As I walked through the “Invest in Youth: Pathways to Success Boys and Men of Color (BMoC) Career Summit” at the Oakland Convention Center, I was filled with pride at seeing hundreds of young men of color, their faces full of excitement, and ready to take the first step towards a path to success. As I spoke to these young men, I sensed a strong feeling of readiness from the stories they shared. They told me what motivated them to wake up early; to be the first ones in the building and get in line. The Career Summit meant much more to them than just finding a job. These young men were ready for real opportunity, a chance to open the doors to positive life-changing circumstances and careers. They were making plans to become self-sufficient and contribute to their families and communities.
The Summit: A Day of Transformative Impact
When LeadersUp embraced the challenge alongside My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, Bay Area Council, Urban Strategies Council, PolicyLink and other cross-sectoral partners to implement the Summit in less than two months, we knew we could not produce just another job fair. We had to seize the opportunity to generate a transformative experience. This understanding was at the core of our planning process and inspired us to help connect more than 300 full-time career opportunities to young adults between the ages of 18–29. Although the Summit focused on overcoming the barriers to employment that disproportionately affect young men of color, it was also open to the entire Bay Area community.
Civil rights leader and inclusive economics champion Whitney M. Young Jr. once said, “It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.”
Before the Summit, LeadersUp and Bay Area partners had determined that in order to succeed, young adults first needed to be equipped with career readiness skills. To achieve this goal, LeadersUp partnered with community organizations, and hosted “Winning in the Workplace Labs” in Berkeley, East Palo Alto, Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco, San Jose, and Vallejo. The labs served as pre-summit trainings by offering workshops for resume construction, mock interviews, and professional development. This helped to prepare and allowed for pre-scheduling of hundreds of young adults for on-the-spot interviews with employers. Several young men who went through our labs were offered multiple jobs. Some workshop participants walked out with seven job offers!
Hiring managers came in with open minds, ready to interview every single job-seeking attendee. Employer partners included AT&T, Auto Warehouse, Blue Apron, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Humphry Slocombe, Levi’s Stadium, Macy’s, Marriott Hotels & Resorts, Noah’s Bagels, Palecek, Red Lobster, San Francisco Giants, Sprint, Starbucks, Target, United Airlines, and Verizon. As young adults were interviewed, employers were able to see the full potential and value that each one could bring to their workforce. By being part of the growing diverse talent pool representative of the communities they operate in, companies realized they could stay ahead of their own talent needs.
The ability to interview on-the-spot was the primary draw for most attendees but not the sole reason hundreds of young adults showed up. Access to community resources and insights from guest speakers kept the convention center alive with energy as participants interacted and engaged with one another in the following workshops:
- Leadership Development through MENtorship: Successful men of color led a personal discussion on how to identify a mentor.
- Hip-Hop Development: Young adults learned about the creative process with advice from local DJ and American hip-hop artist Trackademicks.
- Dress for Success: Jareem Gunter, author of “The Man Book,” hosted a live styling session and shared tips on how to dress for any occasion.
- Macy’s Tie Bar: With hundreds of donated ties to choose from, young men received free ties and tutorials on the proper way to tie a tie.
- Technology and Social Media: Snapchat experts led a best strategies session on how to produce professional social media profiles.
- Entrepreneurship: Kalimah Priforce, CEO of Qeyno Labs, offered advice on what it takes to be an entrepreneur. He shared his experiences growing up in a Brooklyn group home and the transformational life events that sparked his passion for launching mission-driven tech startups.
Special guests also dropped by the event to show their support and motivate attendees. Marshawn Lynch, an Oakland native and former NFL player, spoke with young men and congratulated them as they walked out of job interviews. John King Jr., U.S. Secretary of Education, and Michael Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of Cabinet Affairs for My Brother’s Keeper at the White House also stopped by to speak directly with young men to discuss removing the barriers to opportunity in Oakland and Bay Area.
Strengthening the Path to Success in the Bay Area
The Summit is also testament to the power of public-private partnerships to make a scalable impact on closing the talent-divide. We thank the city of Oakland for wholeheartedly welcoming us in this ambitious initiative. We know that truly sustainable change does not happen in one event. LeadersUp builds through incremental acts and an unwavering focus on closing the talent divide in California and across the nation. With our working partners: My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, Bay Area Council, PolicyLink, and the Urban Strategies Council, we were able to create a larger impact by successfully reaching an “unreachable population of young adults” from Berkeley, East Palo Alto, Oakland, Richmond, San Jose, Vallejo, and the entire Bay Area.
Every young man who secured a job opportunity is eager to work, eager to thrive in the corporate world, and eager to give back to his community in order to start a chain of positive influence for the next generation. Our talent development partners made this possible. The Summit was just the beginning. LeadersUp is committed to supporting every young man who attended the Summit by expanding our team of partners who collaboratively helped make the Boys and Men of Color Career Summit a successful event. We will work tirelessly until every young man reaches their path to success.