Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Success Stories

I had a rather unpleasant argument with someone about how people in these economically disadvantaged areas just are not working hard enough to attain what they want.  I of course responded that most of the way out of places like North Philadelphia involved 80% luck 20% determination. Of course the person I was arguing with had never lived there nor been in the area so they assumed all of these folks were useless.

I present a few cases to highlight just how "far" someone can go in this type of environment.  I'll number each person to make it easier and list them. I would like to note that these are all in the last 12 years.
  1. This person went to high school and graduated with high honors. Military recruiters came by and saw that they they had high hopes and scooped them up. Twelve years later they were back at home with their parents after a few tours and were unemployable. I don't know the details but I do know the person was honorably discharged. They do have some level of PTSD but function fairly well at home and currently work as a mechanic.
  2. Valedictorian at the local High School and went to college for IT. Ended up not having enough money to finish at the school they selected because they were told by the public high school system not to worry. They were black and black people are flooded with money to go to school. This was simply not the case and the person ended up with $60,000 in debt and no degree. They accomplished some certifications at ITT tech and now work as a Philadelphia School district computer service technician.
  3. Ended up getting a four year degree from a university in computer science and becoming homeless as a result. The persons parents assumed they had enough money to continue on and kicked them out of their home. They were unable to find any entry level jobs and were unable to find a place to live and ended up homeless. Luckily this person was picked up by a friend of theirs who owned a real estate business and hired them. They now work as a Real Estate agent and make a comfortable living.
  4. Was kicked out of his parents house because at age 21 he was now a man. Worked three jobs and went to college to pay for his dorm and tuition. Got a degree in Engineering and graduated with a 3.32 GPA. Was considered undesirable by companies because other students graduated with 3.8+ GPAs and had more time in outside clubs and other activities he could not do because he was working. Moved to Amsterdam and cut off all communication with anyone here. Last I heard he was asking someone for money but I assume with his degree he's somewhat alright.
  5. Wanted to become a Marine Biologist and involve herself in bio-prospecting in the deep marine ecosystems. She had hoped to find a useful bacteria or compound for medicine and start her own company to do so. Her family said they would never talk to her again because minorities don't do anything like that. "Important things are for white people" and forced her to become a doctor because "the money is better and it's for blacks and Latinos". She's currently a pediatrician and although happy regrets her choice not to follow into marine Biology.
Now, I don't claim to know everyone in the neighborhood. Although we are a tight nit community it's possible there are more people out there I don't know about.  However a few common patterns that occur and can be addressed by simple changes to the educational system at large.
  •  Educate the Parents- They need to know early on what college is and what it isn't. They need to know what the risks are and how much it will cost. They need to know that difficult degrees require 3 hours of work a week per credit hour. For a typical student this will amount to 45-60 hours of work per week. 
  • They need to understand the schools their children currently attend are not preparing them for this type of work. They need to understand in some cases they can change this by fighting to change it. They also need to understand in some cases it will never change due to political reasons and they need to do what they can to make sure their child ends up surviving. 
  • We need to explain why a system that has mainly Caucasian or Chinese/Indian scientists is skewed. We need to explain how higher education works and how it's different from normal school. 
  • Universities need to give lower income students a housing incentive to ease their cost of living. In essence many of these students can be considered run aways that are paying the University for their stay. If they want to collect their Alumni funds help them stay in college. It doesn't cost them that much more of their operating budget to give them housing and/or higher pay work studies as long as their grades stay above a certain average.
  • Employers need incentives to pick up people that have an overall hard working image even if they do not fit the template. If they're valuable to your work force and have one insignificantly minor flaw. Hire them for a tax break. It may seem as if they're only going to hire people based on their background but this is what it's going to take.

Now, this isn't just about taking pity on poor kids out there. Sorry, but there's more to it than that. These people are unique to the work force and unique to the political system. Many have seen the worst in the world and can survive through intense periods of stress. They are intensely motivated and do not expect hand outs.*In fact they expect to be turned down more often than not. These are people entering the workforce that are from diverse environments and are on average worlds more tolerant  of others than people who have lived in isolated suburban bubbles of just their kind. These are workers that need an extra push to get them to the top but once they actually achieve their goals they come with an amazingly valuable perspective not seen by others.

(I've heard some whining about this comment  so I'll clear this up. Lots of these kids that go to college are working their asses off to the point its hurting their ability in school. They're not expecting government programs to bail them out because they're working so much school is suffering. There are others of every race that out-compete them simply because they have wealthier parents.)

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