will bring them a lot farther than physical toughness.”

Unfortunately, millions of other young men of color are unemployed or underemployed while countless employers across the country struggle to fill open jobs. We need all of our country’s young people to contribute to the future. The private sector needs to take action to ensure that it will be able to fill its ranks with a diverse group of talented, ambitious and valuable employees.

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

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There is no downside, for the young men, for business or for the global economy. 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.

The private sector and businesses large and small can play a vital role by providing opportunities for young men of color, especially skills training and meaningful work experiences. Individuals can also help by volunteering as mentors. According to The Mentoring Effect, the first-ever nationally representative survey of 1,109 young people on the topic of mentoring produced by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, one in three people do not have a mentor.

A TFI Fellow once told me, “Young men of color have dreams too.” His statement stayed with me because it was powerful — of course young people in our communities have dreams. But when you consider that many of our cities face enormous challenges, from poverty and violence to substandard schools, it’s helpful to remember not only that we have a year-round responsibility to invest in the dreams that all young people have but also that they all hope for a better future regardless of the challenges they confront on a daily basis.