The warning is clear: 8,000 young people of color in Montgomery County, Maryland are in danger of being left behind.

They could be disconnected in ways that, if left uncorrected, may leave them without the tools they need to secure a quality education, attain well-paying jobs, or achieve their dreams, according to a research report on Black youth opportunities.

The “Connecting Youth to Opportunity: How Black and African American Youth Perspectives Can Inform a Blueprint for Improving Opportunity in Montgomery County, Maryland” report was released on Oct. 23 by The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, an organization that works to ensure equity, access, and opportunity for all residents in the Washington metropolitan area. More than 100 educators, elected officials, community activists, philanthropists, and a cross-section of representatives from the public and private sectors at Montgomery College’s Silver Spring campus attended the scheduled release at Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center. “We have to create a reconnection campaign, a collective, coordinated, countywide campaign and make the case for change,” said Lakeisha Woods, who presented highlights of the report to attendees.

“We have to increase the connections and opportunities for young people. We have to listen authentically to the voices of the youth and follow them along in their careers.

Non-profits, the private sector, the philanthropic community, all have to respond with measurable, tangible solutions.”

The report, written by The Community Foundation, Montgomery College, and BETAH Associates, found that disconnected Black youth reported less support from parents and teachers with school, lower grades, more suspensions, more involvement with the justice system, and less economic stability than high school graduates. The study also found that only 31 percent of youth who dropped out of school were working, and nearly one-half (48 percent) of those who dropped out reported their economic condition as “bad or very bad,” compared to 29 percent of high school graduates and 14 percent of high school students.

Researchers also ascertained that Black youth reported less support from parents and teachers to get through school, lower grades, more suspensions, more involvement with law enforcement and the justice system, and less economic stability than high school graduates. While the reasons vary, several speakers said that because of the profound implications of the problem, it’s incumbent on a broad coalition of people to step up and not waste the opportunity to find viable ways forward.

Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro said helping young people to become grounded and move towards success is an economic imperative since many of them will be integrating into the workforce in the next five to 10 years. “This is just the beginning. In this report, these young people are telling us what they need,” said Anna Hargrave, executive director of The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region in Montgomery County. “And we must listen. Being out of work and school in the late teens and early twenties creates a cycle of poverty that has a devastating impact on individuals, families, and communities – now and in the future. Moving the needle will require committed collaboration across the public and private sectors in Montgomery County. Our recommendations outline what must be done to help ensure that all our county’s young people are connected to opportunities to succeed.”

Hargrave and other speakers said the report provides a starting point for different constituencies in the county to begin working toward its goal of guaranteeing every young person the support, education, and training he or she needs to achieve lifelong success.

“I thought about the term ‘disconnect’ and hope we don’t make a fatal mistake,” said Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, who disregarded prepared remarks to talk candidly. “The assumption is that we have bright, intelligent youths and all we need are the right tools. The assumption is that there’s sufficient power at the power source in terms of education, health and human services and a myriad other needs. That’s not true. The question is if we have adequate resources?”

“There are challenges in the school system, in our college settings. We need more teachers. I’m here to say that you have to recognize that we have a very serious problem garnering varied resources out there. When we meet (young people), the power has to be there at the power source. We need to do all we can to give them the tools to fight, give them the power source. We have some (power) but not enough,” he continued.