Under-Represented Youth and the Social Organization

iUrban Teen and the White House Celebration of My Brother’s Keeper Anniversary

“I'm so proud of iUrban Teen and other ‘career accelerators’ for underrepresented youth. We're guiding the next talent pipeline and developing great citizens. What an honor to be at the White House for the third time!" – Deena Pierott, iUrban Teen founder and White House Champion of Change for Technology Inclusion

In 2011, I worked with a few others on a generational diversity study and, through that, was invited to be a part of the White House Champions of Change program. A few months after adding the event to my LinkedIn profile, Deena Pierott, founder of iUrban Teen, reached out; and so began an amazing partnership.

iUrban Teen is a rapidly expanding program focused on bringing STEM+C+A education to youth of color ages 13 to 18. These kids receive hands-on exposure to a variety of careers that enable them to step outside their current boundaries and experience the world first hand. The program is focused on serving African American, Latino and Native American males; however, it is inclusive of all youth who fall within the Non-Traditional STEM Learners category.  iUrban Teen programs are now in Washington, Oregon, California, Texas and launching in New York in 2016. Deena Pierott emphasizes the importance of building a foundational program to help these kids develop their talent and to open doors for them. 

In late February 2016, representatives from amongst more than 250 communities across the country gathered at the White House to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the President’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) task force. Deena was invited to be part of the My Brother’s Keeper celebration; and I was honored that she invited me to join her.  iUrban Teen is a perfect example of a community-based program targeted at one of the My Brother’s Keeper milestones:  graduating high school ready for college and career.

The gathering offered a deep look into some of the challenges for low-income families—in particular how these challenges affect boys and young men of color, as well as an overview of the many incredible and comprehensive programs available to assist them. As we know, the United States faces a STEM labor shortage, and this group offers an opportunity to help close that gap.

By age three, children from low-income families are hearing 30 million fewer words than those from higher-income families. This “word gap” is just one of the focus areas where low income kids can be better served.

Personally, what I took away from spending an amazing day at the White House was an awareness of the great work that so many people across the country are doing to help others. From community programs to introduce inner city youth to technology, to those helping those previously incarcerated re-enter society, there are people and programs doing amazing work in this country. It made me realize that we need to consider these people, these programs as we recruit for internships, training programs, and hiring. Enterprises and small businesses across the country need to consider ways to partner with programs like iUrban Teen and those featured in February’s My Brother’s Keeper celebration to build diverse and creative organizations.

There is such a tremendous opportunity for all of us here.  I came away from the time at the White House realizing how many people across the country and around the world are working hard for positive change in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Muhammad Ali’s quote seems to capture this well:

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

What does this mean for 21st century organizations and HR Professionals?

  • Ensure your organization is involved in the community and engaged with STEM and career accelerators.
  • Understand the importance of mentoring.  MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership is an organization that was represented at the MBK Event.
  • Familiarize yourself with the many federal, state and local programs, and work with them on your hiring qualifications.
  • Recruit from alternative sources.
  • Consider high school and “second chance” internships.
  • Spotlight employees in your organizations who are making a difference.

This is an important time in the history of our country. Globalization, the rise of technology, shifting economies and a growing income gap bring great challenges to our communities and our country. It’s important for organizations in both the public and private sector to play a role in the development of our young people, and to engage with programs like iUrban Teen and others under the MBK umbrella to help build a strong pipeline of qualified workers to help ensure a bright future for all of us.

As we approach a new global workplace culture, we have to realize that we have latent talent in our midst. We need to partner with federal, state, and local programs to discover, engage, retrain, and recruit to build strong organizations. We need to question the uniformity and homogeneity of our organizations and develop strong relationships to build a talent pipeline that sets us up for success.  The My Brother’s Keeper event really opened my eyes to the unexplored opportunities that are right here in my own backyard – and the depth, breadth, range, and variety of programs that are building for our future.

Last year, in early August, Deena and I worked together to hold a successful iUrban Teen Day, introducing teens from Portland and Seattle to technology and related careers. We are looking for guest speakers to participate either in person or via Skype. If you are interested, please get in touch with Deena and Rosss.


Additional Reading

iUrban Teen

My Brother's Keeper

Bridging the Word Gap


MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership

Second Chance Pell



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