Ask any successful person how they made it. If they’re being honest they’ll tell you that, in addition to hard work and perseverance, they got a lot of help from a lot of people. None of us climbs very high unless those who came before us reinforce the ladder on the way up.
I’ve worked hard my whole life. But I wouldn’t be Secretary of Labor without support from various mentors, bosses and friends over the years. Especially as a kid who lost his father when he was 12, I relied on the guidance and so many other adults in our community.
I believe deeply in paying that forward, making sure others benefit from whatever knowledge and wisdom I’ve acquired. It’s the foundation for the concept of being “my brother’s keeper”.
President Obama believes in this too. And through his My Brother’s Keeper initiative, we are putting those principles into practice on a grand scale, making sure young men of color get the support they need to succeed. Far too many of them are running out of hope, caught in a cycle of poverty, crime and incarceration. They’re not running into closed doors — they don’t see any doors at all.
As Labor Secretary, I want to make sure those doors exist for these young men of color. Nothing opens more doors than an education and training to land a good job. Through our Job Corps and YouthBuild programs, we’re providing an alternative education to young people who’ve struggled in school, helping them achieve their high school diploma or equivalent while learning career skills that will prepare them for solid careers.
Getting caught up in the criminal and juvenile justice system adds another set of barriers. So, we’ve made millions of dollars available this year this to tear down those barriers. In June, we awarded $10 million to connect local and county jails to the workforce system. That way, as people transition out of jail, they have a head start on getting the job-ready skills they need to reintegrate into their communities. We also recently awarded $59 million to non-profit groups across the country to offer employment services to people already released.
Recent strife following police-involved deaths of young black men has made it clearer than ever that huge opportunity gaps are tearing at our national fabric. All of us have a responsibility to fix those problems, and here at the Labor Department we’re doing our part. In the aftermath of Ferguson, we invested $5 million to help the St. Louis community develop more integrated employment services for young men to receive training for jobs in advanced manufacturing, healthcare, information technology and other high-demand fields. We’ve scaled this work in several other cities around the country, including Baltimore, Detroit, and Charleston.
We still have huge challenges ahead. When I was in Baltimore several weeks ago, a teenage girl told me she desperately wants to succeed academically so she can build a brighter future for herself. But she admitted to me that she’s very often late for school – because, you see, it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep and wake up on time with the sounds of gunfire throughout her neighborhood.
But I’m optimistic, because that girl is determined to succeed. I’m optimistic because most Americans want her to. I’m optimistic because I believe most Americans at their core embrace the principles behind My Brother’s Keeper – the idea that we look out for everyone and write off no one. This isn’t just the morally decent thing to do; it’s the only smart approach to keeping our nation strong. We don’t have any human capital to waste – not a person to spare – in America.