Now more than ever, it is important to be competitive in the workplace. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on unemployment, job loss, and diminished income for thousands of communities across the nation. But for African American communities, these financial consequences have been especially dire and have created additional barriers for young men to secure steady and gainful employment.
However, programs like The Minority Male Leadership Initiative (M2M), in collaboration with Hinds Community College (HCC)* provide essential tools, guidance, and resources for African American men to overcome socioeconomic barriers and to start their careers.
Ahmad Smith, Recruitment and Outreach Coordinator at M2M and Josh Bower, Director of Talent Workforce and Economic Development at HCC, speak on their collaboration and partnership for M2M’s Economic Empowerment Workshop. They also speak on how M2M has helped students, specifically African American men, obtain economic empowerment, enroll in higher education, and be competitive in the workforce.
Ahmad and Josh’s idea for M2M’s Economic Empowerment Workshop started through volunteering.
“Ahmad and I were volunteering during Hinds CARES Day at the Genesis and Light Center in Jackson, which is a non-profit focusing on inner-city youth,” Josh explains. “During our volunteer work, we brainstormed ways to pair programs by the Workforce & Community Development Division with programs developed to assist students involved in the Minority Male Leadership Initiative (M2M).”
Ahmad and the M2M team developed the idea of the Economic Empowerment Workshop–a format that, according to Josh, “proved to be better at increasing participation among students on the Jackson Campus” than some of their earlier ideas.
M2M’s Economic Empowerment Workshop was organized at Hinds Community College on April 1, 2021 and supplied students with essential resources to support their employment efforts. These resources included WIN Job Centers and career-tech apprenticeships in programs such as Diesel Mechanics, Truck Driving, Production Technicians and Mechatronics.
Outside of the workshop, M2M provides programs, both virtual and in-person, for students to achieve economic empowerment and employment.
Economic Empowerment is defined by The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) as “the capacity of [under-served] women and men to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from [economic] growth processes” and also allows under-served individuals the freedom to “think beyond immediate survival needs” when it comes to financial expenses.
In order to achieve economic empowerment, skills such as financial planning are crucial. These skills ensure that under-served young people are able to manage their expenses and plan for their futures.
“Economic empowerment is part of our golden objective. We offer workshops on professional development, financial literacy, networking, and academic support training.” Ahmad says, “We need at least sixty percent of our participants to be a part of these workshops.”
And students are empowered in other ways. M2M provides educational empowerment to students by offering them opportunities to further their coursework. M2M works mainly with non-traditional age groups and community college students–students that are in different circumstances than their fresh-out-of-high school colleagues. These circumstances can sometimes hinder their progression toward obtaining a higher degree.
“It’s not uncommon for us to work with students who have accumulated debt, work multiple jobs, or have young children to support.” Ahmad says, “The national graduation rate for community college students is under thirty percent for students who are completing a two year degree in three years. So, it is challenging.”
Although it’s challenging, M2M consistently works to encourage and empower African American men to continue their education. And it’s vital for Black men to continue their education, especially since they hold a small percentage of post-secondary degrees. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), reveals that African American men hold only 14 percent of associate’s degrees awarded from post-secondary institutions in 2017 to 2018 and less than 9 percent of bachelor’s degrees.
One of the ways M2M helps students on their path to higher education is through college tours which are funded by the Department of Education. Students are taken to college campuses ranging from The University of Southern Mississippi to Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. These tours help motivate students to pursue higher education and give them first-hand experience on a college campus.
“When we are exposing these gentlemen to opportunities that can help them,” Ahmad says, “they’re more engaged.”
M2M also connects students to tutors, academic counselors, and mentors who help offer encouragement, empowerment, and guidance to students looking toward higher education.
“[We’re] empowering [students] to make the decision for themselves and to come to education if that’s for them,” Ahmad says.
And the benefits of obtaining a college degree can’t be overstated. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data consistently shows that higher educational attainment coincides with higher income and a lower rate of unemployment. Having a college degree has even proved useful during the pandemic with college educated Black Americans reporting to be in better financial situations than those with little to no college experience.
Obtaining a college degree can also increase workplace competitiveness, which is essential in today’s economy. Hinds offers students ways to increase their workplace competitiveness through key apprenticeship programs that offer related technical instruction in the classroom combined with essential on-the-job training through an industry partner. These connections are made possible through M2M’s partnership with HCC and with support from The Mississippi Apprenticeship Program (MAP).
The benefits of apprenticeship programs can’t be overemphasized. Not only do apprenticeship programs bolster resumes, but they also make students more competitive when applying for jobs. Registered apprenticeships may also help students obtain incremental wage increases, nationally recognized credentials, and career advancement opportunities.
Ahmad and Josh say that they plan on cooperating and planning events again in the future and are grateful to MAP for helping bring attention and support to M2M and its many programs. For more information on M2M or to sign up for services, visit their landing page on the Hinds Community College website.
*M2M is funded entirely by the Predominantly Black Institutions – Formula Grant (PBI-F) Grant program under the U.S. Department of Education. It’s because of the continued funding through the PBI-F grant that M2M and the Community and Workforce Development department at Hinds CC can continue an ongoing partnership.