I was recently made aware of the incredible story of three young men from Baltimore who were featured in a CNN story in the wake of unrest following the death of Freddie Grey, a young Baltimore man who died while in Police custody. After seeing the CNN story, Bethune-Cookman University President Dr. Edison Jackson was inspired to act, and quickly offered the three boys full four year scholarships to his University.

The story of these three Baltimore teens is not uncommon in inner cities all cross this nation. In fact, it was my story and the story of my friends and family. Faced with insurmountable odds brought on by disparities in equal access to a quality education, jobs and a solid financial education, many young black men and women feel hopeless and trapped by their circumstances.

Closer to home, by most measures Minnesota outperforms the rest of the nation and enjoys a high quality of life- from education to housing and health. Sixteen of the Fortune 500’s largest US corporations are located in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region, and the Department of Employment and Economic Development recently reported that Minnesota now has the lowest unemployment in nearly 15 years. Huge disparities exist in education, housing, unemployment and income levels between African Americans and whites, even when compared to other people of color in other states.

Consider these facts:

– The Household income for blacks in Minnesota dropped 14 percent from 2013-14- from $31,500 to $27,000.
– The state wide poverty rate (White) 6%; (Black) 24%

– Among the 50 states, including D.C. and Puerto Rico, Minnesota ranked 45th in median black household income; Mississippi is 44th.

(source: US Census Bureau)

There are no easy answers to deep seeded problems that affect our communities so drastically, but Dr. Jackson’s actions were a wake up call for me. When he said, “I didn’t even need to think about it.” I had to ask myself, what was I willing to do to take action? What could I influence? How could I help? The good news is, I work for U.S. Bank, where we support programs and organizations that help small business thrive, people succeed in the workforce, provide pathways to higher education and gain greater financial literacy. Simply put, I work for a company that when faced with difficult challenges, decides to roll up its sleeves and go to work, versus wringing its hands.

So on Friday we announced a $700,000 multi-year scholarship program in partnership with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) at the 7th Annual State of Minnesota Leaders Luncheon on Education, and offered a call to action for other Minnesota corporations to join us. Named after the third principal of the seven-day African American holiday Kwanzaa, the Swahili word “Ujima” (oo-JEE-mah) stands for “collective work and responsibility.”

Through the UNCF Ujima Scholars program we aim to provide the neediest of students with one on one academic assistance, scholarships, career preparation, financial education and job opportunities.

I’m grateful to work with and among such talented and committed people who put their time, resources and passions towards building vibrant communities and helping all people work towards their Possible.
For more information on the UNCF Ujima scholarship visit: UNCF.org

Baltimore Students on CNN


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