As a Chicago resident, you can become numb to the dangers of urban living that are plastered across the headlines. According to the Chicago Tribune, there were 4,368 shootings in Chicago in 2016. Touched by this violence personally, in November, I was shocked by a 5:00 a.m. phone call from my daughter in college in Virginia about the murder of her senior year high school prom date, Adama Moye, that previous evening in Chicago.

Adama had returned to Chicago from a downstate university to finish his college training. When killed, he was completing a culinary training program and striving to join his father in France upon graduation. Four years prior, this young man stood in my living room in a tuxedo with his mother to safely escort my daughter for the evening. The personal knowledge of this young man and the rampant Chicago violence foster a chilling shock as I think about the youth we are encouraging to start navigating our workforce pipeline.

One would hope that this wave of violence would inspire those most affected to pursue opportunities which would either empower them to invest in their communities or move to areas in which they are not navigating daily minefields. However, in an attempt to feel some element of control in an erratic environment, the reaction for most parents and families is to draw their young in closer and to mandate them to travel along clearly defined paths which are familiar and tested. This fall, I assisted two Black girls visiting for a semester from London to settle into our city. Their mothers were concerned about them taking this opportunity to study theater hands-on in America because of the Chicago violence that they were hearing about across the world. With the neighborhood in which they found affordable housing riddled with crime, their parents were fearful and encouraged them to request a refund and return home. If my children were in the same situation, I would likely be considering the same.

This newsletter readership is bonded with the understanding that we have a diversity challenge in our workforce pipeline throughout Chicago. That said, how many of us have been told in our varied life paths, If you don’t do something different you will keep getting the same results? Well, if parents play a role in our diversity challenges, and if their children navigate similar life and career paths as their parents, what should we assume will be the result?

I have organized career exploration opportunities for youth in every community throughout the city. Within that work, I encouraged students and their parents to allow them to step foot out of their few block radius nest. Their immediate communities typically had limited industries or professional mentors reflected. I encouraged them to utilize one of the world’s premier public transportation systems to explore our microcosm of the world and pursue their dreams.

According to 2011 data released by the Chicago Police Department, over 94% of Chicago murder victims were youth of color (African-American and Hispanic). How can I continue to argue with the same fervor that the students should pursue these opportunities when they are constantly attending school counseling sessions and candlelight vigils for innocent peers who looked just like them who have been senselessly gunned down? Yet, I must argue this if we are implementing a strategy to escape this cycle of violence.

We cannot allow the violence to sequester youth of color in hazy bubbles of imaginary safety. The result will be a pool of high school graduates with inadequate career or post-secondary exposure and an inadequate number of experiences outside of their everyday environment. For individual workforce initiatives geared toward improving long-term diversity goals to be successful, not only will we have to help educate students and parents on the benefits of opportunities outside of their neighborhoods, but we will also need to prioritize the safe commute of youth, the equitable recruitment of youth, and the identification of any other actual or perceived obstacles as vital aspects of the project’s work stream.

Written by: Maji Tharpe

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