Eyes on the Prize
Within the last month, Los Angeles has focused on no less than three race-based violence cases that involved minority youth as the perpetrators. As we approached the midpoint of February 2007, the City staged an unprecedented three-day international summit that included City legislators and law enforcement officials studying, discussing, and formulating plans on how to address the issue of gangs that encourage youth to drop out of school, become gang bangers, and either use or market contraband -- or both, and thereafter deplete the City’s available qualified employment talent. The crisis is discussed in the recruiting industry as a future talent drain that is projected to occur by 2010. Some recruiters, like executive recruiter Alan Fluhrer of Pasadena, say the drought has already hit our city.

A Talent Crisis to Be Cured

The basis of the talent crisis is attributed to the fact that too many of today's youth are not being properly trained in school to adequately perform the job functions most critical to employers today. Employers are looking for people with excellent reasoning skills, problem analysis and solving skills. Employers need staff who are not only computer and Internet savvy but also understand the importance of the costs of doing business, in addition to an appreciation of developing loyal customers and solid profit margins. Employers want workers who realize well-manicured displays and attention to all details will mean increased credibility and assurance of quality.

Employers (who are the clients of recruiters) complain that youth are not learning these things in school. Therefore, they look to older workers as their source of potential hires. The older workers come with not only seasoned experience but the values that the employers want and need. They bemoan the fact that the younger generation seems to expect a free lunch; that is to say, coming to the office / job automatically means getting paid a high salary, whether any work is done or not. Employers want people who are dependable, can demonstrate a good work ethic, learn from mistakes, and are motivated to learn as much about the job as possible so that they may advance.

Some see that the prevalence of gangs in many formerly up-and-coming neighborhoods has become a deterrent to achievement. Others point to the fact that racial discrimination has so profoundly retarded minority attainment in any sector that the youth have essentially given up.

Nonvoluntary Role Model

Like it or not, individual members of minority races and ethnicities are seen through the eyes of people from other ethnicities as representatives of their perceived race. The more negative the impression is, the more that distinction is taken as representative of all members of the race. Black and Latino youth feel the pressure and deal with it in one of two ways. They either cave in and act according to the expectations or else they hunker into the practices demonstrated by more traditional role models. Like it or not, each member of the ethnic group, of the race, is a social role model.

As with most if not all negative impressions, it takes ten times as many positives to displace a single instance of denigration. Negatives also compound so that it takes even more effort to overcome each diminution with its reinforcement. What would normally take ten times as much effort to counteract, when reinforced one time, will take twenty times the effort. And as the adverse impression lives, it diminishes opportunities for all while increasing expectations of poor performance. Opportunities are simply no longer extended because of poor impressions from negative representatives.

It is possible to object by saying something on the order of "but that's not me," or "don't judge me by someone who's values aren't the same." It's possible to object. The reality is nothing will be said and the impressions will guide reactions. It takes a lot to be seen in one’s individuality.

The Baggage

According to findings in a January 2007 study commissioned by the Legislative Black Caucus, statistically speaking, Los Angeles black and Latino youth score approximately 40 points lower than whites and Asians on the California Standardized Test. Blacks are four times more likely to drop out of high school over a four-year period and Latinos are three times more likely to drop out of high school over a four-year period, as compared with their white and Asian counterparts. Black and Latino youth scores on the high school math exit exam were approximately 45 percent of their white and Asian counterparts; black and Latino scores were approximately 25 percent of their white and Asian counterparts on the high school English exit exam. To some extent, these numbers give employers justification to not expect high performance. They justify the fact that Los Angeles blacks and Latinos earn approximately 67 percent of the average income of their white counterparts. But it is entirely possible to shake off these expectations.

Don't Go That Way

It would probably surprise many to discover that even the founders of some of the most notorious gangs discourage youth from following that path. These leaders speak of the dangers of going down the path of gang life and the trappings that accompany it. Instead, they advocate seeking to better one's self and aspiring to earning status and promotion through diligence, education, and professionalism. Actually, this is the knowledge that any career coach would offer to their student. The validity of this counsel is trebled for black and Hispanic youth.


What black and Latino Los Angeles Metro youth should take from all of this is to not be discouraged about job prospects. Each of them will be as good as the person makes him or her self. There will be pressure from gang members to drop out of school. The lure of spending the day doing things that seem like fun will be like the scent of an exotic perfume. The truth is, the scent is transitory and fleeting; it will be gone as quickly as a dime-store imitation.

Strive to make certain that all of your work is the very best it can be. Double check until the right answers flow automatically. Learn to be inquisitive. Then learn to do your own research in order to get the right answers. Learn to analyze and interpret. Show and prove that you are the exception to the average.

You can make your future bright by holding your standards high. As you encourage your friends and associates in small ways to use similar standards for them, the momentum will increase and the negative generalizations will decline. Endeavors you make in that direction will be obvious. They will be infectious. They will open doors of opportunity and advancement to you because you will have earned the prize on which you've cast your eye.