Urban youth around the country face many barriers to success, principle among them a lack of education. The pervasive education inequality in the United States starts early and continues through high school, with 81% of high school students graduating on time nationwide but only 9% of black males graduating on time in Rochester, NY.
Students often end up less engaged with their education because they find their schoolwork to be irrelevant and disconnected from their day-to-day life. Whether or not a student finishes high school, he or she also needs to learn how to make a living.
#IGottaMakeIt was born with this vision of teaching disadvantaged youth how to make it in the real world. Fast Forward talks with it’s founder, Khari Menelik, who grew up in Rochester, taught himself to code, and is now creating the Khan Academy for business skills.
What’s currently missing in the education model in the US?
Financial literacy is completely missing in schools. I think that students should be taught how to provide for themselves, and how to make a living in the real world should be taught in the classroom. There are lots of different ways to start a business, and I think we disproportionately teach how to get a job instead of being a job creator.
Why do you think a technology platform is the best way to reach these at-risk youth?
Technology is the most scalable way to reach these kids. Experts can’t teach in person every day, but with today’s technology they can be virtual teachers which enables them to teach at all times. This is the best way to reach the most amount of people.
I got my first computer when I was 10 years old, and I love what technology can do. It has the potential to change people’s lives. Technology empowers people to learn skills that they can implement in the real world to change their personal trajectory, away from potentially illegal activity to running a real business. That’s exactly what I did – I spent 16 hours a day teaching myself web development from YouTube, and I learned to make my own website and how to make a living.
What’s been the biggest product challenge for IGottaMakeIt?
I need to figure out what content to have. I have to think about what people would like to learn. I’ve been going off my own intuition, but finding the right fit for my demographic to see what they would be interested in learning is tough. I have to come up with a better system for figuring out what content people want.
Who inspires you?
I have two heroes – Malcolm X and Steve Jobs. I actually learned a lot about them through YouTube as well. Malcolm X is a huge inspiration for me, for his knowledge and business skills and fearless attitude. Malcolm X was brilliant and very enlightening to his people, and I learned a lot about my culture through him.
Steve Jobs had an amazing vision. He was always a critical thinker and a visionary, and I learned to always believe in yourself even if you think you’re crazy.