Black and brown communities in cities across the United States face challenges limiting upward mobility — Kansas City is no different. Excluded from prosperity, faced with higher rates of poverty, and lower life expectancies, these communities have fallen victim to cycles of violence.
However, the power of hope shared by our community members led them to create an initiative to bring change to neighborhoods for the better. Founded in 2018, KC Common Good aligns community assets to address the root causes of violence.
As 2020 concluded, three items emerged that caused us to act:
- Kansas City experienced all-time record levels of violence.1
- The global pandemic further disproportionately affected the well-being of marginalized youth, reducing employment and summer programs.
- In the wake of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and other tragic killings, the business community desired actionable next steps, beyond simply releasing a statement of solidarity.
In early 2021, KC Common Good partnered with Entrepreneurship KC and Hire KC to create Working For Youth. Empowered by a recent research study, our team was confident summer youth employment programs are key to reducing criminal justice involvement and could be scalable.
The importance of paid internships and employment opportunities cannot be stressed enough. Early work experiences to learn critical skills are essential as youth begin their career journey. Yet for youth from marginalized communities, unpaid opportunities become an exclusionary experience.
Our goal was to assist youth from historically marginalized communities with paid employment opportunities and internships from mid-June until mid-August.
Youth living within six, East Side Kansas City zip codes experience the lowest life expectancy,2 fewer opportunities, and higher rates of violence compared to their counterparts in other pockets of the metropolitan area.
Along with professional experiences and supervision from their employer, these young people also received career coaching and education.
The importance of paid internships and employment opportunities cannot be stressed enough. Early work experiences to learn critical skills are essential as youth begin their career journey. Yet for youth from marginalized communities, unpaid opportunities become an exclusionary experience. Youths and their households are left to make the impossible choice for either their professional future or economic survival. During summer months, youth are more exposed to violence because they often lack access to additional education or meaningful employment opportunities. Thus, Working for Youth is inherently tied to violence prevention and crime reduction in the youth’s population.
In all, 427 youth secured paid employment with 89 area employers rising up to provide internships and employment opportunities. The community also stepped up, with nearly $600,000 raised, a majority of funds were paid to youth in the form of stipends for their work.
Over the next six months, partnerships alongside 33 local organizations created pipelines for both youth and employers, providing wraparound services for participants. For example, employers and coaches who partnered with youth, were offered trauma-informed training through a partnership with Children’s Mercy Hospital.
In all, 427 youth secured paid employment with 89 area employers rising up to provide internships and employment opportunities. The community also stepped up, with nearly $600,000 raised, a majority of funds were paid to youth in the form of stipends for their work. Approximately 90 percent of participants were youth of color, of that 55 percent were Black students. Nearly half of the youth were 14, 15, and 16 years old and were placed with employers that share the vision of going upstream to employ younger youth.
While there is much to celebrate from this past year, much work remains to be done to benefit our youth. Employment is a critical component to reducing violence and inequality, but there is no single, perfect solution. Decades of marginalization and inequitable systems require sustained, collective work within those systems: from education, to health care, to our governing bodies. Change will involve the whole community to truly move the needle.
Editor’s note: For more information and for interested organizations, please contact Adam McClun at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also connect with KC Common Good on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.
- In 2020, Kansas City had 176 homicides and 612 nonfatal shootings. Data provided by Kansas City Police Department’s Law Enforcement Resource Center and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office Crime Strategies Unit.
- https://www.kcmo.gov/home/showpublisheddocument/6700/637571825259670000, KCMO Health Department’s Community Health Improvement Plan, Page 4, 18.2 year life expectancy difference between two zip codes.