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The Critical Importance of Civil Rights Activism and Educational Collaboration

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The month of May marked the 51st consecutive month of private sector job growth in the United States. Despite this fact, Black Americans are still twice as likely to be unemployed when compared to their White counterparts and Hispanic Americans lag behind as well. There is one particular sector that has a glut of jobs that are currently going unfilled and projected job growth that will continue to escalate over the next decade. This sector is made up of jobs that require a background in science, technology, engineering and mathematics also known as (S.T.E.M.).

The jobs in this arena are so plentiful that employers have submitted H-1B visa applications in droves to bring in workers from foreign countries to fill open positions because there aren't enough "qualified Americans" to fill the jobs. 90 percent of those applications are for high skill S.T.E.M. jobs. Given this situation, civil organizations, educational advocacy groups and other entities that operate in the economic and educational sectors might do well to identify the companies in their areas that are applying for large numbers of H-1B visas. These companies should be targeted for the development of partnerships with workforce development agencies, colleges and universities to train members of the community for those jobs. A focus on economic and educational activism in the area of S.T.E.M. jobs is severely needed in communities that are plagued by debilitating unemployment and underemployment.

Adam Clayton Powell led economic boycotts in New York City in the 1940s that caused the city's bus company to hire hundreds of Blacks that had previously been locked out of those employment opportunities. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SCLC) Operation Breadbasket put pressure on the then white business establishment during the 1960s and 1970s through selective buying campaigns to hire minorities and to do business with minority contractors.

In 2014, strategies and tactics may need to be updated but the required means for change is the same -- pressure. Pressure must be placed on companies that employ large numbers of S.T.E.M. workers to provide avenues of training and employment to the long-term unemployed, underrepresented minorities and residents of low-income communities. Pressure must be applied to our educational institutions, both at the K-12 and post-secondary level, to more closely align their curriculum and instructional techniques to match the quickly evolving needs of sectors where great job growth is predicted. Pressure must also be placed on politicians to recruit S.T.E.M. employers to urban communities and to appropriate adequate resources to ensure that residents are ready to enter the doors of opportunity after they have been opened as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once asserted.

Below are four initial strategies that we can focus on to improve the process of guiding young people towards the maximization of their academic potential, gainful employment and eventual entrepreneurship that will bring newly created employment opportunities back to their communities:

1. Scale up successful models. There are a number of successful models that are enhancing and fortifying the career pipeline such as the "Education Effect" partnership between Florida International University and Miami-Dade County Public Schools. These models should be expanded and replicated. Many of the successful models involve high levels of resources and personnel so the process of scaling these models up with potentially fewer resources and fewer people to implement programming while still maintaining the integrity of the model can be a challenge.

2. Create new institutional partnerships and/or bolster existing ones. This involves linking community colleges, school districts, institutions of higher education and the private sector on behalf of students. Some strategies for college and university engagement with school districts that can potentially be put in place are the development of peer to peer scenarios with college students working with middle and high school students from surrounding neighborhoods. We also need to encourage colleges and universities to institutionalize service learning. They can do things like provide ACT/SAT prep, help with staffing, promote Advanced Placement (AP) classes and help students to be college ready. An additional step for higher education institutions is to leverage resources and institutional capacity to improve the level of academic preparation at majority low income and minority schools. There are many schools that don't even have access to courses like Algebra II, Calculus and Statistics.

3. Provide students with exposure to the world of work and get them on university campuses for the purpose of having college and career experiences early. Early and consistent engagement of middle and high school student the world of work could include classroom speakers from S.T.E.M. employers; field level trips to employers in S.T.E.M. industries and occupations; job shadowing opportunities; attendance at conferences for trade associations; and internships with S.T.E.M. employers.

4. Focus on increasing the knowledge of students and families about the college-going process, academic preparation and financial resources. This entails both highlighting the value of higher education and clearly laying out the nuts and bolts of what it takes to attain it. This can be accomplished through a variety of different mechanisms and adaptive techniques that fit institutional resources to the specific needs of a locality as opposed to cookie cutter, top down models.

These are just a few ways that communities can begin to help themselves build a strong career pipeline into emerging industries with a limited financial burden on taxpayers in a tight fiscal environment. Ultimately, civil rights activism complemented by innovative institutional partnerships that bring entities together to leverage resources is what is needed because we can all accomplish more working together than the best of us can accomplish alone.

Marcus Bright, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Education for a Better America and an Adjunct Professor in the School of Public Administration at Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University.