Community collaboration can help close opportunity gaps for young people

Oct 24, 2022

When it comes to economic mobility for young people, their neighborhood and the education it affords are important, but not as important as their social network. A new study from economist Raj Chetty shows who one interacts with while growing up is more important than where one grows up. 

The data reflects that relationships among children from different socioeconomic groups are very strongly related to a young person’s chances of rising out of poverty. The findings also show that neighborhoods — along with high schools and colleges — are critical places for fostering meaningful connections among diverse groups.

We know that learning does not stop nor begin in the classroom, and we cannot expect traditional means of education alone to advance economic mobility for those who are under-resourced. How we approach supporting young people must evolve, too, in order to help them succeed in our ever-changing world.

In DC, there is both a tremendous need and a tremendous opportunity to support young people in new ways, and the best way to bridge the documented gaps that exist is through community collaboration.

According to the DC Council Office of Racial Equity, Black residents are five times more likely to have incomes below the federal poverty level than are white residents. The unemployment rate for Black residents is also approximately five times higher than the rate for white residents. Similarly, Black residents are “more likely to hold jobs that require manual labor, pay lower wages, and have fewer benefits such as health insurance, paid leave, and retirement plans,” the office says in its “DC Racial Equity Profile for Economic Outcomes” report on its website. 

According to recent data, approximately 90% of DC children living in poverty are Black. In the District, concentrated income inequality and poverty remain issues for Black and Brown families. 

We know that when one’s social capital is expanded through community connections, and when one receives support for professional goals, the possibilities for economic advancement are nearly endless. Conversely, what are the implications for those who are most under-resourced?

In the Washington area, greater community collaboration can help bridge the gap for youth who don’t have access to organic social connections and support for their professional endeavors.

That’s why we at Spark the Journey, a DC-based nonprofit that works with local youth, recently formed the Talent for Tomorrow Alliance with Year Up, Per ScholasGenesys Works and New Futures. The goal of this collaborative effort is to bring together resources that invest in young people’s higher education and career journeys, and ultimately help close racial, income and opportunity gaps. This idea is also central to the creation of Spark the Journey (formerly known as Capital Partners for Education).  

Each organization brings something different to the table. The collaboration will provide a unique mix of workforce training, college readiness training, mentorship, scholarship support, and internships. While our initiative is just starting, the alliance has already expanded employment outcomes for young people. In the years to come, we’re aiming to serve thousands of DC youth by helping them widen their circle of interactions.

Nonprofit organizations often fill the gaps where our systems and social programs fall short. The old adage that “it takes a village” still rings true. Though our communities may be more widespread and virtual, there are opportunities for us to create more touchpoints, forge new systems of support, and go deeper with each other.

There’s so much untapped partnership potential in our community. Let’s all consider what each of us can do in our own ways to help extend our networks and be the village. When the challenges we face are new and daunting, we must be equally innovative in our solutions.

Brandon White is the executive director of Spark the Journey (formerly Capital Partners for Education). Spark the Journey provides mentorship and a community of support for young adults in the Washington area to chart their own path to achieving college and career success.