Young men of color find jobs at Detroit summit

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Over the past month, Davon Green said he’d grown depressed over his inability to land a job.

“Applying has been really tough,” said Green, 18, an east side resident who attends Detroit’s Southeastern High School.

On Monday, his luck changed as he secured one of several hundred full-time and seasonal jobs up for grabs during an opportunity summit for boys and young men of color at Cobo Center.

Green was offered a $5-an-hour job, plus tips, as a server assistant and food runner at Punch Bowl Social downtown. He starts Wednesday.

“Being young and black, it’s hard to find a job. There’s high expectations,” he said. “I’m happy I came. It’s a real good step.”

The My Brother’s Keeper Alliance “Pathways to Success” event brought together 40 companies and a couple dozen community-based organizations to fill 300 full-time jobs and about 100 seasonal positions and apprenticeships.

Organizers expected the Monday job fair would pull in a crowd of more than 1,000 young people to connect with local employers including Henry Ford Health System, Meijer and Quicken Loans as well as national companies like Starbucks and Macy’s.

The event offered young men of color, primarily Detroiters, with on-the-spot job offers, resume assistance, mock interviews and mentoring sessions. Attendees were also provided haircuts, free ties from the Macy’s Tie Bar and provided sport coats for on-site job interviews.

President Barack Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to address persistent opportunity gaps boys and young men of color face. He issued a challenge to cities — including Detroit — towns, counties and tribal nations to implement a coherent cradle-to-college and career strategy. Today, there are about 250 My Brother’s Keeper communities in the country.

Last year, the White House launched the nonprofit My Brother’s Keeper Alliance as an outgrowth of the program to further elevate and expand its reach.

The alliance’s inaugural opportunity summit was held in Oakland, Calif., in July, and helped thousands connect to support services and job offers.

Lead partners in Monday’s program were the City of Detroit, Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Skillman Foundation.

“What today is about is displaying, not only for the city of Detroit, but for America, what is actually possible,” Blair Taylor, CEO of MBK Alliance said during a Monday morning news conference. “Today is not a one-off. We’re not dropping into Detroit and then leaving. We are here with a full and permanent commitment to this city.”

Mayor Mike Duggan said the summit builds off of the success over the summer, when local employers provided summer jobs to more than 8,000 young people in Detroit through the Grow Detroit’s Young Talent Program. Duggan noted young people in the city face many obstacles in finding employment and he’s heartened by their motivation.

“It’s very powerful to know we’ve got people here (in Detroit) with a lot of talent willing to work really hard. The obstacles that face them are often much higher than they are in the suburbs,” he said. “And the truth is, we’ve got to work much harder to create these pathways.”

Michael Smith, a special assistant to Obama and senior director of cabinet affairs for My Brother’s Keeper, said Monday the White House is proud to “shine a spotlight” on the work in Detroit. The program, he added, is “here to stay.”

“At its core, My Brother’s Keeper is about making sure young people know that they matter and have every opportunity to succeed...,” he said. “So know, as you work hard here in Detroit, the president is going to have your back.”

Oak Park resident Anton Riley-Burton, 18, came to the summit after an unsuccessful hunt for work. He’s now got an offer to become a Starbucks barista.

For Starbucks, Monday’s My Brother’s Keeper event in Detroit was its first. The company is looking to fill 50 to 75 jobs in the city as well as some surrounding suburban locations, said Tami Ford, a general manager. By late morning, at least a dozen offers had gone out.

Riley-Burton, an Oak Park High School graduate, aspires to be a mechanical engineer and wants to save up for community college. This job, he said, will bring him closer to realizing that goal.

“I’m glad I got to take advantage of it,” he said. “I probably would have gone months looking for jobs if it wasn’t for this.”