Tackling disparity

Another day, another shooting.  Quite sadly they're becoming far too commonplace and one can only wonder why?  While we're still awaiting the results of yet another study on young black males we can in the mean time take a moment to understand the perspective from an impoverished youth to gain some insight into the barriers that exist that may have lent to the situation we find ourselves in today.

Some of the largest issues we face in Bermuda today are the inability for disadvantaged youth to see nor understand a path out of poverty via traditional routes.  Our youth see a largely have vs. have not society as our island is home to some of the wealthiest individuals in the world but it also has one of the highest costs of living to match.  How can our youth who start with nothing reach the top without being able to envision themselves doing it?  How do we show them that an honest life is easier and more valuable than a life of crime?

Look at things from their perspective.  You may have limited knowledge, limited education and little hope.  Where do you turn?  You look at others around you who you can relate to as role models for how you can achieve greatness.  You may not be surrounded with positive role models, instead you look around and take note of those with status, those who were once like you that have now reached a higher level.  You look to mass media and see the hip hop stars making millions for having lived the hard life and then making songs about it.  If that's how they made it, perhaps that is the way?  The hard life of inter-gang warfare in the states seems glamourous and exciting in comparison to a rather poverty stricken life here on the rock washing dishes for a meager struggle of a living.  

Compare this to what else you see.  You can look at the rich and see that in many cases they were born rich.  They were sent off to private schools, they have trust funds and support networks to get them into the best schools.  They've got the networks to get them into good jobs and give them a comparatively easy route to the top.  If you have none of these things, how do you make it?  Often you don't even have a clue where to start, especially if you haven't even reached the basic level of having a phone, a bank account, a drivers license, identification or the clothes you would need to interview let along get a job.  Beyond this, you've don't know how to act in the 'business' world as it has always been foreign but you are condemned for not knowing.  It is hard for you to see role models of people like you who started where you are who made it so how are you to know it is possible?

When you look up from the bottom and see these two routes, which do you think most people choose?  One seems more clearcut because you can see people who started off just like you and you can understand the path they took to make it.  While it is a hard life, it seems glamourous and achieveable.  It may not ultimately provide the long term returns for any but a handful but how would you know any better? The other route seems impossibily difficult because you can't see anyone who was like you and don't understand the path of how to get from where you are to where you want to be.  Sure if you work hard at it the returns are endless but what if you haven't a clue even where to start?  Inherently which path are you likely to choose?  The one that looks easier because it is well trodden by others who lead the way or the one where you make your own path?  Is it not true that most people don't like the idea of risking it all branching out into the unknown?

There are a great many who have taken the second route and preach it, blaming those who don't work hard and for not knowing what they don't know.  Mind you, starting from the very basics many of these individuals had elements that helped them along the way, role models, a helping hand, things we cannot take forgranted as immediately available to everyone.  Contrast this to those who take the first route and succeed.  They don't preach, they often boast and share their stories of success making all those looking up envious as it helps fuel their rise because the ones at the bottom are those out buying their merchandise fueling their success.

People love to claim that education is the solution.  While yes it is part of it we cannot consider it a panacea.  Ultimately the solution to the problem isn't as simple as upgrading education.  Hell, we spend a fortune as is on it.  We need to explore solutions beyond education and figure out how to get more people to take the second route without pressuring and guilting them into it as if it is completely their fault for not succeeding.  We need to figure out what barriers there are and do our best to diminish them.  We need to wear down the path by promoting the stories of positive role models who started just like them who have done it.  We need to strive to make the second path far easier to walk than the first. 

How do we make those role models more visible and their steps to success more transparent?  Not just those ones at the very top, every day role models, namely Bermudians?  Those who started their own businesses.  Those who worked hard at school.  Those who did night school.  Those who made it.  Examples of people who were at the same level of those who we're trying to help so we can show clear paths out.  

Another question to ask: What lessons have these individuals not learned that we should be teaching?  What can we do to expand the network of opportunities for these individuals.  Most of all, what can we do to make the second route seem like an easier and more guaranteed route of success than the first?  If we can answer these questions will we have taken the first steps towards solving our disparity problem?

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