What do young people in low-income neighborhoods envision for themselves when think about their futures? Becoming doctors? Lawyers? Businessmen? Politicians? Not likely. We humans tend to model the behavior we see around us. If the only symbols of success we see in our neighborhoods are rap stars, reality TV stars, athletes and drug dealers, why is anyone surprised that this is who these young people grow up wanting to be?
These young people do not lack intelligence, but are just highly misguided youth with a crappy business plan and bad or no role models.
But if young people looked closely, they'd see there are no retired drug dealers. The long-term options in this profession are prison or death. Young entrepreneurs-in-the-making who go down this road have horrible role models and, ultimately, a corrupt and unsustainable business model built on what I call "bad capitalism."
America's marginalized youth are desperate for role models to show them a future beyond the thug culture. If we don't connect our young people with "respectable capitalism," and model and teach them what that means, we will end up with a generation of thugs.
Distressed communities bursting with potential leaders
We know that these distressed communities are bursting with tomorrow's potential leaders. Consider Marquis Govan, a 10-year-old boy from Ferguson, Missouri, who captivated the nation with his articulate plea to the commission investigating the Ferguson riots after police shot and killed an unarmed young man, Michael Brown, last summer. A composed Marquis stood at the podium and told the commissioners that his community members "don't want tear gas thrown at them; they need jobs."
There are 1,000 Fergusons across America, where young people can't picture any opportunity to apply their education and talents to get ahead in the world. They lose hope, and the most dangerous person in the world is a person without hope.
In places like Ferguson, young entrepreneurs usually materialize as drug dealers. In places like Ferguson, gang leaders are frustrated union organizers — same talents for leadership; same aspirations; no hope.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
Poor youth have high entrepreneurial ambitions
Young people from the most stressed communities across the nation have the same — or more — potential as privileged youth everywhere. But what they lack are proper role models to show them how to get where they need to go.
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). His newest bestselling book is How The Poor Can Save Capitalism (Berrett Koehler Publishing).
Bryant is a Member of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans, and co-chair for Project 5117, which is a plan for the rebirth of underserved America.
Bryant is the only bestselling author on economics who is also African-American.
Posted by Natasha Eldridge, Office of the Chairman