New Entrepreneurship Initiative Aims To Address The Black Male Jobless Rate

05/20/2015 06:09 pm ET | Updated May 21, 2015
U.S. Black Chambers/Facebook

Black men in the U.S. have been described as being stuck in a "permanent recession,” with unemployment rates consistently higher than those of other demographic groups. But an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., is working to tackle the problem head-on.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Black Chambers, a nonprofit association of various chambers of commerce, launched the Young Black Male Entrepreneur Institute, an endeavor meant to address the employment gap among black men and help inspire and support new leadership on the issue.

The institute, according to its description, will provide both experienced and novice millennial black male entrepreneurs with a 16-week program featuring “a curricula led by subject matter experts from the framework of our nation’s most competitive business institutions. The entrepreneurs will also receive business development counseling from a cadre of diverse business leaders with a culminating experience that allows cohort members to pitch to a selection of CEOs and investors from the region.”

The group celebrated its first cohort of participants at an event at the City Club in Washington last month.

In an interview this week with NewsOne, Howard R. Jean, the institute’s chief engineer and an education entrepreneur, said the connection between mentors and mentees is key to the initiative’s model.

“We know that having a cohort and having people around you to support you is great, but also having that business savvy, that curricula and the expertise of senior leaders, is going to help us propel these guys to higher heights and accelerate their growth,” Jean said.

Even as national unemployment has trended downward since the height of the Great Recession, the unemployment rate among black men has remained robust. In April, black male unemployment dipped below 10 percent for just the first time in seven years.

As the Pew Research Center has reported, ever since the government started tracking joblessness by race in 1954, black Americans have consistently experienced an unemployment rate at least double that of their white counterparts. And as Al Jazeera noted last year, black men generally fare worse in the job market than black women.

The disparity appears to hold up regardless of education levels. According to a report released last year by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, black college graduates were generally twice as likely to be unemployed in 2013 as their white peers. The same study reported that a white man with a recent criminal history was more likely to receive a follow-up call after a job interview than a black man with no criminal record and an otherwise identical resume.

According to The Root, Jean and Keith Benjamin, the institute’s chief organizer and connector, hope eventually to expand the program on a national scale. Such growth, they say, could have a big effect on both the black community and the business world.

“The implications on economic development and workforce development will provide young black males with leverage and influence, which in turn will allow them to serve as business leaders in various sectors,” Jean told The Root.

Watch a video from the initiative's April launch event:

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