Secretary Arne Duncan Joins Emerson Collective to Help Disconnected Youth in Chicago

Chicago CRED

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has returned to Chicago and joined Emerson Collective to lead a comprehensive effort to improve opportunities for young people in the city.

Duncan and Emerson Collective will focus first on Chicago residents between the ages of 17 and 24 who are neither working nor in school, many of whom have criminal records and lack high school degrees. Their work will explore factors in schools, homes and communities that contribute to crime, joblessness and social breakdown. The immediate goal is to provide job opportunities for young people today in Chicago and to help forge a safer, surer path from home to school to work for at-risk kids.

“A young person growing up in Chicago ought to be able to chart a clear roadmap toward a bright future,” Duncan said. “But for too many inner city kids, the path is marred by poverty, violence, broken social networks and schools that can’t keep up with the challenges in tough neighborhoods. The violence is a symptom of hopelessness and our priority is to give young people hope by getting them jobs.”

Duncan emphasized that he will continue his work in education but is currently focused on disconnected youth because of the recent surge in violence in his hometown. A recent report put the total number of disconnected youth across the nation—defined as neither working nor in school—at nearly six million, or one in seven young people. Among young black men in Chicago, the rate climbs to a staggering 47 percent, according to a recent study.

The work will tap into an inventive set of resources to address systemic barriers to opportunity, including dynamic partnerships with community-based organizations, investing in entrepreneurs who can bring a new era of innovation and job growth to neglected neighborhoods, and collaborating with local leadership to scale the best solutions that will directly benefit inner-city Chicago youth and families.

Duncan and Emerson Collective bring to this effort a lifelong passion for helping low-income children and young people through better education, meaningful personal relationships and greater exposure to concrete work opportunities.

“Throughout his career, Secretary Duncan has kept the needs of young people as his north star,” said Laurene Powell Jobs, president of Emerson Collective. “We are honored to work with Arne to address the most pressing issues facing disconnected youth and communities beset with violence.”

Duncan will also support the XQ Institute and the XQ Super School Project, a national movement to reimagine America’s high schools, which Emerson Collective launched last year. The work includes a grant competition open to all communities to submit new designs for high school models—nearly 700 design applications have been submitted, and later this summer XQ will announce the first round of grants to support redesign or new school plans.