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Our Time to Lead

A series of recent articles, research papers, and my visit to the city of Charleston, SC this past weekend, has convinced me that now is the time for our industry to get involved more aggressively to help young people find their place in the world of work.

The restaurant, foodservice and lodging industry relies heavily on young people between the ages of 16 and 24 to staff their operations. A recent study conducted by Measure of America and funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, found that an “astonishing one in seven American adolescents and young adults ages 16 to 24 is neither working nor in school.” That means there are 5.8 million young people who are “disconnected” and isolated from the very people and institutions they need to become productive members of society. One in Seven: Ranking Youth Disconnection in the 25 Largest Metro Areas

The future of our industry and our country depends on the ability of young people to find employment that offers them the opportunity to achieve the American dream. If we aren’t successful, we run the risk of having large populations of disconnected, unemployed and uneducated youth with no hope and too much time on their hands; a recipe for disaster. Increasingly, some of these young people, like the alleged shooter in the Charleston church massacre, go online and end up being radicalized by hate groups such as the KKK and ISIS. ISIS and the Lonely Young American.

Our industry is the number one employer of women and people of color, yet we still struggle to develop them to their full leadership potential. At a time when economic conditions are still uncertain, and our industry is getting ever more competitive, we need to have a pipeline for developing future leaders. We are leaving money on the table by not maximizing the contributions of all our employees, especially immigrants and people of color. We need to take action now by investing the time and resources needed to address the conditions that prevent our companies, and their employees, from reaching their full potential.

I believe our focus should be on engaging leaders from all cultural backgrounds in a serious dialogue on how our industry can address the problem of disconnected youth. We need to work with leaders in federal, state, and local government, as well as civic, charitable, corporate, and non-governmental organizations. We need to unapologetically tell our story and promote the great contributions our industry makes to the lives and careers of people from different cultural backgrounds.

In addition, we need to change the debate away from issues like minimum wage and healthcare and focus our efforts on communicating that our industry is best-positioned to help get these young people employed. We need to tell the public that we teach people how to work on a team, how to run a business and we give them transferable skills; skills that can put them on a career trajectory to a middle class life or better.

There are other challenges facing our country and our industry. The lifetime risk of imprisonment for native born Black males is 68% vs. 24% for Hispanics and 17% for Whites. For young men that do not finish high school they are almost three times as likely to be incarcerated by age 35. This does not bode well for America if large portions of the workforce are uneducated or in prison. To quote the publisher of my local newspaper, The Providence Journal, “This is not about us and them, this is about us!” America and our industry cannot thrive if Blacks and Hispanics are failing at such high rates. “Incarceration and Social Inequality”

The recent shootings in Charleston were unimaginably tragic. However, history has taught us that senseless acts of violence will likely always be with us. While we may never eliminate racism, we cannot afford to do nothing. There is no better place to start than for America to get serious about engaging disconnected youth. We need to leverage technology, scholarly research, and the most effective community groups to develop the right solutions for our industry.

America needs to get serious about engaging disconnected youth. The foodservice and hospitality industry needs to take a leadership position in this discussion. We have the most to gain, in that we would be investing in our own future employees, while helping to build stability in the communities we serve.

Our industry also needs to get serious about addressing racial and ethnic leadership disparities in our businesses. If we don’t, our commitment to diversity and inclusion will be questioned by advocacy groups in the same way as Facebook, Amazon, and Google. “Inequity in Silicon Valley”

As we approach the 4th of July weekend, I call upon the leadership of our industry to get engaged with MFHA to help shape an aggressive agenda for reaching disengaged youth. Businesses need to leverage their innovative capability to help solve the education and employment problems faced by our industry. Companies like Starbucks, McDonald’s, Sodexo and Chipotle have all shown leadership on this issue. It’s time for the rest of the industry to step up and do their part. If we don’t, we could be in for a long hot summer. Email or call me with your thoughts. Let’s make Labor Day this year a symbol of hope and opportunity for America’s disconnected youth. gerry.fernandez@mfha.net 401.461-6343

In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. : Legacy of Hospitality

January 19, 2015 4 comments
MLK

1970 bronze sculpture of Martin Luther King by Charles Alston

Legacy of Hospitality

As the world celebrates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., professionals in the restaurant and lodging industries should stop and reflect on the role our industry played in denying Blacks and other minorities access to public accommodations. It wasn’t until 1960 when four Black students from North Carolina A&T University decided to sit at the lunch counter of the local Woolworths that restaurants in the south started to become desegregated. Hotels also routinely denied Blacks full access even as Black entertainers and athletes performed to sold out crowds. Hispanics and Asians faced similar indignities

If you were Black you could not stop and eat whenever you wanted like we can today. You had to pack a lunch or use the Green Book, a directory of Black friendly or Black owned restaurants, gas stations, and hotels. Black churches and businesses filled the gap by providing food and lodging for family and friends when they traveled in the south. Even in parts of the north and mid-west discrimination in restaurants and hotels was common place

I learned about this fact of Black life in the South from my mother in-law, Edith Roberts, who was born and raised in segregated Savannah, Georgia. Once a month, my wife and I would travel from Providence, Rhode Island to Springfield, Massachusetts, to visit her with our three sons. Every time she would make us food for the trip home. I asked her why cook all this food for a two-hour trip home. She said that preparing food for family and friends that were traveling in the South was a necessity. She continued the routine with us until her death. I think for her, giving us food for the road was a ritual of love.

Today, as we remember the leadership of Dr. King and others who helped America work its way through discrimination, let’s serve up an extra measure of hospitality to one another. Whether you work in a restaurant, a hotel or in a corporate office, smile and show kindness to everyone you meet today. We can help improve the lives of people of difference everywhere by using food and hospitality as a bridge to greater cultural understanding one. Break bread with someone new today and celebrate the birthday of a great American.

In honor of Dr. King.