According to the Gallup-HOPE Index, 46.8% of youth from families making less than $36,000 said that they get to use their imagination everyday at school, compared to 35.1% of youth from families earning $90,000 or more. And 50.6% of young people from low wealth families reported that at school they learn new ways to solve real problems, compared to 43% of youth from high earning families.
When you hear about black and brown young men in America, all too often you only hear about all of the negatives. Many of these things, unfortunately, are in fact true. The crime, the mayhem, the cynicism in this generation of youth, the eye popping high-school dropout levels. But there is another side of the story that is also true.
This challenged generation also have grossly unconsidered and untapped strengths. Strengths which are mostly unknown, and which go mostly untapped in our world. Things, such as their natural entrepreneurial energy.
Three prime examples of young people with natural, untapped and unrecognized strengths, include three young men who came into our family home late last year to do some work around the house. They viewed themselves at that time, unfortunately, as 'just workers.' I viewed them as a yet–unorganized business venture waiting to be born. One featuring themselves as OWNERS.
The challenge was getting them to see themselves, that way. To see themselves — as opportunity knocking, and opportunity waiting too.
And while the Gallup data challenges the notion that the so-called poor don't have 'value or values,' this is not just a story about so-called poor people.
A young person with low levels of hope, well-being and aspiration, is just as likely to be middle class as they are likely to be poor by financial measures. In other words, poverty is more than financial. It circumnavigates self-esteem, or the lack thereof, the impact of environment and role models, and finally, access to opportunity. I cover these factors in great detail in my upcoming book.
The reality is that these young men were hard working, industrious, creative, humble, energetic and got the job done too — both within the time-line and within budget. Now that's a value proposition that's marketable. Then I started thinking; there are countless households, just in our own neighborhood, that have handyman work and miscellaneous projects laying around for industrious young people like this to do. And what's more inspiring today than three young black men looking to WORK?
By the second visit to the house, these young men were no longer viewing themselves as mere contractors, but as new upstart young businessmen.
On their last visit to see me, they actually sat down with me, as businessmen, and negotiated their own rates and terms. As a result, both parties (meaning them and me) got more out of the interaction than either expected. It was no longer a transaction, but an interaction.
I got a great job extremely well done, America got a couple new contributors to GDP and the nation's future prosperity, and these young men got their personal mojo back.
The reality is that these young men already had an entrepreneurial mojo, buried deed in their cultural DNA from the very start, and they never really knew it. Worse though, they somehow had their hope and life aspirations drained out of them during their high school experience. Actually, research now shows that young people actually drop out of high school in middle school (mentally).
Here's the good news — young people, and more so young people from low wealth families and communities, have a natural entrepreneurial advantage over their mainstream counterparts. That's right. A natural advantage.
It turns out the experience of growing up poor and in a challenged community, might in fact nurture unique problem solving, creativity and persistence skills, that give so-called 'poor' youth a strategic advantage in their career or professional life.
According to data released in the most recent Gallup-HOPE Index annual report, “students in the lowest income groups are more likely to use imagination and learn problem-solving (skills).”
These young men in my home had no real concept of their own natural strengths. My job was to open the door, so they could walk into the unique opportunity that already existed in their own lives.
What came next was like magic in a bottle, and it’s also possible for every single urban and rural young person in America. Young people who wake up daily with little or no hope, little recognized opportunity in their lives, no connection between their education and life's aspiration, all combined with increasing levels of disconnection and anger. Young people who are completely unaware of their own hidden strengths.
The story of these young men, is also the story of a generation of young Americans.
Disconnected from hope, adrift in a community overwhelmed with low levels of legitimate economic energy, and no clue about the magic of ownership, free enterprise and capitalism, as it relates to their lives. In short, the desire, or even the dream of 'owning something,' never even occurred to them.
We can change this.
Gallup and Operation HOPE have teamed up to launch the annual Gallup-HOPE Index, which is the first ever national measurement of youth economic energy, hope, wellbeing, financial literacy and economic energy for the 30 million youth in 5th-12th grades.
Additionally, we have teamed up for a powerful intervention strategy called HOPE Business In A Box Academies, which we are now deploying in public schools and America 2020 communities across America, between now and year 2020; all designed to inspire youth to take their lives back. Just like the three young men that worked in my home.
To inspire young people to become owners. Owners, in and of their own lives.
Make your own Project 5117 commitment today. This is something we all can do, to transform America.
John Hope Bryant is the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), and is the only 2010-2012 bestselling business author in America who is also African-American. His newest book, due out May, 2014, is HOW THE POOR CAN SAVE CAPITALISM, and will be published byBerrett Koehler Publishing).