Career, work and jobs have always been at the crux of social justice movements in the United States. The examples are many. The very founding of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania in 1837, as the Institute for Colored Youth, had career, work, jobs and social justice at its core. When a former slave owner, Richard Humphreys, bequeath a sum of ten thousand dollars to start the institution, the goal was “the benevolent design of instructing descendants of the African race in school learning, in the various branches of mechanic arts and trades and in agriculture in order to prepare, fit and qualify them to be teachers.” (Cheyney University Annual Report, 1914).
In 1962, Cesar Chavez led the United Farm Workers Movement to improve working conditions for migrant farm workers. In 1968, the night before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr., spoke to striking sanitation workers in Memphis who worked at low wages and in unsanitary conditions.
The Coronavirus pandemic is putting career, work, jobs and social justice realities on the table again. Not that they have ever gone away, but the current pandemic is making it harder to ignore how these factors come together. Consider how the following career, work and job issues could demonstrate or even create new social justice challenges.
Amazon, the second largest private employer in the United States while hiring an additional 175,000 staff to manage customer demand for online shopping and delivery, was paying $500 Coronavirus bonuses to employees and at the same time reporting that 600+ workers had tested positive for Coronavirus.
The Economic Policy Institute reports that less than one in five Black workers and one in six Hispanic workers in the US are in a job where telework is possible. Therefore, despite what is often said, not everyone is working from home. Some jobs, especially low-paying service jobs can only be done in person.
The 2020 second quarter unemployment rates for those 20 years and older stood at 11.5% for Whites, 15.5 % for Blacks and 16 % for Hispanics.
The HBCU Career Center stays aware of these types of social justice issues in the American workplace. As such, we strive always to better understand the environmental factors impacting today’s workplace. In our consulting work we help organizations understand that social justice is often a core tenet on the campuses of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and that graduates very often see themselves as people who will have to stand up for their place in the workforce.
Many HBCU graduates are attracted to organizations that stand authentically on principles that aim to bring social justice principles into their workplaces. Companies seeking to attract these graduates should make sure that message is communicated positively in any brand statements.