Percentage of Employed Black Men Is Lowest It’s Been in 40 Years
IN MEMPHIS — His week had begun with a graduation ceremony, a standing ovation and a walk across the stage to meet the president of the United States. Kenneth Roberson was a top-ranked student at the high school President Obama had selected as the country’s most “inspiring,” and the president had extended his hand and asked Roberson what he planned to do next. The 18-year-old thought back to his mother’s advice about making first impressions: Stand tall. Make eye contact. Smile. Be confident.
“Sir, I’m going to get a job and go to college,” Roberson told the president.
Now it was Friday afternoon, four days later, and Roberson idled with a group of fellow graduates in the empty parking lot of Booker T. Washington High, a public school surrounded by the housing projects of South Memphis. The president was gone. The commemorative banner had been packed away into storage. A school security guard had locked the main entrance. All that was left were the littered remains of green-and-white confetti on the asphalt and a shared uncertainty about what to do next.
“I need a damn job, man,” said Chris Dean, 18. “Any of y’all got something?”
“Nah,” said one.
“Nah,” said another.
“I’m still trying to get hooked up at McDonald’s,” said a third.
The group turned to Roberson, who had always been the first of his friends to get everything. He had graduated in the top five in the class and won a partial scholarship to college. He hoped to earn at least $2,000 over the summer to pay for school and buy a car that would get him there. But now, in the parking lot, he was another teenager shaking his head.