I grew up and went to school on the Southside of Memphis. Early in school I was looked at as intelligent but a “bad apple”. The Zero Tolerance Policy that Memphis City Schools had adopted at that time resulted in continuous suspensions throughout my school career. My 9th grade year I was Board Suspended nine times from the same school, and the first semester of my 10th grade year I was kicked out of another 5-6 schools. I finally settled in and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 2007, and less than 6 months later, I was starting an 8.5 year federal prison sentence. When I graduated, I had no goals, no life plan, no desire to go to college, and I had no one guiding me to let me know that these things were needed.
Coming out of prison was similar to graduating high school. I had no certifications, no skills, and no guidance, and I was again expected to go out, get a job, and be successful. My mind was made up that prison was never an option again, so I went out to get that job that would lead to my success. I went out, and I ran into temp service after temp service, low wages with no benefits, and no room to move up in a career. I felt like I was back in prison: caught in the routine of waking up everyday with a hope that it would get better, that my thoughts, talents, and value would be fully recognized and led me to excel, yet seeing no real way to make this a reality.
Then, I met someone through a relative of mine, who helped make my dreams a reality. We met 2-3 times in a month span, and every conversation was about me. Questions centered around the barriers I faced, and the resources and supports I would need to accomplish my goals in life. From those meetings, I was offered an internship with The Collective that was designed to equip me with the skills, support system, and opportunities I needed to do work I find rewarding, all while being able to support myself without living 24 hours a day in survival mode. The constant check ins, leadership opportunities, and high expectations this new support system introduced pushed me towards my goals, and it let me know that I have people in my life who care about my success as much as I do.
This year’s Urban Summit is about how we can come together as a community and a city to support the 45,000 young adults out of work and school. With prophetic pastors like Stacy Spencer of New Direction and Earle Fisher of Abyssinian Baptist Church, workshops on how to better support young adults in Memphis, and opportunities to hear from young adults themselves, The Urban Summit is where you should be February 22nd and 23rd if you are passionate about seeing a positive change towards economic justice in the City of Memphis!
Rob Brown is a Founding Team Member of The Collective and a Fellow, currently leading Recruitment, Event Logistics, and Co-Leading their Young Adult Advisory Council. Brown interns weekly with the Shelby County Government Director of Community Services working on a project to learn more about government services for young adults and providing suggestions on how to improve services for opportunity youth across Shelby County. Brown is also going to school full-time, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology at Southwest Tennessee Community College.