At a State House rally on April 5th of 2012, Dawdu Mahama-Amantanah (left) spoke to supporters of the Coalition FOR Community Colleges—a group made up of more than 60 organizations from across Massachusetts intent on strengthening the state’s community colleges. He described what he called “the transfer wars,” wherein the credits he earned at a community college were worthless at another state college. He also described the quality of the education he received.
“I quickly learned that I was attending classes without enough books and very little guidance,” he said. “I worked so hard and spent so much money and came away with nothing,” he said. “I know that Massachusetts has a skills gap. I’m here to say there is also an opportunity gap.”
After leaving college for financial reasons and working in a dead-end job, Dawdu heard about Year Up, an organization that gives urban young adults the skills, experience and support they need to qualify for professional careers and pursue higher education. Having completed his “year up,” Dawdu has a full-time position at State Street Bank and is working toward a college degree at UMass Boston.
Year Up was launched in Boston in 2000 by Gerald Chertavian (right), a Boston Foundation donor and former board member, with early grants from the Boston Foundation and other funders inspired by his vision. Dedicated to closing what Gerald calls the “opportunity divide,” it has more than 3,400 alumni nationwide and serves 1,500 students in nine cities—working with hundreds of corporate partners that provide internships for the students.
Year Up is a member of the Coalition FOR Community Colleges, which was convened by the Boston Foundation early this year and led to sweeping changes in the state’s community college system that were signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick in July. The changes are designed to align community colleges with the workforce needs of the state. Massachusetts has a “skills gap” that has left some 100,000 positions unfilled when hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed, but unqualified for the open jobs.
“We desperately need a knowledge-based workforce in this country to remain competitive in the world,” says Gerald Chertavian, “and community colleges are pivotal to that goal.” In fact, Year Up is working with community colleges in two other states to establish an on-campus Personal Training Corps, based on the ROTC model. “We’re providing internships with businesses and support services that it would be hard for community colleges to offer,” he explains.
“I would have taken advantage of an opportunity like that,” says Dawdu. “I constantly think about everyone who hasn’t had the opportunities I’ve had through Year Up.” He adds, “I consider myself part of a movement to make America see the potential in all young people.”