The forgotten brilliance in the inner city – 3 skills we need to pay attention to

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The number of people from the inner city that get lost in the shuffle every day is astonishing. Based on some facts from DoSomething.org, dropout rates are up to seven times higher with children from low income families as they are with families that have higher incomes. Based on information from that same site, “Less than 30% of students in the bottom quarter of incomes enroll in a 4-year school. Among that group – less than 50% graduate.”. Before I go any further I have to point out that by “inner city” I am referring to any area that is considered at or below the federal poverty level.

I’m not here to prove to anyone, something that everyone already knows. The numbers are staggering when you think about how we continue to lack the proper support for our most vulnerable populations. The stories are aplenty for someone from one of those communities doing something that ends up on the news. But the stories are few and far between of someone from those same communities doing something positive.

We continue to villainize a full population because their starting line is a little bit further behind a large portion of the rest of our country. The worst part about this story is that it’s not new to anyone. As a society we have always struggled with identifying with the less fortunate, whether that be socioeconomically, racially or any other less fortunate group. It’s a “we vs. they” mentality that has plagued our society for generations.

I am here to tell you that people from the inner city aren’t villains. They aren’t bad people, they aren’t less than, they aren’t even victims. When you are from those communities regardless of what city you are from, you can never fit directly into any box society tries to put you in. You can’t go to the suburban schools because they fear you, or worry that you aren’t like them. (Interestingly enough sometimes they have that same fear too) It’s hard to go to your community schools because they don’t challenge you. And you can’t go to private schools because you can’t afford them, so you are left to search for greatness you own way.

As a product of that environment I am here to tell you that we as a society are losing out on some brilliance. There are some key factors that make individuals that grow up with ‘less than’ phenomenal and unfortunately we are not capitalizing on that brilliance.

Hustle

It does not take long to see how hard some people who have ‘less than’ are willing to work to be able to accomplish their goals. You may not agree with their goals but that doesn’t detract from their hustle. There is this misconception that if you are from the “hood” you would rather sit at home and collect off the government instead of go to work every day. I grew up with families that received government assistance and still went to work every single day. Unfortunately for them, they did not have the “skills” society told them they needed to have to secure the jobs they were really capable of doing.

Anyone that has spent any extended amount of time in a successful black owned establishment, such as a barbershop for example, will know that you see more hustle in a two-hour time frame than you may see at your 9-5 for an entire month. You see the bootleg man come through the door trying to sell any and all of their products. You see a “booster” come through with new inventory trying to find the right customer to buy the newest gear. You see the beauty product salesman/woman come through with all of the items the barbers need.

As I sit and watch all of this transpire, I always wonder how they are pigeon holed into this role. If you put a suit on beauty supply salesperson and send them to a doctor’s office, they become a top level pharmaceutical sales rep. You send the booster to a department store and have them work based on commission with unlimited potential, and you would be looking at the highest rated sales person possibly in the region. The barber is probably the best marketer in the neighborhood. In order to be successful they must to be good at their craft, and know how to get the word out that they are open for business. I may see them through a different lens but I see potential. I see people who look at their circumstance and only see opportunity. They are working within the confines of their “hood” to be successful. They show an unlimited amount of hustle each day, otherwise they wouldn’t eat.



Determination

When you look at the job market I am not sure we give enough respect to some of the skills that cannot be taught. In particular, we do not give enough credit to people who have persevered through tough circumstances. Determination is mandatory if you want to be successful in life, but it is even more essential if you want to be successful and come from a less fortunate background. We recently posted an article The gift or GRIT that referenced some of the things that are just “different” for some people. What wasn’t referenced in the article was the fact that myself and my friend both grew up in less than ideal situations. We were both able to persevere, even when the chips were stacked against us.

That determination is something that we learned because we had no choice, and it is a common theme amongst that group. You can give me every excuse on why something isn’t going to work. You can even give me facts on why it shouldn’t work out in my favor. Regardless of what you say, what excuses you make or reasons you give, I am always willing to bet on me.  And there is nothing you can do to deter that.

After completing my freshman year of college I found out that my girlfriend was expecting. This is an age old tale in the hood. Guy goes away, meets a girl, she gets pregnant, he immediately gets a job, never goes back to school, he works that job until he retires and complains about what could have been. Sounds like the plot out of some sad movie. In this particular case I was not willing to be that guy. I was not willing to settle for anything less than what I felt I deserved and was capable of. When I told people that I had a kid on the way, it was evident that the first thought for some of them was that I was never going to finish school. That my life was over and that I was now going to be another statistic. I was another kid from the hood who would never reach his full potential. Sadly, that was not a surprise. I knew people would count me out. It was common, for people to look at me and assume I wasn’t going to amount to the things I said I was planning on achieving, so why should this be any different.

Moments like that are where determination comes in to play. Have you ever wanted something so bad that you only see it succeeding? That was the mentality I took to finish my undergrad degree. My desire to succeed was so strong that I never saw any of the obstacles that showed up. I simply stepped over them, went around them or broke straight through them. When my, now wife, and I decided that we would take a year off of school to get things in order for our son, we were counted out by a lot of people. We both have an unhealthy amount of determination. We set it in our minds that we would finish by any means necessary. There wasn’t a dead battery in the campus parking lot. No empty gas tank or slipping transmission. No lack of a baby sitter or a flat tire was going to stop us from getting to class. All of those items were simply things that happened in the midst of the day. Not one time did I, or we, see them as roadblocks that could somehow make us walk away from our goal.

When you stack the chips against someone and they overcome those challenges, there is nothing that you throw at them that could deter them from their goals!



Focus

The last factor that makes people who are brought up with ‘less than’ a little different is focus.  Distractions are everywhere when you are from the “hood”. Dope boys on the corner, little to no supervision in the neighborhood, and constant pressure to make a bad decision. If you aren’t from there you won’t always understand, but there are things pulling at you every day. Then, there’s an internal pressure that you put on yourself to help your family get in a better situation. That does not always mean you are getting out of the hood, but you want them to see better, so you develop a mentality and willingness to do anything necessary for their benefit.

The amount of focus you have to develop to be able to go after a better life, knowing you are surrounded by temptation is unbelievable. I watched as people with more talent and/or more intelligence than me fell from the graces as they continued to give in to the life of the hood. The drug money was easier and instant. Chasing girls was instant gratification that made an extra trip to the weight room seem like torture. Souped up cars with beats in the trunk and chrome feet made the work necessary to get good grades seem useless. Masking the pain with drugs was easier than finding a way to deal with, and then overcome, the root cause of the pain. In order to avoid the easy way out, you had to have a laser focus on what a better life looked like.

This focus is something that I still utilize. I can zone in on a task at work and no matter what is taking place around me, whether it be a conversation about another project or any other problem people may be dealing with, my tasks still gets done. When everything is in disarray and people are panicking about what to do next, someone from the hood is digging in and focusing on how to get the team to the answer.

This is not to say that you can’t come from any neighborhood and have all of these same traits. This is simply a statement on factors I think the world overlooks about the people who come from ‘less than’. When you start from nothing and work your way up to something, you realize you’re a little different. You realize that you don’t fit into the mold and you are 100% okay with that. You realize that if opportunities don’t come to you, you will go get them yourself, and you also realize that you only need to see a crack in the door, because once you see the crack you will kick it down to get in. As a society we are doing this group a disservice by both not taking them seriously and not giving them a fair chance. But truly, we are doing ourselves a disservice by not giving them a chance to take our companies to the next level.

Lastly, we have to stop looking at sports as the only outlet. In most cases people from the “hood” succeed in sports because it is a level playing field. The work they actually put in will get them an actual opportunity. No one is looking at their resume, no one is looking at their family history and no one is looking at their credit score. They are simply being evaluated on the work they complete. That is why we flock to sports. We want a chance. And if history has shown us anything, it has shown us that this is one of the few arenas where we will get a fair shot. It is time for people in the hood and elsewhere to recognize that we are capable of more than getting buckets and scoring touchdowns!

Don’t let an inherent bias be the reason your company isn’t going to the next level. Give the inner city a chance to show you that they are determined, focused and will not be out hustled.

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