Dear Aspen Forum Friends & Colleagues,
Last night during the State of the Union, President Obama did more than underscore an upturn in our nation’s economic growth; he described a vision for renewed opportunity in America with an emphasis on harnessing the untapped potential of our youth. Because of our politics we do not always see eye to eye on policy, but we should be united in investing in our shared economic future. By the end of this decade, two out of three job openings will require some form of higher education. We must act urgently now to ensure that all our youth are prepared for that moment. At the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions, we are committed to supporting our nation’s youth to reconnect with educational opportunities and achieve meaningful, sustainable employment.
Last night President Obama said that “a better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of building America.” At the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions we are committed to that great mission, and we share the White House’s belief in our ability to expand opportunities for youth.
Today there are 6.7 million Opportunity Youth in our country: young men and women, 16-24, who are disconnected from education and employment. In 2012 we launched the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund to reengage our nation’s young people, helping them connect with opportunities and become active participants in shaping their own future – which ultimately becomes our shared future as a nation. What the President called “the great mission of building America” is exactly what young people are leading in communities across the country. Community based partnerships and institutions are working across sectors to align systems and in doing so, are helping young people get back on track: completing high school and postsecondary education and gaining family sustaining jobs.
The challenge of educating all of our nation’s young people is great, but greater is the opportunity our young people represent to the nation and its economy. Like the President said, investing in young people affects not just the lives of the youth now, but the lives of future generations, from all backgrounds.
There’s no time to lose and we believe our work in communities focused on Opportunity Youth has just begun. Last year, the Aspen Forum and our partner Jobs for the Future were selected by the White House Social Innovation Fund to receive a $6 million investment to deepen cross system and cross sector efforts to reconnect Opportunity Youth – with a particular focus on Boys and Men of Color (BMoC). This funding, when matched by national and local philanthropy, will help our nation’s young men gain critical education and job training skills, while continuing to support their families and communities.
This work is not easy. However, working together across systems and sectors can make a difference, just as the President said: “A brighter future is ours to write. Let’s begin this new chapter – together – and let’s start the work right now.”