America’s failing economy is the biggest diss of the 21st Century. Who’s America’s biggest casualty? In 2009, The Bureau of Labor statistics reports 7.5 percent of African Americans with recent four-year degrees are jobless. I know we’re all tired of hearing the latest news on our fatigued economy but let’s consider a conversation gone unreported in the evening news. There is more than one factor contributing to unemployment disparities among today’s 20-somethings. How is a society now obsessed with new age branding and celebrity-centered culture affecting young Black America’s ability to achieve the American Dream?
The American Dream for many of us was far from a faint, imaginative, over wide waters wish we only hoped to get a piece of. The 80’s babies’ American Dream extends beyond Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. We’re the heirs of post-civil rights benefaction whose ability to be successful was a check we were hardly afraid would return with insufficient funds. America sent clear messages to black 80’s babies backed by a series of coming of age, memory-staining campaigns disguised as a tutorial on how to make it. “Stay in school,” “a mind is a terrible thing to waste,””this is your brain on drugs” and those in-house “don’t get pregnant” sermons shares a proverbial space with recollections of our favorite Jodeci lyrics. America championed Higher Education and middle-class utopia with prime time influences like ‘A Different World’ and ‘The Cosby Show.’ Going to college became not only a necessity for being successful, it was cool.
We came into our ‘grown woman’ and ‘grown man’ believing the American Dream was a reality we would automatically obtain as long as we followed the rules. It was as simple as cashing that old deficient check. Success wasn’t suppose to be an entitlement complex if it’s earned. But what happens when everything you thought you knew turns out to be a half truth? 80’s babies never imagined when watching Whitley, Dwayne, Kim, Ron and Freddie visualized as ourselves go off into a ‘Different World’ that their hard earned degrees wouldn’t be enough.
America, we followed your rules, now what?
Degrees later and thousands of dollars worth of student loans later, young black America faces off with an America who remixed it’s rules without notice. Sure, we can talk about the cycles of economic recession. We can argue that it’s bound to happen every other decade like the promise of natural disaster and unsubstantiated war. But where are the on going panels and round tables discussing how 80’s babies will survive?
Enter the obligatory brand. In today’s America, having a brand is as common as having a left arm. Brands were once reserved for celebrities with talent and dish washing liquid, now your average 80’s babies are branding themselves on Twitter, Facebook and blogspot websites. While a sizable bunch are chasing celebrity, social status and wealth, many are simply trying to get by. Branding one’s self has seemingly become a requirement to secure the lifestyle we all covet. An Ivy League education with a summa cum laude degree can barely cut it. Resumes must come close to animation with an ability to spit fire to secure the attention of today’s job recruiters.
Brands vs. Degrees
Reality television sells young America with a distorted sense of achievement. Today a common path to the dream job is the pursuit of a spot on a Bravo show. The cycle of gimmicks doesn’t end there. Celebrity deejays, celebrity guest bloggers and celebrity fashion designers serves fierce competition to an educated young black America with traditional work ethic. It seems that building brands and celebrity status warrants more credibility than degrees. For example, what does Angela Simmons’ decision (as encouraged by her father, Rev. Run) to focus on Pastries rather than finishing college say to young black America? The rest of us balanced jobs with school, why can’t young Simmons multi-task?
How will those of us lacking celebrity pedigree secure the American Dream? There are loads of upper East-sider fashionistas landing jobs at glossies who have never set a foot on a college campus. I’m not encouraging educational snobbery, I’m asking America to keep its promise. America said following the rules yields success. No one spoke of the loops and turns educated young black Americans must endure to ink mere entry-level positions.
Young black Americans dreamed up the post-undergrad ‘Entourage’ life, instead we’re learning ‘How to Make it in America.’ Commenting on the new hit series, a New York Times review, states “Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein were Bronx kids who hustled to apprentice for designers and manufacturers; Ben and Cam hustle to avoid being apprentices.” Are young Americans refusing to pay dues? Factor in race and gender, how will young black Americans afford dues?
The three black men behind The Pact weren’t the only ones who made a promise. Many young black Americans vowed to defeat the statistics seeping hard-won ambition. Grinding against all odds, sending shout outs to the Most High as graduation cap tassels transitioned from right to left. Black 80’s babies had plans to take over the world and many of us still do. But how will we make it in this new America?
Job Tips for Recent Grads
1. Expose Yourself. It can be humbling but it must be done. Reach out to everyone you know, including old professors, former employers, mentors, fellow grads, family and friends. Let them know your looking for work. Send all relevant contacts a short introductory packet including a resume and a short bio.
2. Network. Your social, professional and collegiate networks are vital. Join organizations relating to your job field and attend career fairs.
3. Keep Interning. Just because you have a degree doesn’t mean you can’t volunteer your services to the company you seek. You never know, a paid opportunity could be around the corner.
4. Perfect your Materials. Your resume should be flawless. No excuses. Consult your school’s career center for resume tips. Ask older professional friends in your industry to review it.
5. Follow up is Everything. Immediately following an interview, mail ( EMAIL SPARINGLY) a thank-you note to the company. This includes your interviewer, their assistant and the secretary, why not?
6. Brand Yourself (YEP!) Research reveals our coveted degrees are no longer enough. Build a website, network on social media sites and keep business cards on hand.
7. Step Your Hustle Up, Consult! No matter the industry, we all have skills someone can use. Stop giving away free services to your buddies. Charge a fee accordingly for the talent you offer.
8. Humble Yourself. Yes, you may have a degree or two, but accepting a retail or clerical position in the meantime to make extra cash will keep you afloat.
9. Defer Loans. Bad credit is the last thing you need. Don’t forget to defer your loans post-graduation. If your unemployed, lenders will allow you to defer until you get employment. You can also request smaller monthly payments.
10. Be Bold. Be bold enough to approach the company you favor, even if they don’t have an available position. Arrange introductory meetings with executives and managers. You never know! Some companies won’t post available positions to Monster.com or other career sites. Companies might rely on head hunters or agencies. You should be affiliated with a least one head hunter and a few recruitment agencies, they’ll find you work.
11. Create a Business Idea & Proposal. If you’re dead broke and in debt with student loans, starting a business may not be responsible at the moment. Find ways to generate cash before you take this bold step. You can also seek out investors in your family, friends and community.
12. Be Encouraged. It’s not easy being unemployed with talent and education. Rely on your faith, lean on the support of your family and friends. Never give up!