Last year, the San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) launched OpportunitySD, a movement to dramatically reduce the number of opportunity youth (young adults ages 16-24 who are neither in school nor working) in the region. In March of this year, SDWP’s opportunity youth research with Measure of America revealed that San Diego County had the largest Black-White disconnection disparity of any big city in the nation in 2016, the most recent year for which data are available. And our overall black youth disconnection rate—26.4 percent—was the second highest in the nation, second only to the St. Louis region. We’re ranked first and second on metrics that measure how many of our Black youth are struggling and indicate how badly we are failing them in the critical passage to adulthood. Something needs to change.
SDWP’s partners at San Diego Unified, the San Diego Community College District, UCSD CREATE and United Way of San Diego see similarly troubling indicators for Black youth. When the partners met along with stakeholders to discuss the data, they concluded that one-size-fits-all programs are not working for Black youth. They decided to test targeted interventions.
As a result of these deliberations, the partners took the first step on May 29 by convening San Diego County’s first-ever African American Achievement Summit. More than 750 high school students were bussed to City College from schools around San Diego Unified, where they were met by dozens of African American community leaders and young adult near-peer mentors.
The purposes of the summit were to connect African America students to resources to support their post-high school ambitions and to African Americans mentors, and equip youth with tools and strategies to craft their own personal pathway through post-secondary education and into the workforce. Aptly themed “Be Your Story,” the event was emceed by Movement BE founder Nate Howard, who urged young adults to “tell their story before someone else tells it for them.”
After an inspiring morning rally, students were divided into small teams to meet and learn from their mentors, who represented a powerhouse mix of African American educators, counselors, business people, City and County officials, and nonprofit leaders. Workshops that followed included pragmatic community college registration and financial aid support as well as stress management, wellness services and financial literacy.
Throughout the day, students were able to visit various resource fair vendors and enjoy live music and entertainment featuring a student drumline/band performance and dance/step show.
The responses from students were overwhelmingly positive. The organizing committee for the summit plans to reconvene shortly to set next steps. One powerful event is a good first step, but to reduce San Diego’s black disconnection rate permanently, massive system changes are needed.
To stay up to date on the Opportunity SD initiative, visit OpportunitySD.org.