The possibility of a fresh start worked the room, as dozens of job applicants waited to be interviewed. Their thoughts were private but their presence demonstrated a resilience no government statistic could quantify. Maybe they didn’t know Michael Brown personally, but they were all too familiar with the narrative and the way his death had renewed efforts to rebuild urban communities.
The Ferguson 1000 Hiring event in Ferguson, Mo. brought 550 job applicants to a local center to meet 40 company recruiters. Those who attended pre-registered to accelerate the screening process. At the end of the day, 70 were hired.
“What we’ve done is taken the typical job fair and made it more efficient,” Dr. Lance McCarthy, one of the Ferguson 1000 organizers, told NewsOne. “Typically, in job fairs, people show up and there’s no way of tracking that. We bought billboards with a phone number to call. So now, instead of just showing up, you are registered…all of that preparation allowed people to prepare before they arrived. And companies told us this was the best approach they’ve seen.”
The new hires will be tracked for the next few months. “We have a job database now, and that’s how you do true job creation,” McCarthy explained.
In the wake of the unrest following the police killing of Michael Brown, McCarthy tapped a longtime friend, Dave Spence, to help form Ferguson 1000. Together, they decided an economic reset would help change the circumstances of Blacks in Ferguson by connecting those looking for work with those who hire people to work.
“We have to have a stronger African-American business structure in the state of Missouri,” McCarthy states. “I was fortunate to come from a loving family and benefited from programs to help urban youth. I have no other option than to help come back and change the business structure especially with my research as an economist. You can’t solve economic problems with social solutions. It is well-intentioned, but it does not solve economic issues.”
McCarthy grew up in St. Louis in a neighborhood where hard times are a common story. These days, he is known for starting Black Silicon Valley, a national platform to help Black tech firms grow. It is also a training resource designed to “get more African Americans in the tech space.”
In the 12 tumultuous months since Ferguson erupted into a global display of America’s unfinished business on race, the work of social justice has kept many occupied. From city to city protestors have demanded and are requiring justice for Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland and Sam DuBose. Parents revisited conversations their parents had with them about the ugly treatment this country has meted out to Blacks for generations. Some communities have created programs to equip young Black men with the tools to play the game, if not change it.
The U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. introduced its Black Male Entrepreneur Institute earlier this year. The first class of entrepreneurs is centered in Washington, D.C. where Christian Benjamin owns a marketing firm with 15 employees.
“They put us in the same room with CFO’s, leaders who are legitimate and with whom you can work,”says the 33 year-old Benjamin. “When you own a business, one of the most important things about your time is that you need to meet the right people.”
Benjamin received an invitation to the Institute along with other young businessmen excelling in their industries. They have networked with each other, and he says the Institute has “provided us consistently with different resources.”
But, what happens at the Institute does not need to stay in the Institute. As Benjamin states, “Kids often don’t see any professions beyond athletes and entertainers. As the Chamber helps people like myself, kids see other possibilities. They need to see other possibilities, something they can do and strive for. We have to do well so we can help our communities.”
It’s a sentiment also shared by Dr. McCarthy and many others in Black America. On Saturday during the events marking the one year anniversary of Brown’s death, McCarthy and his team will present a report card of the progress made over the last 12 months.
“Michael Brown’s dying was not in vain,” McCarthy says. “He has started a conversation and movement across this country to look at social and economic justice. We can take this tragedy and move people forward not only in Ferguson but across this nation.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty