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Social Capital to Address Structural Inequality


If a random young person of color approached you, extended their hand, and told you they could make a valuable friend, reliable employee, or dependable connection, would you take their hand, confident they’d follow through? Or would you hold back, wondering what their game is?

If you’re like most people, you’d go with the second option, reserving your trust for the young people who are connected to the adults within your network. And although you may display concern about the plight of young men of color in the city where you work, your trust of them may not be so apparent. After all, it's hard to trust those you barely know.

Take for example a recent survey we conducted in Washington DC. When we asked random workers in the central business area to rate their concern for the plight of local African-American DC youth on a scale (1- little concern to 5 - great concern), the majority of respondents rated it a 5. Then we asked them to name three African- American youth residing in the District. The majority couldn’t name one.

Trust is a cornerstone in the social capital building process, forged through similarities in race, class, and belief systems. Unfortunately, policies and practices that promote discrimination, income inequality, and segregation have prohibited this all ever important asset access the opportunity to grow. And regardless of an individual's intent or how they identify, in the absence of these similarities of experience, trust’s evil doppelganger rears its head: distrust.

Distrust has dire consequences, especially when you consider that people tend to distrust people who look, act, and sound different. It is the same distrust that prevents many employers from tapping into the vast potential latent in the nation’s unemployed and job-seeking citizens, especially the inner city youth who they don't know.