A part of the reason this blog is entitled “Gold in the Ghetto” is because the focus is on exactly that. There is a LOT of value within our communities, often labeled “ghetto” due to a disproportionate amount of income, lack of accessible resources and perception of residents. I beg to differ. We have the skills, talent and enough resources to break out of that, even if we don’t always realize it.
In my novel, Urban Development, Kairome begins to realize that his own set of skills gained dealing with the drug game are not all that different from the skills people use in corporate America. He is successful at the illegal business but faces a learning curve within corporate America. He also noticed many things during a college internship. The first is that his high emotional intelligence was sharpened because of his always having to be cognizant of the perils of the street, played a bigger role in helping him further advance his career than his degree did. Once he entered his field, he learned success in his new job would require some of the skills and resources he’d cultivated with his illegal endeavors. Finally, he realized that given the appropriate information and guidance, most people where he came from could do anything that skilled and wealthy people did in corporate America. He also learned that these corporate people did just many illegal or unethical things. The difference is the perception of the corporate employee and access to opportunity.
This is not just an opinion of mine or a story I made up, there have been books written on this topic. Check out “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner to find a study conducted on the matter.
This is not an effort to discourage anyone from seeking further education. On the contrary, I encourage it, I consider myself a lifelong learner. Keeping that in mind, you do not necessarily need a college degree to gain skills. Skills are gained through experience. College degrees are learning tools, which help sharpen the saw and provide networking opportunities, especially in your chosen field. I say this because when you have fewer resources, you have no choice except to find ways to survive and even thrive, which results in creating and building a valuable skillset. Many people go to school attempting to learn those skills but most won’t actually learn the skills until they are in their fields doing the work. This creates an advantage to those who were forced to develop those skills when the right platform is available.
A degree will take the same skills many of us are forced to learn and gives them a name and a very specific function. We should invest in the skills we have, just as we would a formal education. If you stay ready, you won’t have to get ready. Perhaps as a teenager, you had a side hustle because you wanted extra money to purchase things your parents wouldn’t get for you. That alone consists of many entrepreneurial skills. As a kid I would often buy candy from the store and sell them at school. As an adult, I taught my children to do the same thing. They started off with one box of mixed skittles and I told them they would have to sell those and buy more. They would also have to learn what their peers wanted and expand their candy selection to satisfy their client base. Within a month they took my $24 investment in one box and brand of candy and turned into a few hundred dollars with multiple brands. When I was kid no one bothered me. Unfortunately, in their suburban school it was frowned upon and their thriving candy empire was shut down.
Often we have acquired these skills without maximizing their potential. This results in the inability to grasp potential opportunities. It also presents the idea that the skillset doesn’t exist within our communities. Many of these skills could be monetized as they are, however an investment in improving them makes them marketable. The investment could be many things but the most important thing is to improve your skills by gaining experience. In some situations, higher education is the required investment. You have to decide which strategy aligns best with your goals.
The more people who do this, the more frequently accessible opportunities will become available. We will also be able to create our own opportunities. Not only will it slowly begin to change the external perception that there is nothing within our communities, but it will alert members of the community that their skills can and should be maximized.