Former EdSec Arne Duncan Turns His Attention Back to Chicago Youth

(Image: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Image: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Former US Education Secretary Arne Duncan has announced that he will be turning his focus toward the ongoing issues of violence, unemployment, and hopelessness in Chicago.

Duncan said he plans to open an office in Chicago for the Emerson Collective, a philanthropic group based out of California that is headed by Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of the late Steve Jobs.  Duncan said the purpose for doing so will be to offer support to entrepreneurs that can provide jobs in addition to creating and expanding training programs in order to help young people gain the skills necessary to hold a job.  His efforts will focus on city youth between the ages of 17 and 24 who do not have jobs and are not enrolled in school.

The former education secretary said he hopes that by providing this service the violence within Chicago will come to an end, especially in the poorer areas on the West and South sides, where he said many of the area youth have not finished high school, have criminal records, and can only find employment through joining a gang, writes Emma Brown for The Washington Post.

“I’m of the firm belief that we can’t police our way out of this, and we can’t arrest our way out of this. We have to provide opportunities,” Duncan said in an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday. “The thesis is, if we can help young men and women get real skills that will lead to real jobs and pay them to gain those skills, then you give them a reason to not sell drugs and not get caught in the violence.”

The Chicago Tribune reports 126 homicides in the city so far this year.  Last year, a total of 488 occurred there.  Aa recent study from the University of Chicago’s Great Cities Institute found 47% of young black men in the city do not have a job and are not enrolled in school.

He went on to say that the instability of schools in the area, which have seen pressure from the city through school closings in recent years, are a result of not enough state funding and the inability for CPS to hold a leader for long, writes Lauren Fitzpatrick for The Chicago Sun Times.

Joy Resmovits for The Los Angeles Times reports that Duncan said he had spoken with a group of incarcerated young men, discovering that one of the men had been placed in jail after turning to crime to help his mother pay her overdue bills.  According to Duncan, many of the city youth can only find job opportunities through area gangs.  He called their decisions rational, saying the rest of the world is unaware of how bleak their options are.

He also plans to contribute to another Emerson Collective project known as the XQ Institute, which is currently running a $50 million national grant competition for areas looking to make changes to their local high schools.  Russlynn Ali, who was previously assistant secretary for civil rights, heads the initiative, reports Leslie Brody for The Wall Street Journal.

The Emerson Collective runs as an LLC rather than a non-profit, allowing it to make for-profit investments and political donations.  Aside from education, it also focuses on immigration and criminal justice reform.