To celebrate Black History Month, we’re sharing stories from the StreetWise Partners community about how we’re working together to close the opportunity gap and create a more equitable future.
by Luisa Perez Miller, Chief of Staff, StreetWise Partners
February 28th, 2023
Talent is everywhere, however access to opportunity is not equitably distributed in America. As Shelley Stewart, senior partner at McKinsey, explains in the Future of America podcast, “If Black Americans were paid their fair share of wages every year, it would be $220 billion higher.”
StreetWise Partners helps bridge the opportunity gap through mentorship, networking, and the exchange of social capital — relationships and resources, as Julia Freeland Fisher of The Christensen Institute describes it — from mentors to mentees. We serve a range of individuals and communities, from young students who don’t have networks, highly-skilled immigrants, and unemployed and under-employed adults who don’t have a Bachelor’s degree, which has a measurable impact on their career opportunities and economic mobility.
As an example, in 2021 and 2022, mentees who identify as Black and who started a job after completing the StreetWise program in New York City increased their salary by 28% on average. In D.C., mentees who identify as Black and started a job after completing the program in 2022 increased their salary by 36%.
My personal experience with the challenge
This is a challenge I experienced first hand. When I was about to start my Junior year of college at a private university here in New York City, I discovered that I lost my need-based financial aid scholarship because I earned “too much” (~$50k/year) working full-time as an Executive Administrative Assistant at a private equity investment firm while a full-time student.
This experience derailed my life for over a decade. I dropped out of college and returned to finish my degree many years later. I didn’t have anyone to advocate for me. I didn’t have a mentor. I didn’t have a “StreetWise” to help me navigate a system that was so new to me – and new to my family — as an immigrant, first-gen college student just starting my professional career.
While I struggled early in my career because of a lack of mentorship, access to networks, and social capital, I later found mentors and sponsors who helped me get to where I am today — in just 8 years, from stay at home mom who hadn’t finished her Bachelor’s degree, to college graduate, to Senior Policy Advisor with the City of New York, to Chief of Staff at StreetWise.
Having people in your career or field of interest who can not only mentor but sponsor, recommend, and advocate for you, can change the trajectory of your career and your life. This opportunity to help others mitigate the real costs of not having access to networks has been full circle for me in my personal and professional journey.
Creating opportunity – and a new trajectory
As an Afro-Latina woman, I’m often the only Black woman in a senior leadership role in the room. As a recent immigrant, it is not lost on me that I could not be where I am today without the sacrifices and victories of Black Americans, especially during the Civil Rights Movement. Black History is American History. I am grateful for all the mentors and sponsors that have opened doors for me along the way.
I am also inspired by the stories of Black Alumni who have graduated from StreetWise programs – like Jamar Ffrench, who is an account executive at NBC Universal, and Olivia-Jay Bly, who learned during a mock interview session that her career dreams are possible because she is so much more than just a degree.
There are so many people just like me, like Jamar and Olivia-Jay, who are going through similar experiences trying to navigate the professional world – representation and sponsorship beyond mentorship is so important. Consider this: 24.3% of New York City’s population is Black/African American, while 20% of the participants we served in 2020-21 in the New York City region were Black/African American.
If you’re looking to take that extra step, we’re not only celebrating Black History but also working to create change for the future, please consider joining as a mentor or mentee. We’d love to have you be a part of the StreetWise community.
I would like to dedicate this post to Susanna. Gracias (Thank you) Susanna for opening doors and continuing to play an important role in my career and my life.