The 5th Annual Youth Leadership Summit was held virtually this year and featured over 30 volunteer speakers who shared their personal experiences from high school to college, up to their current careers and the lessons they learned along the way.
Participating youth were able to take workshops in financial literacy through our Go Pro Series, and speak to college representatives from top local and out of state schools such as North Carolina A&T, SUNY Albany, Adelphi and City College.
Attendees networked with professionals from various industries including: professional athletes from the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Whitesox and Baltimore Orioles; US Olympic Fencers Daryl Homer and Nzingha Prescod; culinary Chef Trill Cooker, Jose DeJesus who recently won against Bobby Flay in Beat Bobby Flay on the Food Network; and entrepreneurs and professionals in the fields of sports, music, media, law, medicine, fashion, and more.
This year's summit was titled Leaders of the New Norm, and reflected the new pathways youth have had to adapt to in order to remain on the road to success. By going virtual, we were able to expand our reach to young people anywhere in the US and even welcomed a few international students who stayed up late to be with us.
Thank you to everyone who volunteered their time to speak to our young people and answer their questions. It is only with the help from our community that we are able to have the greatest impact on our youth.
This summer, Roads to Success was earmarked to place 874 young people with entry level positions through the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). However, the program was canceled back in April leaving our kids and over 74,000 more young people citywide jobless for the summer.
Just recently, the City introduced a new virtual model known as the SYEP Summer Bridge Program. Under this new program, the total youth served citywide would be reduced to 35,000 participants. At Roads to Success, the number of youth we could place dropped to 637 - just 30% of the number of applications we actually received.
SYEP has been a vital resource for young people of color in New York City who come from low-income families in high-poverty neighborhoods who for the most part, have difficulties finding employment for various reasons. Many families depend greatly on this income, and many youth rely on this opportunity as a stepping stone for their future. As the nation’s largest youth employment program, approximately 125,000 young people apply annually
The disparities in our city have become highlighted these past few months, as poor social determinants of health (including access to high quality jobs and economic stability) contribute to the racial inequities in health. The reduction in SYEP that benefits mostly black and brown young people sets up our youth for this future of disparity in health, education and career.
The youth employment program at Roads to Success serves to address this inequity as the communities we serve include the South Bronx, Harlem and Central BK – all neighborhoods that have been deeply affected by both systemic racism and economic effects of COVID.
But due to budget cuts and loss of general funding as a result of the pandemic, we have been unable to fully meet the demand, leaving hundreds of youth without a plan. This loss is more than just a summer without a job, it’s a loss in access to career exploration, project-based learning and management, and civic engagement skill building for thousands of youth.
While the development of the SYEP Summer Bridge Program is a start, it only touches the surface of what our young communities and their families need. Budget cuts have made it even more difficult for young people who are already disenfranchised to get the services and connections they need. We must continue to fund community based programs that provide vital resources to communities where systemic racism is a way of life. Now more than ever, our young people need to know that there are those who believe that their future is important and that we want them to succeed.