Creating opportunities for all Americans is a responsibility that belongs to each of us. I have felt a moral obligation in these times to do my part to make sure that the United States of America continues to stand for the principles upon which it was founded.
I haven’t been alone in this sentiment. In the last few months, the private sector has increasingly stood up to defend American values. From speaking out about the need to protect our planet from the devastating effects of climate change to defending immigrants who work alongside us and contribute to our economy to helping veterans transition to civilian life, companies are doing much to protect American values.
This is why I find so much hope in this country’s youth. This generation is totally equipped with the tools, the education, and the grit to effect lasting positive change in our country. They just need the opportunity. We have seen significant gains in connecting young people to educational and employment opportunities in the last decade. But there is still much more work to be done. There are 4.9 million American youth either not in school or not working. That’s one in seven young people who are disconnected from our economy, with a disproportionate number of them from minority and low income communities.
That is why I am heartened to be part of the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, a program that taps into the potential of our country’s youth with the help and resources of our country’s private sector. It is a coalition of companies focused on hiring “opportunity youth” facing systemic barriers such as poverty, a criminal record or transportation and education deficiencies. The companies have committed themselves to reinventing their hiring, retention and advancement practices in order to access new sources of talent from communities that have not traditionally been included in our nation’s prosperity.
This fall, I attended the 100,000 Opportunities Fair and Forum in Washington, D.C., and had the privilege of meeting some of the 6,800 opportunity youth who were looking for a job. There, I saw not only a sea of diverse and enthusiastic young people looking for a chance to climb out from beneath societal barriers, but also more than 30 respected local, national and global businesses, including Starbucks, Five Guys, FedEx and HMSHost, all of which were looking to hire these young people and position them to lead our business community in the future.
In fact, there were more than 1,800 job interviews and thousands of on the spot job offers. This fair helped increase the number of opportunity youth hires made collectively by the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative members to more than 170,000 young people. The members are on track to hire as many as one million opportunity youth by 2021, a testament to the commitment of these companies to making real change.
I was particularly impressed by the resilience displayed by the young people I met at the fair. One young lady spoke to me about her journey from homelessness as a teenager to gainful employment as a young adult. Through hard work she overcame an unwarranted sense of shame, rose through the ranks at her place of employment, and is now living on her own. She recently purchased a car and is saving to buy her first home. Another young man spoke about his struggle to overcome the stigma of a criminal record. After paying his debt to society, he was given the opportunity to find employment that has afforded him the dignity and self-reliance every human being deserves, which is the opportunity to experience.
Too many young people are born into situations where societal barriers prevent them from achieving their true potential. Our nation suffers as a result. These are longstanding issues, requiring American values that go above politics. The business leaders of the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative have recognized the role they can play in fixing this wrong and providing these young people with the chance to succeed.
Like these companies who have dedicated themselves to investing in our country’s youth, all companies must find their own ways to advance our shared values. As we look ahead into an uncertain future, I call on all Americans, particularly those in the business community, to commit to effecting lasting and positive change in our country by creating opportunities for all.
Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderArkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats Oregon legislature on the brink as Democrats push gerrymandered maps Christie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group MORE served as the 82nd attorney general of the United States. He is now a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Covington & Burling.