We’re Failing To Prepare Kids For Work

By Barney Blakeney 

I’m amazed at how my city is changing right before my eyes. There’s construction everywhere and the thought of the changing economy is mind-boggling. The only problem is I don’t see black folks participating at any appreciable level in much of that change.

I know a lot of what we see depends on where you are. Some are in position to see a lot of good stuff. So the view may be that most black folks are doing well. But if you look at the numbers, the indication is that most of us are not there.

Industry and the jobs it brings are increasing rapidly, yet collectively, black folks fall behind every other local ethnic group on the economic scale. The median income of blacks is lower than that of whites, Asians and Hispanics. Despite the misperception of our collective economic well-being, we’re not doing so well. Individually, some of us may be doing okay, but a lot of our cousins have been left back in the ‘hood.

I recently wrote a news story about organized efforts in the black community. There are a lot of organizations among black folks, but no organized effort. We’ve got a hundred churches. Some of ‘em are right next to each other. Few of ‘em work together. Not even churches in the same associations!

With an unemployment rate about twice that of whites, I’m wondering what we are going to do to access some of these good jobs coming to our community. Two of the newest manufacturers to the area – Boeing and Volvo – are expected to employ some 6,000 people earning top wages. Black folks must stop playing mind games and get serious about taking advantage of the economic opportunities coming our way. Other folks are training their kids to access the ‘Big Payday’ (jobs and businesses) while we’re training our kids to access the ‘Big Pen’ (penitentiary).

Some stuff is happening that can change the economic dynamics that persist in the black community. I talked with a lady the other night who blew my mind discussing stuff that’s available and how we’re not accepting offers to help facilitate access to modern industry and the economic impact it can have in our communities. The woman said she’s reached out to black preachers and teachers and nobody responds.

She said she’s reached out to black ministers who preach about pie in the sky when you die, but seem to have no concern about getting a slice of the economic pie right here on earth. Like everybody else, the woman wants to keep her job, so she wouldn’t give me much to work with. She suggested I look up some stuff for myself. So I went to Trident Technical College’s website to look up the training opportunities this woman was talking about. Mind you now, I’m computer illiterate, so I could only dig up so much. Imagine what someone with more computer skills can find.

One of the first things that popped out at me was over 1,000 people attended the Trident Technical College’s Feb 2 Youth Apprenticeship parent/student information session. Its name is the Charleston Regional Youth Apprenticeships Program and it’s not a Trident Tech individual effort. Local industrial entities are working together to grow their future workforce. The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce funds all tuition and books for the students. As part of the initiative, high school kids at least 16 years old are being hired and paid to participate in the program and train.

Why didn’t I get that memo? Apparently, a lot of us missed the memo. But this woman told me she’s taken that message to local black ministers for the past two years! Seth Whipper tells me it’s unfair to paint everybody with the same brush. Okay, so sue me. I think what’s unfair is that the largest most far-reaching organization in the black community, the Black Church, isn’t fully engaged in this activity. Last year about 70 kids participated. This year it blew up! About 200 kids are participating. Guess who those kids look like?

We ain’t in it. As this community bursts through its seams with economic opportunity, we’re not arming ourselves with information and preparing our children to take advantage of those opportunities. And it’s not all on our ministers. Black parents, as usual, are out to lunch!

One program many of us know about, but don’t push in our homes is the Dual Enrollment Program that offers high school students the opportunity to take college courses while still in high school. The student gets credit toward high school graduation as well as earns college credits.  If the kid is on the state free/reduce lunch program, tuition is free. Depending on the high school, the textbook might be provided. Parental involvement is key to moving a student towards dual enrollment courses. The lady told me kids at Baptist Hill High are on top of this one. So where are Burke and North Charleston high schools?

To qualify for either program, the kid has to pass a placement test. Often our high school students can’t meet the standard. I go back to something Charleston County School Board member Todd Garrett has been focused on. According to information he’s provided, 84 percent of African-American kids don’t read on grade level by 3rd grade, less than four percent of African American grads are “college-ready” with a 23+ ACT score, 90 percent of our grads have to take a remedial course before beginning ‘for credit’ courses at Trident Tech and only nine percent of our African American kids in Charleston County are ‘career-ready’ which we quantify by Silver Work Keys level. Boeing requires the equivalent of Gold Work Keys level, which means nearly all of our African American grads are not qualified to work at Boeing or Volvo after at least 13 yrs with CCSD, he said.

There’s enough blame to go around, enough to be shared by parents, preachers, teachers and news reporters who miss the memos. But the bottom line is we can’t afford to point fingers; we must instead point our children toward the opportunities that will insure their prosperous economic futures.

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