Empowering young urban males with the skills, confidence and motivation to compete in today's volatile labor force through the power of early intervention, job-coaching and prayer
URBAN WORKFORCE INITIATIVES
The 2015 TCWW Jobs & Empowerment Expo
There is a poignant scene from the motion picture Captain Phillips, starring legendary actor Tom Hanks, that will forever stay in my mind. In the movie, Hanks' character has been kidnapped by Somalia Pirates whose intentions are to complete a ransom transaction with the US government for his release. During the scene, Hanks looks over to the groups' indignant leader, who appears devoid of any rational traits of humanity, and asks, "But if you are a fisherman, why are you doing this? There has to be something out there better than robbing people."
The pirate morosely responds "Maybe in America. Maybe in America. What Hanks' character is unaware of is the fact the average an annual salary for a Somali fisherman is around $250, which is barely enough for food scraps. Piracy has become a way of the world in poverty-stricken regions like Somalia.
Expo Panel Dives Right In
As preposterous as it may seem, there is now a growing avalanche of marauding young men of color right here in America, who believe that though their odds of survival are akin to their Somalia Pirate counterparts. Primarily due to circumstances of socioeconomic gloom and the fact that many of them are unable to gain traction in today's turbulent labor force. According to FBI reports, a large percentage of violent crimes committed in metropolitan areas across the country are perpetrated by young men of color who are not working, or those who work low-level jobs. One in three Black men between the ages of 16-30 has ties to the correctional system.
To address this issue and other crippling jobs and labor concerns affecting Black men, The Church Without Walls, in conjunction with its Momentum Men's and the Business and Economic Empowerment Ministries, conducted an Employment and Empowerment Expo/Tailgate Party on October 17th on its Queenton Campus. Media sponsors for the event were d-mars Inc., Industrial Welding Academy and Professional Career Training Institute.
TCWW is one of the largest prominent African American churches in Texas and has blossomed into a congregation over 20,000, under the extraordinary leadership of Pastor Ralph Douglas West. TCWW's Director of Men's Ministries, Timothy Robinson outlined the program to assist all men of color who need better skills, better pay, and a better attitude to succeed in the workforce.
The program slate began with a riveting panel discussion consisting of prominent area educators, corporate executives and successful business entrepreneurs including d-mars.com's own Keith "Mr. D-Mars" Davis. Yours truly served as moderator. Topics included "Why are some Black leaders ignoring our burgeoning workforce and labor crises? Exactly what role does education or a lack of education play in today's turbulent workforce, Why is there a growing faction of young men who chose not to work at all? Why are some Black men hesitant to assist other Black men in climbing the corporate ladder in America?
One the morning's highlight moments during panel discussion occurred as the indefatigable Mr. D-Mars asked the audience to respond if they were entrepreneurs. After receiving a light smattering of response, Mr. D-Mars then emphatically demanded that everyone in attendance stand. He went on to say that Black people need to adopt a more conscious mindset to look at themselves as entrepreneurs based on the notion that each one of us is responsible for managing our lives, our jobs, and our families according to the basic algorithms of business semantics. He then stressed how important it was for African Americans to embolden themselves with the confidence to do as he did years ago, and follow their entrepreneurial aspirations. Ron Burnett, Professor of Integrated Reading and Writing at San Jacinto College stressed the importance of education and the importance of Black parents to reinforce the essential elements of good study habits and goal setting with their young children.
Retired Chevron Executive Broderick Hill, who is also an adjunct professor at Lonestar College and serves on a plethora of impressive boards, reiterated the importance soft skills and jobs training. He also brought attention to the fact that due to burgeoning shortages of people with specialized skills, thousands of high-paying jobs are out there for the taking, yet many young Black men don't seem to be interested in pursuing them. Industrial Welding Academy founder Andre Horn also served as a distinguished member of the panel. His highly recognized welding training academy has helped hundreds of area young men re-direct their lives and careers through his award winning welding training academy.
Serving as the lone female panelist was Dr. Kenyatha Loftis, Principal Consultant of the Educational Consulting firm of L.Smurphe.F Enterprises, a company that she co-founded. Dr. Loftis believes that it is critical that we continue to leverage our strengths against our weaknesses as a race. It is of her opinion that since African Americans have made great strides in so many major areas professionally; we should use that progress to instill traits of inspiration and expose our younger generation to as many different areas of interest as humanly possible. Dr. Loftis was so enthusiastic about the importance of this cause; she not only served on the panel but also facilitated workshops and even stayed hours after the conclusion of the event to provide much needed counseling for those who arrived late or asked for extra tutoring after her sessions concluded.
The events also included customized workshops on resume construction, career transition, overcoming criminal transgressions, interview preparation, networking and spiritual development for men in transition. The day concluded with a tailgate party featuring great food, fellowship, and football. There was also a very successful clothing drive for those who could use business attire for upcoming interviews and even coupons for free haircuts to enhance their professional appearance.
Employment Data Skewed
Despite politically-influenced and egregious employment data, the current jobs and workforce picture for Black men in America has reached debilitating and epidemic proportions. The number of Black men out of work is twice that of their white counterparts; Black men can expect to be out of work two to three times longer than their white counterparts; Black men are at risk to be laid-off from their jobs at appreciable rates compared to their white counterparts. Since the 2008 Great Recession, many educated and job-ready Black males with pristine Tim Tebow-like backgrounds have also lost traction in the labor force.
Years after the so-called recovery, legions of Black men who had steadily progressed up the proverbial corporate ladder have not recovered. Many of them are now working jobs of lesser stature for much smaller pay and almost no benefits. Others are accepting jobs that don't even require a degree. Some have lost their homes and families and are just trying to get by as best as they can. The trickle down effects of the carnage results into the destabilization of once-steady Black homes with a two-parent influence. Black male mentoring programs have also shown a steady decline since the apex of the Great Recession.
A Dangerous and Growing Trend
But it's younger Black males where the labor prism reveals much more dire circumstances. In the Houston area, nearly 75 percent of males between the ages of 10-28 are now young men of color. And although nearly 82 percent of young men of color in Texas are matriculating through high school at the highest clip in history, yet, a vast majority of them are not adequately prepared for the workforce. Even more dangerously, scores of them are simply disappearing from the labor and economic landscape, only to reappear after being arrested for criminal transgressions.
A few months back, I spent an entire morning with one of the most highly decorated and most influential law officials in the region. He categorically revealed that young men of color for quite some time now, commit the overwhelming majority of violent offenses in his jurisdiction. He also told me that he continues to ask Black leaders for help and input with addressing these problems, but the response has been slow. I've also spent many hours conversing with city leaders and even mayoral candidates about these issues. But the only answer I get from them is that their plans are to continue the proliferation of palatial prison construction and to find ways to add more police to the mix.
I am a huge proponent to increase the total number of dedicated police officers on our tough streets, but I remind you that fewer than 15 percent of all crimes outside murders and rapes are solved in the Houston area. The Houston Chronical published a report last year documenting that over 20,000 2013 HPD cases, with viable leads, were not even touched or followed up on due to a lack of manpower. Adding more police is a comforting suggestion, but not a pragmatic solution to curbing the maelstrom of calamity. Let's add additional police if possible, but why not apply a more diligent approach to address the underlining sources of these issues? Would a competent plumber place masking tape over leaking pipe and not expect for it to worsen at some point?
College Not Always an Option
Less than 19 percent of working age Blacks have earned at least a Bachelor's degree, and the rate of young Black men attending college has dropped precipitously in recent years. Even those who have received their degrees face exorbitant loads debt and heightened challenges to find suitable career opportunities in their respective fields. Customized Workforce education would be a viable solution if we chose to outreach the thousands of working age young Black men are already meandering about and accomplishing nothing. The more of these young men we connect to sustainable employment options, the more of them we will keep out of our prisons and off of our streets. These problems are a lot bigger than just jobs and a lack of skills. There are plenty of great jobs with excellent pay available, but we also need the right people in place to help restore America's lack of confidence in working Black men. Some employers are recalcitrant about hiring Black men because of previous bad experiences or preconceived notions.
I've been on the front lines of the urban workforce challenges in the Houston area for many years now. Despite some false reports, there are limited customized workforce and coaching options for young men of color. You can't expect to successfully equip and prepare young men for the labor force who have never been around other men who have achieved any modicum of success in the workforce. It just doesn't work that way. Thousands of these young men who have no aspirations of ever going to college or even vocational school are out there aimlessly drifting towards the precipice of waywardness. Let's roll up our sleeves and reach out to them before it's too late.
Wil Smith is a former sports journalist and radio announcer. He is Founder of Urban Workforce Initiatives and has accumulated decades of experience in corporate training, staffing, job coaching and Workforce Development. He is also author of Decoding the Urban Genome: America's last Chance to Get Young Urban males Job Ready Instead of Crime Ready.e your paragraph here.
Community In Schools Career Day - 2016
Wil Smith addresses students throughout the Houston area about the challenges of the current labor force and discusses the tools they'll need to become successful. Although many of the students in attendance are succeeding in the classroom and are making plans to continue their education and training for the future, the majority of them were unaware of the future challenges that await them as a result of seismic changes in the labor force and current hiring trends. Mr. Smith felt it was important for students to understand that they can no longer count solely on their education and training to help them achieve their professional goals. He encouraged them to learn the art of networking and personal branding as they progress through school.