Unlocking potential in the less encouraged
Photo courtesy of BlatantNews.com on Flickr Some rights reserved
A friend stood in front of her class at an elementary school here in SF yesterday to discuss Martin Luther King, Jr. She stressed the importance of his message, his mission, and how much America has progressed in the last 40 years because of his great work and sacrifice.
She told her class, “Because of Dr. King America is no longer a segregated country. We have equal opportunity, equal rights, and…” She caught herself. She looked out at her class of 13 students. All of her students are Black or Hispanic, yet here she was claiming that segregation was over.
Her school is a low income, low resourced school, with over 75% of its students being economically disadvantaged. The staff are dedicated. The students are engaged, creative and energetic. But they don’t have equal opportunity. They don’t have equal rights.
Sure, the law claims to supply them with both. However, while not technically segregated based on race, they are segregated based on socio-economic status and this sets the (low) bar for future opportunity.
Recounting the story to me, my friend said, “I felt silly. I felt stupid. And I felt like a liar. Everyday we tell these kids that they can achieve anything they want, and we do what we can to make that true. But the infrastructure isn’t there. We tell them they can do it, and society tells them the opposite.”
Her words struck a chord. So I did what I always do when I’m curious: I gathered data.
Today, there are 6 Black CEOs in the Fortune 500. More than the 0 of fifteen years ago, but still only 6…1% of the total. Hispanics have 7 CEOs on that list. Asians make up another 7. And, well, we know who make up the other 480.
Looking at all US businesses doesn’t make things any better. I put together the table below which gives a breakout of US population and business stats from 2007 (the latest census info for businesses).
You can see Black-and-Hispanic-owned businesses are the most misaligned. So what’s up? They’re not less talented, less creative, or less energetic. What they are is less encouraged.
This thinking made me revisit a fantastic organization I hadn’t looked at in awhile, Management Leadership for Tomorrow (ML4T). ML4T tells future minority leaders “You can do it, and this is exactly how.” They provide tutoring, job skills, interview training and more to push that message home. The power in that is incredible.
Many times minorities aren’t able to see the glass ceiling, let alone break through it. Organizations like ML4T create awareness of opportunity and potential, and then they give minorities the tools and knowledge to achieve. It’s inspiring. These are the organizations that need our support and attention. These are the organizations that efforts like the upcoming Startup America need to get behind.
No doubt that America has come a long way thanks to the efforts of people like Dr. King. But we can’t forget that we still have a long way to go to truly end segregation and to create an equally opportunistic and representative society.
[UPDATE: Check out this Great informative and pointed post by Kalimah Priforce on the same topic - http://bit.ly/eoLLP9]