When I turned 40 and became a first-time father earlier this year, I reflected on many good fortunes, including how thankful I am to live in Los Angeles, where the local economy is booming. However, amid the great prosperity there is also an ongoing crisis brewing.
African American and Latino youth living in underserved, impoverished pockets of L.A. County are trapped in a perpetuating cycle of violence and underachievement despite the fact that they live within a larger city that is thriving. Only a handful of miles from their homes there are job opportunities and positive examples that can provide the path to prosperity, but instead these communities are often unaware of or unable to access L.A.’s bountiful economic resources.
Our inner cities have unacceptably low high school graduation rates, extremely high rates of crime and stubbornly high unemployment. Nearly a third of African Americans and a quarter of Latinos in L.A. County did not earn a high school diploma in 2014. The unemployment rate among African Americans in Los Angeles is nearly twice as high as the overall county rate.
These are discouraging statistics. Due to the prolonged state of subpar conditions, many inner city youths caught in this vortex of despair lose faith in the American dream – that through honest hard work, change and success are possible for them.
A natural reaction from the business community to the challenges impacting inner city youth is to simply offer encouraging statements such as, “Study hard, stay on the right path and great opportunity awaits.”
I wholeheartedly believe in this motto. After visiting several U.S. inner cities with Keenen Ivory Wayans over the past 10 years, I also believe the inherent challenges of life in these impoverished areas make executing this motto extremely difficult, and the odds are against success today. Our business community, not the government, can create more balance and shift these odds.
Business leaders can demonstrate to young people that career paths are available for them, thereby providing a more tangible path to success and partially counteracting the negative influences. Beyond the confines of their immediate struggling neighborhoods, L.A. offers a plethora of opportunities. By connecting young people to opportunities for achievement through gainful employment, we can give them the motivation they need to stay in school, stay out of trouble, and lead a life that includes safety, stability, and prosperity. Proper preparation is critical.
An added benefit of this approach is that we build a better-trained, home-grown workforce, which is good for business. Manufacturing, hospitality, and entertainment are three industries in which we can start.
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