On July 23rd we at Year Up launched a book, A Year Up (now a New York Times best seller), which shares some of the powerful transformations we’ve seen take place when urban young adults gain access to opportunity. We launched this book intending to spark discussion about and solutions to the Opportunity Divide, and the response I’ve seen during the past two weeks has inspired tremendous optimism in our ability to resolve this crisis as a nation.
Changing the game for our young adults, for our economy, and for our country as a whole will require a movement powered by Americans from all corners. At book signings, on Facebook, and at the Year Up graduations (which are taking place across the country this week), I am seeing this movement grow and take shape. In the room are many people who represent their businesses, many of which are Fortune 500 companies already relying on Year Up interns as a source of talent, interested in learning how they can do more to support access to opportunity for young adults. In the same room are people working at alternative schools, foster youth programs, and many other organizations dedicated to improving the lives of those born on the wrong side of the Opportunity Divide. Also present, of course, are Year Up students and alumni, who are becoming leaders of this movement and who show us every day what is possible when talented young adults have the skills, experience, and support they need to reach their full potential – no matter what their backgrounds.
All of these people are expressing the same conviction: that greater access to opportunity is needed for our urban young adults to build careers and become economically self-sufficient. What is especially striking is that they are expressing this conviction together, along with an interest in taking action.
At one Year Up graduation in Washington, DC, I met Scott Mills, President and COO of BET, who joined a large immigrant family from Cameroon in the room to support their oldest daughter, Christabel, graduating from the program that day. Christabel told me, “I didn’t want to be locked out of this technology world. I wanted to figure it out; I needed access.” Think how many more young adults can gain that access with the combined efforts of our business, community, and government leaders.
Bringing these leaders together is critical. Government alone is not going to solve this problem, and without action from the private sector, we will see the Opportunity Divide grow at an even more alarming rate – and we already have 6.7 million disconnected young adults in this country. These same young adults could be, and are becoming, a new source of talent for American companies, powering our economy and propelling our country into a new wave of prosperity. Seeing the uniting of the business and community forces this week and the enthusiastic support of our young adults they share, I’m convinced that these leaders see in this not just an American challenge, but an American opportunity. I am confident that, united, we can take this opportunity and renew the promise of the American Dream.