The recent $25 million grant to the United Negro College Fund from Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation has generated comments and opinions, many of which are, at best, politically motivated and, at worst, hate-fueled. Such assertions have hijacked the intelligent dialogue we should be having about what does and doesn’t work in preparing our young people for their futures. An Associated Press article in the AJC, “Black colleges face hard choices over $25M gift: Liberals say the Koch Brothers are pursuing a racist political agenda” (News, July 28), is a perfect example.
I can’t begin to understand the thinking that seeks to demonize someone for making an investment in the futures of young people of color. That’s the same kind of thinking that has resulted in an unemployment rate in the African-American community that has been twice that of whites for the past 60 years. This is unacceptable. We need solutions that work and address the cause of black unemployment, not name-calling and intolerance that create an uncivil discourse and shut down needed debate. I have recently gone on record as saying without a common-ground solution to this issue, our youth will be put in an “all or nothing” situation, and many will end up with the latter.
A serious examination and intelligent dialogue will show Charles and David Koch have devoted their lives to advancing tolerance and a free society where every individual is judged on his or her individual merits and are free to make decisions about their lives. It would also affirm that their considerable support for educating youth of color is cultivating the potential of young people beyond pure academics.
I have witnessed this firsthand in the Koch Industries-sponsored Youth Entrepreneurs program, which teaches business and entrepreneurial education to high school students to help them prosper and become contributing members of society. This is significant in the African-American community, where entrepreneurship and small business ownership have historically raised the standard of living and stabilized neighborhoods. Training principled entrepreneurs will generate an economic lift to our black families and communities.
With the $25 million grant to UNCF, hundreds of youth of color will also be able to continue their educations, which will generate new minority entrepreneurs or prepare them for employment. In either case, their individual potential and unique talents are fostered — and that is a great story.
Unfortunately, many in the media choose to overlook that story and regurgitate old mischaracterizations and falsehoods. Instead of backing away, Koch is stepping up with this $25 million donation and making an important financial investment in the futures of African-Americans who believe the key to unlocking their potential and finding future success is in a college education. We will let our actions — and, ultimately, their accomplishments — testify to what is in our hearts. We trust that intelligent people will move beyond the cynicism and name-calling and recognize the genuine desire to help young people who are seeking a chance to better themselves and their lot in life.
What are our options? To rely on decades-old policies, which have failed to generate jobs for our youth, especially our young people of color? To create an environment where our jobless youth are likely to end up in the criminal justice system, adding to a black prison incarceration rate that already is a national disgrace? Or do we take a different path and offer our youth the knowledge and skills to start their own businesses, as well as the hope and confidence to be self-reliant and give back to their communities?
The latter path works, and the examples of young people — many from inner-city high schools where their chance of dropping out is equal to their chance of graduating — abound. Let’s begin a civil discourse about the solution to this problem. Our youths’ futures are at stake.
Kent Matlock is CEO of Matlock Advertising & Public Relations, an independent, minority-owned marketing and communications agency based in Atlanta that has represented Koch Industries since 2011 and its subsidiary, Georgia-Pacific, since 1986.