Shaw & Erquiaga: Charlotte Is Investing In Social Capital To Help Students Move Up The Economic Ladder. Other Cities Should Follow Suit

Shaw & Erquiaga: Charlotte Is Investing in Social Capital to Help Students Move Up the Economic Ladder. Other Cities Should Follow Suit

In a recent evening in Charlotte, North Carolina, a group of 10 high school students from low-income backgrounds had the opportunity to meet with top executives from the global specialty chemicals company, Albemarle Corp. The purpose of their meeting was to gain insight from these executives, establish role models, and offer advice on how Albemarle Corp. could enhance its business practices.

Unfortunately, many young people never have the chance to make these kinds of valuable connections or share their expertise. For the children and families served by Communities in Schools, the American dream of upward mobility often feels like an unattainable fantasy. Growing up in environments segregated from wealth and economic opportunities, they are frequently trapped in cycles of generational poverty. To break free from these cycles, they require a resource that cannot be measured in monetary terms.

This resource is known as social capital, which encompasses the connections and relationships that assist individuals in navigating a successful future. In simpler terms, it’s about who you know and how they can aid you in your career and personal advancement.

The job-shadowing experience at Albemarle Corp. was a small step towards providing this invaluable resource to children who would not have access to it otherwise. The aim of a citywide effort in Charlotte is to enhance economic opportunities by fostering relationships between children and their families across various socioeconomic backgrounds. These relationships offer valuable information, support, and connections that would otherwise be absent. They empower individuals to unlock their own potential and enable them to excel.

Other cities across the nation should follow suit. While social capital may not appear on any balance sheet, its benefits are profound and it represents a significant investment in our future. It enables individuals to navigate higher education, secure prosperous careers, receive promotions, secure loans for entrepreneurial endeavors, and contribute to groundbreaking innovations. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to have access to these crucial social networks that extend beyond their immediate communities and families. However, they recognize the power of this non-financial resource and desire it. In Charlotte, high school students defined social capital as:

– "Forging new connections unlike any before."

– "Ensuring that everyone plays a role in accessing opportunities."

– "Building a stronger community."

– "Making positive contributions."

– "Striking a balance between relationships and connections within a community."

– "Equalizing opportunities."

– "Unity."

To us, it is evident that enhancing young people’s social capital should be a priority in preparing them for life. We are part of a national network of organizations that operate in schools, providing children with a comprehensive range of support to excel academically. When we enable students to develop social capital, we are not merely instructing them to dress professionally and introduce themselves. We are coaching them to view themselves as leaders, fostering lasting relationships with the individuals they encounter, and recognizing the value they bring to the table.

Economic segregation contributes to this issue, therefore the solution cannot solely rely on individuals. We must take collective action, as exemplified by ongoing efforts in Charlotte, Detroit, Seattle, and other communities that prioritize improving economic opportunities for those left behind or trapped in the middle. Communities and experts in economic mobility are working towards developing effective strategies for this cause. Communities in Schools of Charlotte-Mecklenburg is one of the organizations leading the way, identifying policies that foster relationships among a city’s schools, youth organizations, cultural and faith institutions, and businesses, transforming them into incubators for student development.

This call to action does not involve wealthy, privileged individuals swooping in to rescue underprivileged children. The children we work with, as well as other children across the nation, do not require saving. They are not helpless. They possess strength, resilience, talent, and immense potential, eagerly awaiting opportunities. However, they lack the networks and access necessary to engage in crucial conversations about college or to learn about emerging industries. They lack someone to help them open doors that would otherwise remain closed.

What we are advocating for is the desegregation of social networks, ensuring that every child has exposure to experiences that can unveil a world of opportunities. When this transformation occurs, entire communities will benefit.

Molly Shaw serves as the president and CEO of Communities in Schools of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, an organization dedicated to empowering children to succeed academically and in life. Dale Erquiaga, the president and CEO of the national organization Communities in Schools, previously held the position of superintendent of public instruction for Nevada.

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  • ewanpatel

    I'm a 29-year-old educational bloger and teacher. I have been writing about education for about six years, and I have a B.A. in English from UC Santa Cruz. I also have a M.A. in English from San Francisco State University. I teach high school English in the Bay Area.