Nearly 70 percent of black men between the ages of 18-24 in Rockford, Illinois are unemployed, four times higher than the rate for young white men.
The lack of a high school diploma, job experience, employer discrimination and mental health issues such as depression are some of the obstacles young black men face when seeking employment, according to United Way of Rock River Valley.
Tyair Jones is among the hundreds of students who drop out of Rockford Public Schools every year.
“They look at us as thugs and gangsters and everything, they discriminate on us, and it's not all about that," Jones told WREX 13 last year. “There are actually some people out here like myself that love to work, and some jobs don't give us the opportunity to come in and work for them."
At the time, United Way of Rock River Valley had just started the Black Male Initiative in concert with Goodwill of Northern Illinois and Workforce Connection Elevate, to help young men like Tyair in Rockford achieve their educational and employment goals.
Each participant is paired with a male mentor during a two-week “career boot camp” before starting their individual success plan. Mentors communicate with their candidates on a weekly basis providing guidance throughout the process and get together for monthly dinners. The goal: to create a network of support and ensure the young men feel that they can truly succeed despite obstacles they face.
Today, Tyair is focusing on his long-term goal: to get his GED. Tyair’s success is part of United Way’s work to make sure children get a strong start in school, youth earn the credentials they need to thrive in the job market, and people of all ages have an opportunity to improve their economic status and live a healthy life.