Tuesday, July 19, 2016, 7:15 a.m. (The 74) – The America Forward Coalition is bringing together local elected officials and education leaders for a Town Hall discussion on what it means to be a college student in 2016. Today’s Student Town Hall will take place at the Philadelphia History Museum Tuesday, at 6pm. This is an opportunity for Pennsylvania students to tell elected officials and the presidential campaigns what it means to be a student today, and discuss the challenges and barriers to attaining a degree, including debt, child care, work and other commitments. Register for the event and learn more here.

To kick off the conversation, here’s an essay from Michael Baldwin, a student majoring in business administration at Pierce College who is now working as a University Relations Recruitment Intern at Comcast NBC Universal. He is a Year Up graduate and has ambitions to run for office one day.

An Inner City Agenda for the Next President: No one asked me if I wanted to grow up in the inner city. No one warned me about the failing schools and the lack of opportunities to pull myself out of poverty. And no adult could ever explain to me why I hated myself, and why I always dreamed of a different life. Looking back, I now see how this mindset is shared among different generations – how easy it is for young men like me to hate the world around them. But young people in the inner city deserve better, which is why the next president should create an inner city agenda that provides all youth more opportunity.

While many men and women come out of the inner city and have successful and meaningful lives, there are not enough. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just over 60 percent of African Americans are participating in the labor market while 14 percent of African American men and women between the ages of 18-34 are out of work. One explanation is that there are few jobs for inner city youth – there is no ladder that leads to a better life.

The lack of opportunities for young people in the inner city seemed intentional to me and I felt completely hopeless, until I participated in the Year Up program – an inner city program that tries to close the Opportunity Divide. Because of this opportunity, I was hired at Comcast NBC Universal with the University Relations team shortly after completing the program. I have only been at the company for a year, but I already recognize how Year Up set me up for success by giving me the chance to gain and sharpen professional skills necessary for success in any endeavor.

I reflected on my opportunity recently at an event held at Kensington High School — one of the higher poverty-induced neighborhoods in Philadelphia, riddled with drugs, crime and deteriorating family life. A company hosted a workshop that provides professional development for local high school students. While meeting with the students, I took an informal poll by asking what they wanted to do after high school. I heard many of the same answers: basketball player, rap artist, and hair stylist.

A few weeks after this event, I had the opportunity to speak at the high school where I graduated. Located in the suburbs of Philadelphia, the student demographics and opportunities available are quite different than what I was exposed to growing up in the inner city. I asked the same question of many students: What do you want to do after high school? This time the answers were completely different. Students responded with veterinarian, lawyer, engineer, and political figure. This immediately struck me as I understood their responses depicted the opportunities they were exposed to in their communities – opportunities that Kensington High students were not afforded.

How can our political leaders allow this to happen – to allow kids in the same city to dream in different colors? The next president has an opportunity to create an inner city agenda that will help all young people, not just those that live in the suburbs. Specifically, this agenda could increase the amount of mentors available for today’s students and provide more career guidance support. To accomplish this, the next president can pass a legislation that would allow funds to target communities with extremely high dropout rates. These funds could then support programs that enable students to earn their GED, and assist higher job training and learning conduits such as Year Up, City Year and Power Corps.

If we do nothing, our future in the inner city is stark. Without jobs, crime rates increase and inner city youth are academically and professionally left behind. The lack of attention our political leaders give youth in the inner city has only perpetuated senseless crime and degradation. Something must change. So at this evening’s Town Hall for Today’s Students hosted by America Forward, with representatives from the presidential campaigns, and local elected official, I will have only one question to ask: What kind of inner city agenda will the next president offer?

— Michael Baldwin, Year Up Philadelphia Graduate

Read online here.