Photos: Courtesy Voice and Viewpoint and Youth Will
Over 700 youth, workforce and social services professionals from San Diego County and around the country packed the Grand Hall at the Town & Country Hotel in Mission Valley on Thursday, May 2 for the San Diego Workforce Partnership’s third annual event, Opportunity Summit 2019. It was a deep dive into the issues and data impacting disconnected youth ages 16 to 24 in San Diego County who are neither in school nor employed.
The Summit was solutions-based with over 15 well-coordinated workshops covering a wide-range of topics, from national and local research data to expand youth employment opportunities to best practices for solving youth homelessness and school engagement.
There was some real talk about the inequities in the public school system, the need for coordinated referral processes between city, county, and social service agencies, creation of a skilled youth workforce and addressing the disparities in education, affordable transportation and housing.
The event began with a lively spoken word poetry and stomp/tap dance performance that set the stage for a day of focused dialogue.
Professor Gentry Patrick, UC San Diego Neurobiology Professor, recounted his journey from South Central LA teen to becoming one of the few tenured black professors in the UC system. Patrick’s research validates that “environment does matter,” he said. He noted that the unique and novel experiences we have throughout our lives change the structure of our brain, affecting learning. Patrick emphasized that “access, mentorship, and advocacy” helped him to not falter along his academic journey and he stressed the need for enhanced pathways to STEM education and mentorships.
When asked about the importance of diversity in the ranks of policy leaders, “It’s all about access,” said Omar Passons, HHSA’s Integrative Services Director, one of many local leaders attending the Summit.
A lunchtime panel included speakers Susan Goss-Brown, President of GAP Foundation President, Daniel Perada from Old Navy, and Audrey Williams-Lee SVP of Human Resources at Hyatt Hotels, all of whom are leading initiatives to mentor and hire opportunity youth who typically don’t have access to gainful employment and long-term inclusion in the workforce.
The overriding call to action was for policy reform, and a total revamp of the systems, structure, and policies affecting youth. Workshop discussions highlighted research and data on youth homelessness, mental health, addiction, and disengagement as major obstacles facing San Diego County disconnected youth. While overall progress across the county has been made, for disconnected African American youth, the gap continues to widen.
The disconnection rate is a big deal, some workshop leaders said, with the greatest gaps occurring in East County and South County.
“It’s really important to find out what’s going on there and support Black youth,” Vicky Lassiter of Measure of America said. Lassiter co-led a workshop reviewing national and local opportunity youth data.
The day ended with the presentation of a Youth Bill of Rights written by local elementary, high school and college students.