Friday, July 10, 2009

Cortez Sings the Blues

“Carl, I didn’t get the job,” Cortez, my girlfriend’s son, moaned the disappointment of his rejection. “I just got the letter in the mail.

Cortez faithfully went through the process of applying for the City of Durham’s summer youth jobs program. He filled out the application, dressed up to turn in the application, contacted his school’s guidance office to obtain a copy of his transcript-he did everything he needed to do only to be denied summer work.

His 15-year-old spirit was crushed by the rejection. Beneath the hard external he attempts to construct to replicate the persona of hip-hop icons, is a sensitive teenager doing his best to find his way. Beyond his fondness of Lil Wayne is a young man determined to make his mother proud by completing his high school education with grades that will pave the way for an academic scholarship.

Cortez is like scores of other young men in Durham, NC. He’s looking for that break- just some way to endorse his assessment that his dreams can be fulfilled. Some proof that what he feels is real has been witnessed by others. The letter in his hand gave him reason to believe his stab at proving the worth of his gifts was futile. Why try when they will deny me a chance? I could hear it in his voice.

“Cortez, let me get back with you,” I said holding back the rage brewing within. I called one of my friends on the city council to get a feel for what went wrong.

“Cora, this is Carl Kenney,” I began. “I need your help in understanding what went wrong.” I called Cora Cole McFadden because she always tells the truth. I called her because of her love for youth and her passion to make a difference. I called Cora because I knew she shared my concern for the youth of the city.

“Carl, we didn’t have enough jobs,” she informed me. “The businesses didn’t come through. “ I listened as she scolded local businesses for reaping the benefits of city services yet failing to support this worthy cause. The challenge to locate jobs to match each applicant was an arduous enterprise. The state of the economy forced many companies to cut back, and it’s difficult to justify hiring youth while failing to employ a parent.

It’s certain that the demands facing small businesses are overwhelming. Many grapple with keeping the doors open long enough to give the stimulus plan time to kick in. Many wonder if the plan will be enough. Employing one more person-just one more- may be the thing to forces them out of business.

I ended the conversation with Cora and ruminated on the consequences of not having enough to take care of our youth. Each major decision made-be it on the state or local level-seemingly has major implications on the delivery of services for youth. Be it the reductions of programs in our schools, cutbacks in funding to nonprofits who provide support for youth, or summer jobs for youth-young people are getting the bad end of the bargain.

It all comes at the worst possible time. Our youth are engaged in a battle comparable to the epic clashes between the forces of good and evil. They have been forced into a battle to preserve the credibility of their very existence. Their challenge is to transcend the judgments of older generations. This war is reflected best in the sullenness of African American boys who stand between years of promise and a culture of subjugation.

Needed is proof that hard work and abiding by all the rules will produce the rewards promised. What difference does it make when a letter appears to give credence to the claim that you can’t make it in a world that holds you in contempt? None of that may be true, but in the mind of person doing their best to find a way it all seems like a waste of time.

How could I tell Cortex the community let him down? How could I challenge him to keep pressing forward in faith when he played by all the rules and believed he would get a job because of the promise offered? “Why would they have me go through all of that if they didn’t have a job for me,” he asked. “They wasted my time.”

So true Cortex. So true. Once again we let our youth down. And we wonder why we have so many problems with helping them find their way.


  1. If there aren't enough jobs for every teen that wants one then that's what's called competition. Take away the competition for jobs and what are you really earning?

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