Early Saturday morning, dozens of young Jacksonians came together to answer the burning question: what’s your color?
Guided by the Real Colors assessment used to designate personality types, the young people, grouped by their discovered color labels—confident oranges, emotionally intelligent blues, calm and collected greens (there were no golds)–discussed their personality types. What set them apart, what they had in common, how they could learn from each other and work together. This training is all part of Ask for More Jackson’s Engage, Enlighten and Employ, or “E3” program. The Real Colors assessment, among other exercises, helps the young participants better understand themselves.
“It helps me toward my goals in life,” said 18-year-old Kevazian Johnson about this particular exercise; Johnson is an orange, who feels this skill training will better prepare him for the collaborative nature of his future career goal of being a fashion designer. “It helps me understand other people’s values and goals.”
In its fourth year of operation, E3 has empowered dozens of Jackson teenagers and young adults in their pursuit of future success, whether or not they want to go to college. This year’s participants spent their summer in internships that helped them develop their career interests. From there, Ask for More Jackson pulled together public and private-sector programs and businesses whose work matched the interests of the interns.
The program offers students flexibility. Take, for instance, 20-year-old Diquonte Thomas, who started the program in the summer of 2014 interested in becoming a mechanic, followed his interest in criminal justice instead and ended up interning at the ACLU of Mississippi. But Thomas, although he loved working with the ACLU, didn’t think an office job would ultimately serve him well. So now he studies geology with an emphasis in hydrology at Hinds Community College, citing his love for working with his hands and outdoors as what inspired him to make the switch. Thomas returned to E3 on staff as a Youth Mentor in summer 2017.
Though this cohort of interns consists primarily of Lanier High School students, the application process for E3 is completely non-academic, creating opportunities for young people regardless of what their grades or scholastic background might be.
Ronald Gary, an E3 coach and who works in the Jackson Public School District as a graduation coach at Provine High School, says what makes E3 unique is its ability to introduce students to pathways they might have never considered for their lives. Students get the opportunity in Jackson to see people who look like them in careers of interest to them. Statistically, students of color, like the vast majority of students participating in E3, are less likely to complete their college degree programs because of issues like lack of representation in the field in which they’d like to study or work.
“This allows young people to be able to say ‘I can,’” Gary said. “These words when I was growing up were threatening. We didn’t think it was part of what we could do.”
Funded in part by the Hinds County Human Resource Agency and the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Leadership Academy is an extension of the E3 summer internship program. The Leadership Academy gives extra attention to students in whom their E3 coaches see unique potential for excellence.
The E3 program, alongside its Leadership Academy, helps Ask for More Jackson achieve its ultimate goal of “Ubuntu,” meaning “I am because we are,” by creating opportunities by engaging all of our resources to help young people succeed and give back themselves.
“E3 and the Leadership Academy are methods we use to embrace and empower young people by creating equal opportunity for those who might feel left out of, or unable to, participate in other programs,” executive director Carolyn Jolivette said. “In this way, we can reach out to young people in the margins of our community who, no matter their walk of life, have talents to nurture.”
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