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By Erik Sakamoto
Joshua Clayton, a reporter at Youth Radio, was in his mid teens when I first met him. He has, in many ways, grown up through the program, starting in our introductory classes and advancing into our fellowship program, which gives youth entry into the digital media and technology workforce. In Clayton’s radio commentary, “There Are No Children in Oakland,” he candidly brings to light the many struggles that face young men of color growing up in our city. Clayton’s story has national relevance. It has been recognized by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated for one of its national awards.
Some of the issues Clayton raises in his piece — pervasive violence and a lack of mentorship — are among themes explored at an important convening in Oakland this week called A Gathering of Leaders. The goal of the event was to bring together leaders in the movement to create a “future in which success for boys and men of color is the norm.”
Youth Radio led a conference panel on how technology interventions can play a key role in launching young men of color into the workforce. Men of color still face significant barriers to employment that start at an early age. For youth between 16-19, African American unemployment rates are 39 percent, compared to 20 percent for whites.
As leaders in a movement working with young people who have been repeatedly failed by the very institutions designed to support them, we owe it to men of color like Clayton to change our system and help them reach their full potential.
But it takes collaboration.
Together, we need to advocate for inclusivity, especially in growth industries. Youth Radio and other community-based practitioners are re-developing the design of youth programming to include vital tech skills, changing our expectations of job training, and thinking beyond traditional vocational education pathways. Technology is second nature for the millennial generation. We need to tap into those skills in young men like Clayton as their early adoption practices have already proven to be of interest to tech companies.
We need buy-in from all sectors on these pathways to inclusion. This movement cannot consist solely of siloed nonprofits or labor organizations or businesses. We must connect these drops into a larger wave.
As someone who has been working in the educational system for many years, I know one person or one organization can make a positive difference in a young person’s life. But I also know that sometimes that one person or program is not enough. What we need now is just what the A Gathering of Leaders conference was about. We need a movement so that success is the expectation.
Erik Sakamoto is the chief operating officer at Youth Radio, an award-winning media company based in Oakland.