According to the 2013 “Protect Children, Not Guns” report by the Children Defense Fund, gun homicide is the leading cause of death for black teens. The report states that black teens experience gun injuries at a rate ten times higher than white teens. There are a myriad of factors that lead to this staggering statistic: poverty, high unemployment rates, substance abuse, mental health issues and a lack of education. For decades many politicians and community leaders have demanded solutions to the glaring inequality of non-white and low-resourced people in higher education, businesses, and other institutions, but few solutions have made an impact.
One of the shining examples to bridge that gap is Cristo Rey High School, a Jesuit college-prep school for low-income families. Founded in Chicago to combat youth violence in that city’s dangerous South Side, New York City followed its lead and opened Cristo Rey New York in 2004. Combining a rigorous academic schedule with a challenging internship, the program not only prepares students for college, but exposes them to businesses, law firms and other industries they might never have had access.
When students graduate from this four-year high school, and enter college, they know there is a meaningful place for them in the world. They have had experience contributing to an organization and know they add value and make a successful difference in whatever field they choose to pursue. But it takes hard work and buy-in from families, teachers, community and business leaders and more.
There is not a magic wand or an easy slogan, like “Just Do It,” to achieve success, it is much more complex. For many students they may face poverty, lack of family support, cultural issues from a recent immigration, learning differences and many other issues. We want to highlight that with the right support, these students can still overcome hurdles and be successful. Too often kids from low-income families do not have the support systems in place as kids from high-income families. It is much easier for low-resourced kids to “fall through the cracks” and not reach their true potential. To allow this to happen would be at our own economic peril. Our country would lose an enormous talent pool.
To learn more about Cristo Rey, please click here.