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Renewing the American Dream: Concrete Steps to Expand Opportunity

The UVA School of Continuing and Professional Studies hosted a community discussion January 16 on the topic of expanding education and opportunity for more Americans to live better lives. The event, co-hosted by the Chamber Business Diversity Council, yielded some important takeaways for our business community.

As PVCC President Frank Friedman said in his closing remarks for the evening, "We spend time, energy, and money helping people survive poverty. Our agencies need to work together to move every individual out of poverty."

Brennan Gould, Jim Ryan, and Angela Ciolfi discuss Renewing the American Dream
Brennan Gould, Jim Ryan, and Angela Ciolfi discuss Renewing the American Dream

Part One

UVA President Jim Ryan, Charlottesville Area Community Foundation President Brennan Gould, and Legal Aid Justice Center Director Angela Ciolfi

Expand access to capital.

Gould emphasized the importance of revolving loan funds like the Fountain Fund, Slow Money Central Virginia, and the Community Investment Collaborative. "Ownership shifts power balances," she said.

Let go of stereotypes.

Gould and Ciolfi both noted that our stereotypes and mental constructs, such as the idea that people should be able to "bootstrap" their way out of poverty, can be some of the biggest obstacles. Ciolfi highlighted the cascade of problems caused by driver's license suspensions for failure to pay court costs, which exacerbates poverty and has disproportionately affected Black Virginians. Recognizing the historic and modern structures of inequality is an essential first step toward realistic solutions.

Leverage the power of our big institutions.

Gould pointed to the progress being made by the UVA President's Council on University-Community Partnerships: using UVA's purchasing power to intentionally create opportunities, implementing a living wage for employees, increasing access to advancement opportunities, and seeking solutions for affordable housing & childcare.

Alex Hernandez, Andrea Copeland-Whitsett, and Hayes Humphreys
Alex Hernandez, Andrea Copeland-Whitsett, and Hayes Humphreys

Part Two

UVA SCPS Dean Alex Hernandez, Chamber Director of Member Education Services Andrea Copeland-Whitsett, and Devil's Backbone Brewing Company CEO Hayes Humphreys

Bring people to the table.

Copeland-Whitsett encouraged us to "look around the table and see who's not there, and be intentional about reaching out to those people." She reminded us that simply recognizing an individual's potential, encouraging them, and suggesting opportunities can make a tremendous difference. The Network2Work program has seen great success by connecting individuals with opportunities.

Copeland-Whitsett praised the City of Charlottesville for stepping up its support of minority businesses and entrepreneurs through the Minority Business Program. She also noted that many local organizations have implemented diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives since August 12, 2017.

Invest in our workforce at every step.

Humphreys said his company works to prepare its employees for moving up the ladder. In addition to training management skills internally, Devil's Backbone has worked with PVCC for management training. Recounting the way local breweries worked collaboratively to train new workers, Humphreys advised local employers to network together to grow the talent pool in their industries. Copeland-Whitsett highlighted Charlottesville's Community Attention Youth Internship Program (CAYIP) as a valuable opportunity to start workforce development earlier.

 

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