A Challenge for Our Times

Published sep. 19, 2016

Several months ago, Jobs for the Future hosted Voices for Opportunity and Economic Mobility, a summit where educators, researchers, funders, and young people shared their strategies for addressing the pressing challenges of mobility and inequity in our country. Even though these problems can sometimes seem intractable, the summit was a “Yes we can!” moment for me. Yes we can change the outcomes for men and boys of color, Arnold Chandler assured us. The Partnership on Moblity from Poverty assured us that poverty can actually be eliminated, and various speakers described the substantial promise of transforming communities. There were so many sessions with evidence that one’s status—as an immigrant, as someone with a criminal record, or as an adult without a high school diploma—does not determine (im)mobility. I left the summit hopeful and renewed: since we created inequality and perpetuate immobility, yes we can eliminate inequity and promote mobility.

But it’s been hard to stay hopeful through this summer of unarmed black men shot by police, police officers ambushed, riots, and gun violence making communities in Chicago a killing field. On top of all of this, it seems as though hate has become the national spirit. Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” has been on repeat in my mind and my heart.

But maybe the lesson is this: when cities are burning, literally and figuratively, it makes the work for equality and mobility more urgent. Education and good jobs are, in fact, the stuff of hope. In my work, then, there is hope. At a time when the country is trying to address the stain of mass incarceration, my colleagues and I get to help community colleges, community-based organizations, and prison and county jail systems create pathways from incarceration to credentials.

Still, I can’t escape the feeling that there is more to do, or at least different ways to do my work to make sure that the interventions that bring hope really do reach the most oppressed. At JFF, we have been talking about the challenges of the time and what it means for how we work together as colleagues and how we work in the field. I’ve made a personal commitment to:

  • acknowledge the agency and voice of people who are excluded and struggling for mobility
  • make sure solutions are grassroots as well as grass top
  • work closely with partners and advocates in the field who work with the most disenfranchised populations 
  • call out the the racism, classism, gender inequity, or whatever the ism that is holding up the barriers to mobility 

I know from these conversations we have been having internally and with our partners that we’ll grow stronger as an organization, and I will find more answers to the question of how I can work more intentionally for equity in the field. The urgency of these times can be daunting, but there are a lot of people still saying “Yes we can!” This gives me hope.

Editor’s note: This post is in response to the blog, “The Fierce Urgency of Now”, a blog that addresses the recent upsurge of brutal violence in the U.S., and enables JFF staff to share their pertinent thoughts, whether professional or personal, about these social injustices.