To the Editor:
I am a fan of the Huffington Post, but your article "Koch High: How the Koch Brothers Are Buying Their Way Into the Minds of Public School Students," by Christina Wilkie and Joy Resmovits, disappointed me with its approach of looking at a program, Youth Entrepreneurs, through a political lens. That myopia, which in this case even ignored the statements of the program participants themselves about the value they have found in the program, endangers the future of our youth, and needs to stop. I am hopeful that we can find common ground for a discussion about how to prepare our youth for achieving their full potential. Because, if we put them in an "all or nothing" situation, many will end up with the latter.
I know the Youth Entrepreneurs program very well. My firm has worked with Georgia-Pacific for more than 20 years and with Koch Industries since it purchased GP. GP has funded the Youth Entrepreneurs Georgia program since 2005 (it was known as Youth Entrepreneurs -- Atlanta then). My work with Liz Koch, the chair of YEGeorgia, who had a personal hand in establishing the program in Atlanta, was very similar to my work with Mrs. Billye Aaron when she was vice president of UNCF, and Coretta Scott King, throughout the 1980s and 90s. My experience showed them all as strong and smart women fully committed to the outcomes of their causes. In the case of Youth Entrepreneurs, I have personally witnessed the life-changing impact on a youth who attends an inner-city school, and realizes that they have the ability and opportunity to start their own business and to fulfill their dreams. The Youth Entrepreneurs program provides not only that hope, but also equips the participants with the knowledge, confidence, and often resources (e.g., scholarship money or venture capital).
I also know from personal experience how vital entrepreneurship is to the African American community. In my lifetime, which now exceeds 50 years, I have witnessed in my family the values, understanding, and obligations that are a product of being a small business owner. In the Black community, that used to be a source of pride as well as mobility, or at the least, making a decent life for your family. That position has since evolved into "entrepreneurship." It is no less valuable today, if not more so.
Small business ownership and principled entrepreneurship have created an understanding and practiced discipline for my family and myself that shaped our world view. It has pained me to watch consistent double-digit unemployment for African Americans over the last five decades. I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and have watched, for whatever reason, Black unemployment remain a national disgrace. Both Democrats and Republicans talk about "jobs" like they will magically appear. For African Americans, the answer is creating more Black entrepreneurs, who will create jobs in our communities and inspire others to do as well.
Instead of criticizing the Youth Entrepreneurs program and suggesting some sinister and unfounded plot by Charles Koch, we should be duplicating these programs and making them available to more youth. The question your reporters should be asking is "what are we doing to prepare our youth - all our youth - to reach their full potential?" I suggest that we allow the students who have gone through the Youth Entrepreneurs program to tell their stories, many of which are captured in this video channel, without the "politics" so that we can find common-ground solutions that benefit our youth.
Kent Matlock is founder, chairman and CEO of Matlock Advertising and Public Relations, an independent, minority-owned, full-service marketing and communications agency with offices in Atlanta and New York City.