Last week I took a short vacation to New Orleans to rest before the start of our 4th Annual SAFE Camp. While in New Orleans, I spent a lot of time taking in the culture, eating local food, and watching in amazement at the talented performers on Bourbon St and in the French Quarter. I saw some of the best freestyle rap artists and bands, an amazing saxophone player, kids playing the drums on buckets while others tapped danced to the beat with cans on their feet serving as taps, a dog that was trained to impersonate someone who had a little too much fun, and much more. Every evening there, I was in awe at how the locals were taking advantage of the opportunity to showcase their talents to the hundreds of tourists. One after the other people were taking pictures and/or recording and uploading the acts to their social media channels. More importantly, they were providing monetary support.
Instantly I wondered, how can I empower more people in Baltimore to maximize their talents as a benefit to others and still make a living while doing it?
Now that I’m back home, it’s back to working on the SAFE and conducting speaking engagements. The first engagement I had this week was talking to this year’s Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC) class of local business leaders and professionals about workforce and community development. I discussed how workforce development should be used as a vehicle for what I call “real” community development, which is providing the current residents with the resources and opportunities needed to better themselves, not gentrification. The problem with gentrification is that it only displaces people. It doesn’t fix the problem, it relocates it. Providing people with gainful employment and an opportunity to satisfy their basic level needs on the Maslow Hierarchy is how we begin to fix the problem. Once satisfied, we can then equip those same individuals with the means to add value to their communities with opportunities for ownership. The economic impact of this will be incredible. This is why providing and taking advantage of opportunities are important.
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Lately, there has been a lot of attention in Baltimore surrounding the “squeegee boys”. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, its majority young black school aged boys who stand on corners and clean car windows at red lights. This is an example of our youth crying out for an opportunity to do something productive, I don’t know what is. Instead of complaining about them, let’s be mindful that there are negative alternatives that they could be doing. Why don’t we teach them the soft skills needed for employment then allow them to use their talents and the transferable skills they possess? Fortunately, Baltimore City offers a program called “Youth Works” a summer employment program for ages 14-21.
My next speaking engagement this week was at an orientation for a group of Baltimore City youth participating in this program. With what I saw on my vacation still in mind, I shared three tips for them to carry now and throughout their careers.
- Be uncommon and win in the margins
- Add Value
- Take advantage of the opportunity
To further the point above, approximately 13,000 students applied to participate in the youth works summer employment program. Only approximately 9,000 were placed. That’s 4,000 students who didn’t get an opportunity. What many people don’t realize is that the summer is a horrible time for a lot of students. During the summer students no longer have access to their school which gave them somewhere safe to be, something productive to do, and it provided them with meals that they may not receive during the summer. As a result, some of those students may turn to squeegeeing this summer to provide for themselves. The next time you see a squeegee boy don’t be so quick to judge them negatively. They may very well be one of the students who couldn’t get placement for a summer job.
You may be wondering why these are so important to me. Well, just like a lot of these individuals, I could have easily been in their position. Even today, sometimes I’m a victim of this negative criticism because I’m a black young male in a wheelchair who works and lives in West Baltimore City. Simply put, I’m passionate about these topics because this is my reality and the reality of the children I serve.
Lesson of the blog
If you’re in a position to provide an opportunity to someone, DO IT. If you’re a recipient of an opportunity take full advantage of it because you may not get a second chance. Also remember that for each opportunity you receive there maybe someone else who missed out so be appreciative. If you’re feeling down on your luck think about my experience in New Orleans and create your own.