The future begins with our children
Let me tell you about a young man named Jason. Like many other teenagers growing up in an inner-city environment, he struggled in school and didn’t think he was going to make it.
Jason was fortunate. He had adults to support him, motivate him and make sure he stayed on the right track. This past spring, he graduated from one of our great high schools in our Grand Rapids Public Schools and will attend Grand Rapids Community College as part of our culinary arts program this fall.
That’s a great accomplishment for someone who was failing his classes in sixth grade. But as he told me recently: “It doesn’t matter where you start. It matters where you finish.”
Our city has many young men like Jason, and you can make a difference in their lives. Connections like this are vitally important if we, together, are going to develop the next generation of leaders in our city.
Last school year, I adjusted part of my schedule to work with nine young men from University Prep Academy, Ottawa Hills High School and Grand Rapids Christian High School.
They were able to see someone who looked like them in a leadership position in their city. They each spent a day with me, attending meetings with colleagues and community leaders, seeing our campus and regrouping over a meal. They also were able to see students walking around on campus who looked like them, and in some cases, saw friends who were attending our college. We talked about their families, their futures and where they can turn when they need a hand or a sympathetic ear.
And I listened. I heard about their concerns, their frustrations and the challenges they face each day. I learned about the kinds of things we need to do to as a community to ensure they have opportunities to grow, thrive and lead. I think about these young men very often.
I’m proud of the work we do at GRCC. Five years ago, Dr. Andre Fields founded our campus chapter of Alpha Beta Omega. He and success coach Chris Sain Jr. developed a network to provide young scholars with relational, educational and cultural experiences that will instill the leadership qualities they will need to effectively serve our local, national and global community.
I was honored last year when Mayor Rosalynn Bliss asked me to join her in co-chairing the Grand Rapids Racial Equity Initiative to bring people and groups together to ensure everyone has the chance to succeed in our community. We have much to do.
My work toward racial equity blends seamlessly with GRCC's role in providing education for West Michigan, whether we send students to their next institution or a start to a career. Racial equity and building our economy are not mutually exclusive. I’m on a number of local and national boards and partnered with some really great organizations, and the intent is very clear: wanting the best for our region, and that begins with our children — ALL of our children.
So, I’ve committed to continuing my shadowing initiative this coming school year. I am determined to show these young men and women a glimpse of what “can be” for their futures and, at the same time, show them a possible start to their education pathway through our great institution. I cannot begin to tell you how awesome it was to see these young men light up when GRCC faculty, staff and/or students stopped us on the sidewalk and showed interest in them and their future. The effort is well worth the time.
I’m calling on all West Michigan leaders to personally get involved with our young people. A shadowing initiative is one powerful way, but there are plenty of ways to get this done. I realize that all of our calendars are packed with important work — it's why West Michigan is thriving today. But our challenge moving forward is to make sure that our region continues to grow, and that will happen only when we make it a priority to invite people like Jason into our lives and help them find their path to an amazing career.
Our children deserve it.
Bill Pink is president of Grand Rapids Community College.