Building the Future: Working with Youth to Create Opportunities

A 2014 Thought Leadership Forum in South Africa and plans for a similar venture in Brazil are a reflection of True Blue Inclusion’s dedication to building sustainable talent pipelines that include everyone, especially those from underrepresented groups. Just because we have our sights on this issue globally doesn’t mean that we’re ignoring what’s going on right in our own backyard. We understand that diversity and inclusion can’t happen without building opportunities for the communities that companies are recruiting from. These opportunities aren’t feasible without addressing basic needs like safety, health and education. Because True Blue recognizes this, they sent me, the Diversity Fellow, to see what one company is doing about this.

On Thursday, June 4, 2015 three small teams of high school students of color from the Southside of Chicago presented ideas on ways to keep their community safe and to help it grow. This Allstate sponsored event, called Youth Shout Out, was hosted at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. Guests from local nonprofits and corporations listened intently to proposals that could provide potential solutions to the Southside’s most prevalent problems.

For decades violence (gang related and police related), lack of access to fresh food (food deserts), and a lack of opportunities (job related and otherwise), have plagued the area. Companies who seek to address some of these challenges by establishing mentorship programs or investing in local schools would do well to consider solutions that improve the communities holistically as well. Better yet, companies can invest in the people that have possible solutions to the daily challenges in their neighborhoods. That’s what Allstate is doing.

After being introduced by a local radio host, who described the students as “intelligent and hungry for change,” the teams presented projects representing various issues. These projects were united in the pursuit of safety for the youth including: Safe Opportunities, Safe Spaces and Safe Mobility. Each team was led by an advisor from a local design firm. The Safe Opportunities team presented the following ideas:

  • Micro Jobs. This would consist of using local venues to offer spaces and laptops for youth to do quick, paid online tasks. This is something that they can collaborate on with their friends.
  • Local Bucks. Local businesses would offer gift cards or cash in exchange for young people doing small tasks in and around their property.
  • Tag Team Mentors. Connecting youth with local business leaders and creating an online network that connects young people with mentors based on skill sets and interests.

The next team, presented on Safe Spaces and offered these options to help everyone feel safe in their community:

  • Urban Oasis. Young people would work together in the area’s many vacant lots to transform them into fun places to hang out, like parks or seating areas.
  • Peace Circles. Renovating a bus and using it as a place to have discussions about what’s going in different neighborhoods and connect residents with one another in a positive way. The youth in these communities would be trained as “Peace Leaders” to guide and mediate these discussions.
  • Pop-Up Picnics. These gatherings would bring together Southside residents, city officials and local police officers to break bread and connect residents with one another meaningfully. This is meant to bridge the gap between city law makers and enforcers and those living in their jurisdiction.The food would be donated from local restaurants so that low-income residents are also included in these gatherings.

Lastly, the third team addressed Safe Mobility, an issue that contributes to daily fear. From walking to taking the bus, the chances of being attacked and even killed are high, so students often take elaborate routes to get to school safely. Ideas they offered for this problem were:

  • Neighborhood Network. Setting up better lighting on frequently used walking routes, adding security buttons so that people can press them in emergencies, and having residents volunteer to be “watchers” of the routes are all part of this particular plan.
  • City Rides. A network of mentors and elders using their own cars or cars they borrow through car sharing programs to pick up young people and to help them get to fun events and activities without harm.

After each presentation, a panel of four from local startups, government offices and nonprofits gave their opinions on the ideas as well as encouragement to the students involved. They provided very positive feedback, with each panelist expressing their excitement and agreeing that these ideas were all simple and interconnected.

Tom Wilson, the Chairman and CEO of Allstate, stepped up to close out Youth Shout Out, after also introducing the event. The brilliance and ingenuity of the students gave him a lot of hope. The night’s presentations were just the beginning, initiating work that will be done all summer to make these ideas become reality. It’s also the first time that Allstate has organized this project, and is something the company plans to continue annually. Wilson stated very plainly that “these are all our children.” Those in the city with resources to do so must take care of them and listen to them, something that he admitted adults have a hard time doing. There were many in the room, like myself, who were not surprised by these bright students’. What surprised me most the dedication not only of Allstate, but of its CEO. His recognition of everyone’s inherent humanity is very refreshing. His commitment to the approach of treating young people like “customers” rather than “projects” is revolutionary in the corporate world. But it is savvy business thinking. A company or organization truly dedicated to change in their surrounding community will work from within, connecting with those living there to come up with concrete plans for change. I’m excited to see what the youth achieve in the Southside this summer and in the future and I hope it becomes a model for companies and cities nationally.