Invest in youth now or pay later

| August 15, 2012

"We need to invest now in youth who can be positively impacted so we do not have to pay later."

As I read Mary Anna Towler's recent article "Facing Facts on Violence" (Urban Journal, July 18), I reflected on how, as a community, we really must openly address and discuss Rochester's violence. As executive director of Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection in Rochester, I have the privilege of serving thousands of youth and their families. Our program enrolls urban students in Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo, including many young African-American males who need year-round support and the opportunity to change their circumstances.

For our Rochester HW-SC class of 2012, we had 114 black males graduate. By the time these graduates reach age 30, the community will have achieved an estimated $2.7 million in savings from increased wages and earning power, decreased reliance on social services, housing assistance, food stamps, and other forms of public assistance, and costs associated with incarceration, as documented in a ROI report by the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency. 

Of these 114 graduates, 21 are residents of the violent crime area in the inner city referred to as the Crescent. Of our 21 graduates, 18 of these students from the Crescent are working in year-round job opportunities through our employment partners, and most have been at their jobs for at least 17 months. Since January of this year, these employed students from the Crescent have generated more than $80,000 in real wages that they bring to the Rochester community, and they are projected to contribute $125,000 by year's end.

These hard-hitting numbers represent the simple fact that these young black males in the Crescent are engaged in their community and are working hard to break the cycle of violence. As a community, we need to invest now in youth who can be positively impacted so we do not have to pay later.

The recently state-funded NY Youth Works Program is being deployed in Buffalo, Syracuse, Utica, and Rochester. Targeting youth ages 16 to 24 in and out of school, it provides them with job-readiness training, career preparation, certification, and employment with businesses that are certified and are participating in the program. In fact, HW-SC is a recipient of three recent NY Youth Works Program grants and will utilize the funding to expand job-readiness training to current HW-SC students and other city youth, helping them to acquire the skills necessary to find a decent job.

This is just one of several initiatives being carried out to stimulate job growth and opportunities for urban youth; however, additional resources are needed to create more opportunities for disconnected youth in our community.

I agree with Towler's sentiments about how we can't have an honest and frank conversation until we admit that male black-on-black crime is an epidemic. The root of these crimes is well documented, stemming from a variety of societal factors, including poverty, homelessness, joblessness, and a negative self-image. A 2007 report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that 8,000 to 9,000 African Americans are murdered annually in the US, and even more sobering is the fact that 93 percent of these murders are perpetrated by other African Americans.

The key to breaking this cycle starts with education. Individuals with an education are less likely to engage in criminal activities that lead to homicide and incarceration, and are more likely to gain sustained employment, contributing to our society through wages and taxes. Educated individuals typically have higher earning power and control over their earnings, helping to break the vicious cycle of poverty that so many of our young black males are trapped in. Ronald Reagan once said that "the best social program is a job." Having a caring mentor or adult in the lives of our city's youth, coupled with basic job-readiness training and opportunities, can help many of our young black males use education and employment as a means to make it out of a culture of violence, despair, and hopelessness.

Roderick Green is executive director of the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection. 

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