Too many of America’s children grow up without the skills needed to thrive in the twenty-first century. Low levels of performance among the most disadvantaged create long-term problems, particularly in an economy in which higher skill levels are more and more valued and the wages available to less-skilled workers are deteriorating. Inequality persists.
In the photo above, I am in 9th grade, posing with the neighborhood gang's graffiti. I grew up in Downtown LA in an 800-square foot apartment building. The kids in my neighborhood were routinely involved in drugs and gangs. Teen pregnancy was a huge issue. My family was on welfare. Ours was a five-kid, one-parent household. And I was a direct beneficiary of the programs where the city reinvested in at-risk youth programs.
When I was in 12th grade, I was hired to work at a courthouse, and I was paid through the Joint Training Partnership Act which aimed to keep at-risk youth off the streets. The courthouse positioned me in a job where I was assisting a judge.
The judge was a woman who kindly drove me home after work every day. She would ask me what my plans were for after high school. I had no plans for doing anything after high school except getting a job. She became my first mentor. She is the one who made me see the value of an education. That judge made the biggest impact in my life because she was a workers' compensation judge and today, I own the largest workers' compensation counseling center in California. I am an entrepreneur, and this has made all the difference in my life. If it were not for that program, how could I have gotten a job at that courthouse as a kid? How would I be exposed to judges and lawyers and witness another way of living life? That would never have happened.
Reducing inequality in the educational system will not be simple, but experts suggest the following:
Investing in education pays off. I am evidence of that.