If you are a student or have a student at a public school in the DMV area, chances are someone asked you what you or your child is considering doing in the future living in our area. If so, this letter is for you.
Did you know the average income for African Americans in the U.S. is $36,651? That’s only about $10,000 higher than the national poverty line for a family of four.
If you believe everything you see on television or in the movies, you’d think African Americans have only four ways to escape poverty: sports, hustling, prison or in a body bag.
Does it pain me to see our communities portrayed this way? Absolutely. Is it a shame we make less than others simply because of the color of our skin? In fact, it’s ridiculously unfair.
But stereotypes come from somewhere, and we must ask ourselves what we are doing to get out of this rut and break this destructive cycle.
The good news is there is a fifth way out of poverty: education. Specifically, education as it pertains to the energy industry. There’s a four-letter term sweeping across America and we are being left out in the cold, and it might be our own fault if we don’t step up and start doing something about it.
STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math are subjects being touted by the educational sector to help propel kids into careers that will soon, if not already, dominate industries across the country. Real jobs, with real salaries, and a real path to develop a sustainable future. Contrary to what some people say – it’s not nerds who hold these positions – it’s smart people, making a good living.
Maybe you, or your child, is the top student in class and has a variety of options and opportunities to go to a four-year college or university, but not everyone is cut out for that, and that is okay. There is still hope and opportunities for high-paying jobs.
Whether it’s in oil and gas, wind or solar, nuclear or storage, there are countless jobs that need to be filled. They include everything from welders, tradesmen, laborers, manufacturing technicians, solar panel installers, electricians and truck drivers, to name a few. The best part is that there are hundreds of different types of jobs in the energy industry just like these, with many organizations offering paid training to ensure workers are doing their jobs correctly and safely. That means the leap from whatever you, or them, are considering, these careers are possible through either a two-year degree or more.
With the national average salary hovering just slightly above $56,000 a year, careers in energy-related or STEM-oriented careers can help make that number achievable. As a Black man, that makes me hopeful for our community to seek the fifth way forward through education. We need to start glamorizing the brains of our youth. While a small fraction makes it in high-paying careers in sports, that is not the norm.
You or your child may disregard these subjects in school now, but they could be the ticket to a better life. It’s 2019 and my sister who teaches second grade in a Virginia public school constantly ask her students about a path forward and what they would like to be when they grow up. I hope we all can consider making education a focus — not just this year, but into the future. With more industries relocating back to the United States, and more being done to increase energy security here at home, it will pay in more ways than you can ever imagine.
Derrick Hollie is president of Reaching America and host of Reaching America on Demand podcast. The organization addresses complex social issues impacting African-American communities.