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Mentorship, Careers, and Empowerment: Ladders of Opportunity

Mentorship, Careers, and Empowerment: Ladders of Opportunity

Last Monday, I spoke to a large group – many of them high school and college students of color – gathered at DOT Headquarters for a day of “Mentorship, Careers, and Empowerment: Ladders of Opportunity for Young Men of Color.” The event was held by our Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (we call it OSDBU, for short), and the students were here to be matched with mentors and to learn about new careers or--perhaps--even land an internship.

Photo of D.O.T.'s James Cole mentoring students
DOT's James Cole mentors students.

The whole day reminded me of the first time I tried to get a job. I was twelve, growing up in Charlotte, and there was a new science museum downtown. I wanted to work there. Badly. So I made my way to their offices and filled out an application. And when I didn’t hear anything, I applied again. And again. And again.

After a few weeks and still no response, I went to the museum and found a door cracked open behind the aquarium. So, I went in, picked up a bucket and a squeegee, and started working.  

Some may call that bold. Others may call it grounds for a lifetime ban.

Thankfully, the executive director of the museum believed it was the former. She called me to her office and explained that, although I was too young to work for them, they’d make an exception because I’d shown initiative. My career in museum-work didn’t last. But what I learned was that, sometimes, seizing the initiative pays off.

And that’s what I told the students last Monday.

At DOT, we’re proud to support women- and minority owned-businesses by giving them an opportunity to participate in the rebuilding of this country. But we’re especially proud because many of the people who founded these businesses were once like the students I saw Monday: eager for a job; full of promise; and ready to walk through the open door and get to work.

Part of the Obama Administration’s Ladders of Opportunity program focuses on the critical challenges, risk factors, and opportunities at key life stages to improve these students' long-term outcomes and their ability to contribute to the Nation's competitiveness, economic mobility and growth, and civil society.

Unlocking their full potential doesn't just benefit them; it benefits all Americans.

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