By Erik Sakamoto, Youth Radio’s Chief Operating Officer

“Young people are behind a lot of the violence where I live, but who are their role models? I haven’t met a kid yet who’s said, ‘My dad sat me down and guided me through life.’ I’ve just never heard that,” says Joshua Clayton in his radio commentary “There Are No Children In Oakland.”Joshua Clayton, a reporter at Youth Radio, was in his mid-teens when I first met him. He has, in many ways, grown up through the program, starting in our introductory classes and advancing into our fellowship program, which on-ramps youth into the digital media and technology workforce. In Joshua’s radio commentary, “There Are No Children in Oakland,” he candidly brings to light the many struggles that face young men of color growing up in our city. Joshua’s story has national relevance. This week it is being recognized by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated as a finalist for one of their national awards.Some of the issues Joshua raises in his piece — pervasive violence and a lack of mentorship — are among themes that were explored at an important convening in Oakland last week called “A Gathering of Leaders.” The main goal of the event is to bring together leaders in the movement to create a “future in which success for boys and men of color is the norm.”

Youth Radio played a prominent role in the conference, leading a panel today on how technology interventions can play a key role in launching young men of color into the workforce.

Men of color in this country still face significant barriers to employment that start at an early age. For African-American youth between 16 and 19, unemployment rates are 38 percent, compared to 17.5 percent for whites of the same age. According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, sustained unemployment at a young age can significantly influence earning power later in life.

In media and tech in particular, people of color, both male and female, are severely underrepresented. While non-whites comprise around 37 percent of the U.S. population, journalists who are minorities only make up 12.37 percent of newsroom staff. The tech field is worse. Google recently revealed that Latinos and African-Americans comprise only three and two percent of their employees, respectively.

As leaders in a movement working with incredibly talented young people who have been repeatedly failed by the very institutions that are designed to support them, we owe it to these men of color to change our system and help them reach their full potential. We should listen to the voices of young men like Joshua, and let them be a call to action.

In particular, one thing we’ve learned at Youth Radio, as part of a network of community based practitioners, is that preparing these young men for workforce–and starting early—is critical to improving their outcomes across the board. But it takes collaboration across sectors.

Together, we need to advocate for inclusiveness, especially in growth industries. We need to challenge the thinking that the tech sector is the ultimate meritocracy, particularly when that system results in diversity numbers like Google’s. And we need to acknowledge the depth of the talent pool that is here in the Bay Area, claiming the fruits of the thriving tech economy for all Bay Area residents.

Youth Radio and others in the CBO community are re-developing the design of youth programming to include vital tech skills, changing our expectations of job training, and thinking beyond traditional vocational education and training pathways. Technology is second nature for the millennial generation. We need to tap into those innate skills in young men like Joshua as their early adoption practices have already proven to be of interest to leading tech companies.

We need buy-in from all sectors on these pathways to inclusion. This movement cannot consist solely of siloed nonprofit practitioners, or labor organizations, or businesses. We must connect all these drops into one larger wave.

As someone who has been working in the educational system for many years, I know one person or organization can make a positive difference in a young person’s life. I also know that sometimes that one person or program is not enough. What we need now is just what the “A Gathering of Leaders” conference is about. We need a movement so that success is the expectation.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.
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