Finding a job is tough for many Americans, tougher still for young minority men.
To ease the process, local nonprofit eMerging Entrepreneurs Inc. is launching an Urban Leadership Lab this month to connect minority males ages 16-21 with networking, job training and small business coaching.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the unemployment rate for the nation fell to 7.4 percent in July, unemployment for blacks was 12.6 percent.
For black men 20 and older, unemployment was 12.5 percent, double the 6.3 percent rate for white men.
The unemployment rate for Hispanic men in that age group was 7.7 percent.
For T.J. Breeden, 31, founder and director of eMerging Entrepreneurs, the numbers are alarming.
A winner of the White House’s 2012 Champions of Change award and the Small Business Association’s 2013 Veteran Entrepreneurship Advocate of the Year award, Breeden called it his social responsibility to “strengthen” minority communities.
The lab, or “social incubator,” will tap the intellectual capital of local industry, community and faith leaders. Now acquiring meeting space, Breeden hopes to enroll 10 to 15 young men.
Breeden said his parents – a preacher and an educator – showed him the way to a career. “But what about young men that don’t (have role models)?” he asked. “People need to see what they want to be.”
Michelle Roberts works as assistant to the dean at N.C. Central’s Law School and is the laboratory’s university programs liaison.
The mother of two college students said the lab will introduce career pathways to college freshmen and sophomores having trouble deciding a major.
“We will assist them in developing professional relationships and resources that will help them develop a career track,” she said.
The project will also include financial literacy programs such as understanding credit.
“If you learn to pay off credit cards at 18, by your mid-20s you could have a 700 or 800 FICO (credit) score,” Breeden said. “We want to talk investments and learning what money can do.”
C.J. Broderick serves with Breeden on the city’s Small Business Advisory Committee and also chairs the Greater Durham Black Chamber of Commerce. He said initiatives like this one need community support.
“There are so many things, like poverty, that can push young men in negative ways,” Broderick said. “We need to create other forces that can push them in a positive direction.”
That support matters, according to other mentoring programs across town.
Eric Olson-Getty is internship and mentoring coordinator for YO: Durham, a part of Durham Congregations in Action that connects youth with career-oriented work experiences.
Young people “blossom” as they discover new interests and skills, Olson-Getty said, but “it’s often hard to find businesses willing or able to take the time and effort required.”
Breeden is hopeful.
“Labs are places where great ideas are fostered,” he said. “We’re grooming the next generation of leaders.”