For many years I have campaigned for political hopefuls, including myself a few times. I can recall, during a congressional bid, canvasing one of the most violent communities in America. In fact, it was listed by the Houston Chronicle as the sixth-most dangerous community in the entire country. As I walked from house to house knocking on doors in this community, I soon noticed that I was being observed and was eventually stopped by two young men who inquired about the nature of my business. When I began to explain to them that I was running for the United States Congress and wanted to help create jobs while decreasing crime, they responded with laughter and disbelief. They later apologized and explained that they loved the idea of jobs and crime reduction, however, they found it strange that a candidate for Congress would be walking alone in such a dangerous place. Turning the next corner, I could see a group of about 30 young men at the end of the street. Approaching them I could see that their full focus was on me. The leader emerged from the crowd and said that he had been fully briefed on the nature of my business and was in full support. This gave me the confidence to ask him a question that had been puzzling me. I asked him that if he and his men had a legal way to make as much money as they were earning illegally then would they walk away from what they were doing now? He looked me directly in the eyes and said, “it doesn’t even have to be as much as we are making now for us to change.”

As the 87th Legislative Session begins with Career and Technical Education (CTE) front and center, lawmakers are finally beginning to understand the need to reconnect secondary education and industry. Every student deserves access to an education that will allow them to compete in a highly competitive workforce regardless of their zip code. With Texas’ extremely healthy workforce, many high paying jobs do not require four-year degrees. Middle-skill jobs, which may require some post-secondary education but not a full four-year degree, make up a large portion of Texas’ labor market.

In the 85th Texas Legislature, SB-2105 required the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) to provide information on all CTE partnership opportunities with business and industry and professional development and learning opportunities (i.e., internships, industry mentorships, summer programs, after school programs, career-based student leadership opportunities) that are available regionally.

State Representative Shawn Thierry’s HB-1032, this session, recognizes the need to go beyond communication and paves the way for action through incentives for the implementation of CTE and industry partnerships. Representative Thierry’s bill authorizes school districts to provide funding to community-based organizations for the purpose of reimbursing private employers for paid internships provided to 11th and 12th grade students participating in CTE programs. Utilizing existing funds to encourage student and industry participation, while looping in community-based organizations, underscores the brilliance of this legislation.

Over 90 percent of the students with a concentration in CTE are successfully graduating from high school. There is no doubt that by elevating CTE participation in schools located in Black communities, we will see a swift end to the schools-to-prison pipeline. Earning a safe, legal, and decent living is the pathway to achieving the great American Dream. Prosperity in our Black communities really boils down to one simple thing; Jobs, Jobs Jobs! And there is only one question left unanswered: who’s listening.