Why We Must Invest In Boys And Men Of Color

Co-authored by Jeffery Wallace, President & CEO of LeadersUp and Christina Garcia, Senior Program Officer at The James Irvine Foundation.

For boys and young men of color in this country, we have a pathways problem. Too often the paths available to them in childhood, in school, and in the job market are met with obstacles or dead-ends.

But recent years have seen a coalescing effort to change those pathways and the outcomes for young men of color eager to put their skills and talents to work. Fruits of this effort will be on display this week in Oakland, California.

On Thursday, July 21, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance will host the Invest in Youth: Pathways to Success Boys and Men of Color Career Summit in Oakland, where 350 full-time jobs will be open to young men of color. The Summit is not just about jobs; it is also an initiative to address the unique barriers to employment and opportunity that impact young men of color in the San Francisco Bay Area. Through various workshops (dressing for success, exploring careers in high-growth sectors, and accessing social services from community partners) this landmark event aims to connect over 650 boys and men of color (BMoC) to career pathways.

Cover Image Why We Must Invest In Boys And Men Of Color

The James Irvine Foundation is one of many organizations supporting this initiative. Others include The California Endowment, the California Executives’ Alliance, the City of Oakland, the Ford Foundation, and four regional project partners responsible for launching the Bay Area Boys and Men of Color Employment Project: Bay Area Council, LeadersUp, PolicyLink, and Urban Strategies Council.

BMoC are the fastest-growing population in California and are part of a larger multi-cultural demographic that will be the majority of the U.S. population by 2020. Yet the youth unemployment rate for BMoC is 36.9% — more than double the national average. This represents a loss in applied talents, creativity, and $93 billion in revenue annually.

The need to expand access to opportunity is therefore not a “minority” problem but rather a national imperative. To achieve this, it is important to understand the systemic barriers to prosperity that BMoC face — and how cross-sector initiatives like The Summit provide regional, scalable solutions to change youth unemployment.

Disparities in Education

Discrepancies in levels of opportunity are apparent for young men of color starting from a young age. At age 2, developmental gaps between boys of color and their white counterparts emerge, regardless of a parent’s educational levels.

Although college graduation rates among African-American and Latino students is improving, overall students of color still graduate at lower rates compared to whites. This correlates to decreased life earnings and missed opportunities for gaining real-world experience during the prime years when young adults should be entering their careers.

The high cost of post-secondary education adds to low graduation rates by limiting access to students of color who cannot afford the increasing tuition rates for public and private schools. If these costs result in students stopping their college education, then our future workforce pays the price.

For example, by 2020, experts project that 65% of jobs will require a post-secondary degree. Yet only 33% of African-American adults and 23% of Latino adults had at least a two-year college degree in 2015, compared to 47% for whites.

School to prison pipeline

While there are too few pathways in our schools to higher education and jobs for young men of color, there are also too many paths to our juvenile and criminal justice systems. With zero-tolerance policies enacted in many low-income neighborhoods (including Oakland), students of color often face severe punishment that break, not strengthen, their connection to education. For example, rates of suspension have increased dramatically in recent years—from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2003 — and have been most dramatic for children of color.

This phenomenon is exacerbatedr by ineffective school policies that do not address the root challenges that marginalized youth face, such as limited access to transportation, housing, and adequate food — all of which impact their ability to fully participate in the classroom.

This has a deep impact on young men of color, as employment opportunities are often limited due to low educational advancement and stereotypes perpetuated by disproportionate rates of incarceration.

Cross-sector solutions that work

To combat the barriers imposed on young men of color, we need to create programs that offer opportunities early on and investments that benefit our young people. By creating a spirited network of employers, community-based organizations, public agencies, municipal leaders, and stakeholders, The Summit is creating on-ramps for more than 150,000 BMoC across the Bay Area to industries that need their talents.

In the collaboration to create the Summit, Leaders Up and the Bay Area Boys and Men of Color Employment Project partners have learned a few key principles  and solutions are worth noting and replicating:
  • Establish ongoing communication between local organizations preparing young adults in the community and businesses. Gain an understanding of the breadth of resources and service providers across your city/region and seek out their insights, guidance, and participation in preparing youth with 21st century workforce skills.
  • Identify businesses that are willing to invest in cultivating a talent pipeline of diverse young adults, and capture the results of this intentional hiring strategy to promote amongst other business leaders. Convene the business community to engage with community members to ensure workforce trainings are aligned with skills industries are seeking.
  • Provide early exposure to career pathways within high-growth industries throughout the K-12 and post-secondary educational trajectory of BMoC. This places a continuous emphasis on preparing and nurturing young adults with a relevant and transferable skill-set.
  • Infuse cultivating and hiring young people from marginalized communities into citywide youth and economic development strategies to help create a more inclusive economy. This ensures that all community members can contribute to a more stable middle class.
  • Increase the ability of employers to find talent based on a broader set of values, especially that get at skills BMoC bring (e.g., resiliency, determination, motivation and persistence).
The over 150,000 BMoC across the Bay Area represent the diverse talent our workforce needs to meet the demands of a globally connected economy. BMoC increase the cultural competency of businesses through their lived experiences and multi-cultural ties. As part of the most engaged generation on social media, they provide an innate knowledge of connecting with peers through online platforms and fresh perspectives and insights that businesses and communities need to solve the challenges of tomorrow. There is also significant evidence to support the bottom-line benefits companies gained from having a diverse workforce. Research finds that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry means.

This Thursday is the culmination of months of planning and community engagement to help prepare young adults for on-the-spot hiring opportunities at The Summit. It also marks a deeper commitment to BMoC that will be implemented through the Boys and Men of Color Employment Project.

This initiative will leverage the established networks of community partners and employers to build off the momentum gained by providing additional social services and career skills necessary for young adults to advance in the workforce. BMoC are not a monolithic group; however, it is clear that the challenges our young people face in California have common threads that hamper their economic independence and ability to realize their goals and their promise.

Together, we can turn barriers and dead-ends into pathways to opportunity for our young people. Our future depends on our ability to do so.

To learn more about the summit or to register (ages 18-29 can attend for free), visit www.bit.ly/wiwlabs or text “BMOC” to 95577.




Jeffery Wallace is the President & CEO of LeadersUp. Christina Garcia is Senior Program Officer at The James Irvine Foundation. 

The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.


Diversity, Skills Gap, Workforce Development,
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