An Open Letter in Support of the Expanding Pathways to Employment Act

Dear Year Up partners and supporters, 

Earlier this month, transformative, bipartisan economic mobility legislation was introduced by Representatives Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) and David McKinley (WV-01) in the U.S. House. With America Forward and other partners, Year Up has worked on this evidence-scaling and evidence-building initiative for months leading up to this introduction.  

Please consider taking a moment to sign this letter—on behalf of yourself or your organization—led by our partner America Forward, voicing your support for the bipartisan Expanding Pathways to Employment Act by end of day Wednesday, July 28. 

The Expanding Pathways to Employment Act will make critical investments in both proven approaches and promising, innovative strategies to make our economy more inclusive and equitable for all workers. 

As we emerge from the pandemic, it is more important than ever that our workers have the skills that are in high demand. Investing in proven workforce development programs will help ensure we close the skilled workers gap, create good-paying jobs in our communities, and help aid in our economic recovery.

Representative David McKinley (WV-01)

As you know, Year Up’s latest results from PACE, a monumental, long-term evaluation study, showed that Year Up’s earnings impacts continue to be the largest ever reported for a workforce program. Not only that, but a cost-benefit analysis showed that every $1 invested in Year Up results in a gain to society of $1.66—at scale, that means that a $100M investment in Year Up could generate a return of $166M. 

This bill reserves half of the $700M for workforce development programs shown to be effective, with a good return on investment and well-conducted randomized evaluations. If enacted, this bill could invest tens of millions of federal funds in Year Up and other workforce programs like it over the coming decade, enabling us to empower and upskill thousands more young adults. 

To support this legislation: 

Thank you for your support in making our economy more inclusive and equitable. With initiatives like these, we are making progress toward economic and racial justice for all. 

Be well, 

Photo by Romain Dancre on Unsplash

Reflections on Justice and Accountability

Nearly a year after George Floyd was murdered, Derek Chauvin has been found guilty on all three counts. This verdict does not undo George Floyd’s wrongful death, nor does it heal the hearts left broken after his passing. In the words of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison: “I would not call today’s verdict justice, however—because justice implies restoration. But it is accountability.”

While it is a step in the right direction of advancing positive change, no singular verdict will bring about justice. The grief, shock, relief, and the joy we feel today is an indictment of a system that we know in our hearts does not bring about justice. This moment was only possible because a 17-year-old, Darnella Frazier, recorded the murder. We need to ensure greater accountability as we examine the causes, ideologies, and structures in our country that enable and perpetuate injustice.

True justice will only prevail when we dismantle the systems that privilege some and oppress many. We must continue to fight for the safety and wellbeing of every single individual in this country; for systems that uphold justice in all its forms, not deny it; and for expanded, equitable economic opportunity.

Today and every day, we mourn the wrongful deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, and so many other Black, Indigenous, and Brown Americans named and unnamed. We know that one trial, one verdict, one reform will not bring about justice for all. We know the work continues and it will be a long, hard journey.

NAACP President Derrick Johnson said yesterday: “No amount of justice will bring Gianna’s father back. We will not rest until all in our community have the right to breathe.” His words, and the many that have been shared by leaders across the country, will continue to sit with me. We will not rest until all in our community have the right to breathe.

George Floyd’s life mattered. Black Lives Matter. And just as we applaud yesterday’s ruling, we must remain steadfast and pursue justice and equity in all its forms. While the moral arc may bend towards justice, it only does so through intentional change, advocacy, and community-led movements. We must do the work to become anti-racist and to advance justice every single day. It is work that we are committed to doing, and we hope you’ll join us.

To suppress voting is to deny justice.

On March 25th, Georgia passed a collection of new voting laws which are a grave and concerning step backwards for our country. This legislation increased identification requirements for absentee voting, limited the number of drop boxes available for early voters, restricted provisional ballots, and made it a crime to hand out food or water to those waiting in line to vote.  The legislation was premised on a lie: that there was widespread fraud in the 2020 Presidential election and that, therefore, legislation was required to make it “harder to cheat.”

These provisions restrict access to voting for all Georgians, and in particular, limit the rights of voters in Georgia who have the least mobility, privilege, and access.  The result is that these provisions make it harder for Black voters in Georgia to exercise their Constitutional right. Context matters. And in this case, it’s hard not to interpret this legislation as a reaction to—and retribution for—the state’s election results. This is codified injustice, and it exists in direct contradiction to the values upon which our country was founded.

Voting is not a partisan issue. It’s a constitutional right and a cornerstone of our democracy. To suppress voting is to deny justice.

Just a few months ago in the 2020 election, Year Up staff, students, and alumni worked hard to register people to vote, mobilize communities, and, yes, hand out food and water to those who were waiting for hours to vote. It was incredibly humbling and inspiring to see the power of a community coming together in service of democracy and increased civic engagement.

I’ve had the privilege to know the late Congressman John Lewis and hear him speak about how he laid his life on the line in 1965 as he walked across Edmund Pettus Bridge in pursuit of justice and the right to vote.

To stand up and express our outrage at laws that restrict voting access not only honors the memory of those who fought to increase voting rights, but also honors the futures of all young adults—in Georgia and beyond. We cannot allow this country to move backwards, to restrict opportunity rather than broaden it.

We stand with our colleagues in corporate America who have called on business leaders to stand for racial justice and speak up against this legislation. We are hopeful that our colleagues in the nonprofit community will join us in opposing not only this legislation, but all legislation that seeks to restrict the rights of voters. We must do all that we can to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in the democratic process, and use that right in the pursuit of social, economic, and racial justice.

Celebrating the launch of OneTen: A visionary coalition of employers

We are experiencing one of the biggest calls to action in our nation’s history: a call for social, economic, and racial justice. We must do everything within our power to ensure that this moment becomes a movement. To truly close the opportunity gap in this country and ensure that socioeconomic mobility is accessible to all, we need large-scale systems change that addresses the root causes.

Business leaders have an enormous opportunity—and, in my opinion, responsibility—to support racial justice by increasing access to jobs and career advancement. Employers hold the key to economic opportunity and must leverage their power to create a more just America through reimagined hiring and employment practices. Ensuring equitable access to jobs and career advancement, especially as we work to rebuild our economy and livelihoods post-COVID, is paramount to creating a prosperous future for all.

Too many young adults face countless obstacles, built by centuries of systemic racism, to reaching their full potential.  We need to make bold changes to ensure that our employment system works to create economic mobility for those who have been marginalized and disconnected from the economic mainstream.

I’m inspired and energized by the recent announcement of OneTen, a coalition of visionary employers who have committed to create one million new opportunities for Black people in America over the next ten years. I’m heartened to see the leadership from some of our amazing partners like Accenture, American Express, Bank of America, Deloitte and Merck. Year Up and Grads of Life were honored to support its creation, and I’m thrilled to see it come to fruition. We’ll continue to support in any way we can; there has never been a more critical time to engage in this work.

As the announcement shares, “OneTen is not just philanthropy. Rather it is a coalition of leaders across industries who are committed to ensuring that Black Americans with the skills and aptitude to earn success also have the opportunity to achieve success. Recognizing that the current system is not inclusive enough and has reinforced systemic barriers that have prevented many Black Americans from the opportunity to earn success, OneTen has set out to change the way companies provide more equitable environments to drive better business outcomes and benefit all employees.”

In addition to hiring significant numbers of Black Americans, member organizations will come together in a CEO-led community to share knowledge around the best practices that lead to success in hiring, advancing, and retaining Black talent. These commitments indicate the beginning of a new standard in corporate America: one where the top companies are the ones who commit to racial equity at every level of their employment practices.

Corporate America has a unique opportunity to lead us toward a more equitable future by expanding access to economic opportunity and mobility. As our economy recovers, we are at a national turning point. Huge portions of the population are at risk of being left behind during recovery, but if employers are intentional about building systems and processes that support economic inclusion for all Americans, we can build a stronger economy—and a more just America—than ever before. OneTen is a very important step in that work, and I encourage you to learn more about how your organization can get involved at

Be well, Gerald

Let’s make 2020 a turning point.

This past week, like many in recent times, we have been unsettled by the unknown. As we awaited the results of this historic election, the uncertainty also inspired ongoing reflection on the work that’s needed in this country.

The outcome of the election—regardless of your opinion on that outcome—does not change the fact that this country needs to reckon with racial injustice and racial inequality and to confront and dismantle systemic racism. There is much work ahead of us to create the America that we envision: one where socioeconomic mobility and racial justice are not rhetoric but reality, and are accessible to all who live in this country.

I have been heartened to see unprecedented levels of civic engagement—especially from young adults. 18–29-year-olds voted in record numbers this year: over 50% by some estimates. We must continue to empower our young adults, listen to them, and provide opportunities for them to reach their full potential. They are our present and our future.

We must continue working for change—to ensure that Black Lives Matter; that our institutions and organizations are anti-racist; that every young adult in this country has access to the opportunity that they deserve. We can be an important part of supporting our 46th president in the work to move our country towards unity and prosperity. With economic, racial, and social justice unapologetically as our true north, we can build the America we want to see. Opportunity has never been partisan.

We can make 2020 a turning point: a time when we collectively decided that all of our fellow Americans deserve equal access to justice and opportunity. A time when we chose to turn words into action and to actualize what it means to be the “land of opportunity”. Let 2020 be the moment that turns into a Movement—a Movement that strengthens our commitment to the pursuit of justice and a new status quo that lives up to the values upon which our country was founded.

We serve today knowing that what is wrong in our country can be fixed by what is right in our country. As we look to the future, we need leaders from all facets of society to step up and create more pathways to opportunities. We need dramatic, sustained changes to our country’s policies and practices in order to ensure that our society is far more inclusive, and that economic mobility is accessible to all. Through empathetic leadership and a lot of hard work, I’m optimistic that we will get there.

Stay safe and be well,

Reflections on the passing of Congressman John Lewis

Year Up was only a few years old when Congressman John Lewis came to visit our Boston site for the first time.  I can remember well where he stood in front of our class on the 5th floor of 93 Summer Street.  I can hear his words as he encouraged our young adults to vote and recalled the struggles through which he and many others went to earn this right for Black Americans to participate in our democracy.  His photo from that day hung in our offices for years to come. Year Up’s efforts to encourage our students to register to vote was influenced by Congressman Lewis and to this day I am proud that we continue to honor this great American by supporting our students to exercise their democratic rights. That evening, Congressman Lewis came to our home to meet with forty or so individuals who wanted to show their support for him.  I learned about his “shotgun house”, I heard him talk about his memories of separate bathrooms and water fountains for white people and people of color, I listened as he spoke about his life and all that he fought for.  It was the honor of a lifetime to spend  time with one of our country’s civil rights leaders.

During Year Up’s many trips to Capitol Hill to advocate for Opportunity Youth, Congressman Lewis would make time to speak with our young adults.  It was always inspiring to be in his presence and I have attached a photo that was forwarded to me over the weekend recalling one of those visits.  It was taken in the Congressman’s office with Shannon Wroten, Year Up Greater Atlanta class one student.

A few years later Congressman Lewis returned to Boston to again speak with our young adults and we were honored to host another event at our home for him. We had copies of his book, Walking With The Wind, for those who attended the event that evening.  I can still see the Congressman signing books for people and hold my own signed copy near and dear.  He encouraged me, as he did with so many others, to “never give up and never give in” and to get into “good trouble”.  We had asked people attending the event to bring their children as it would be a unique opportunity for them to meet a living legend.  We somehow packed more than 70 people into our living room and there were about 20 children sitting cross legged on the floor in front of the Congressman.  During his talk, he knelt down on one knee and explained to the children how he used to preach to chickens back in Troy, Alabama as he was practicing how to deliver an inspiring sermon.  He then answered questions from the audience, and his answers influenced me to this day. Congressman Lewis told the story of the man who beat him at the Greyhound bus station in Rock Hill, South Carolina during the Freedom Rides.  The man, Elwin Wilson, came to ask for the Congressman’s forgiveness years later in Washington.  The Congressman explained how he not only forgave the man who beat him, but how they become friends in the years to follow.  Congressman’s Lewis lived experience of using love to conquer hate, to practice forgiveness for those who have wronged you was something I will never forget. 

Our country has lost one of our most important leaders.  John Lewis fought relentlessly for racial justice for more than six decades and was this nation’s conscience on civil rights.  I want to also acknowledge the loss of Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian .  Reverend Vivian was one of Dr. King’s inner circle of advisors and a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. In one day, we’ve lost over a century of dedication to civil rights and racial justice.  My heart, along with so many others, is heavy as we contemplate these losses, although I know that the principles and values for which John Lewis and Rev. Vivian stood will inspire and empower many others as we continue this long journey towards a more just and racially equitable nation.

Black Lives Matter.

I’m writing today to amplify the voices of those who are rightfully calling our nation to account for racist injustice and inequity that has persisted for centuries. Alongside them, Year Up mourns George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and the countless Black people who have been murdered by systems of white supremacy, including those whose names we will never know. We are heartbroken for those families and stand with those who are showing up to make their voices heard calling for justice.

The undeniable reality is that the acts of brutality and murder of Black people captured on video are heinous and a predictable result of systems designed to dehumanize and oppress Black people. What hurts the most is knowing that these systems continue to work because the collective complacency and silence of so many has let them, but no more. By “so many” I mean myself and other non-Black Americans, those with power and influence, those who could effect change but have chosen not to. We choose complacency, deflection, explanation, comfort, or silence, and those actions have made us complicit. Many of us have acted similar to the way Amy Cooper did, fully aware of how our systems are weaponized against Black people and ready to use our privilege and invoke them to our advantage. Our willingness not to focus on our part in this means that we have actively chosen to support the system. We can and must make different choices starting today.

We are living through a historical moment. All those who are showing up around the world to say with one voice that Black Lives Matter are heroes, and I am humbled and proud to see my children walking and taking action in solidarity. This can be a moment for change – but only if we take action in support of what we say we believe. The events of these past two weeks have shown what is possible when we take action collectively and we at Year Up are redoubling our commitment to the Movement.

Systemic and institutional racism plays a key role in determining which young adults get opportunities to experience economic mobility, and which young adults face countless obstacles to reaching their full potential. Those obstacles are everywhere – in our workplaces, in our legal systems, in our social lives – and removing them takes work, investment, and care. At Year Up, we have worked for 20 years to remove these obstacles knowing the systems were flawed, and we will always have more work to do. We also clearly have much to focus on inside of Year Up as well and we are working with our employees to become an even better Opportunity Employer. Last week I announced to our company the next steps we will take to further the causes of justice and equity within our organization, and improve how we support our young adults to cross the Opportunity Divide. Some specific examples – and there will be more – include:

  • Creating a Year Up Antiracist Activist Group that will challenge us to further educate ourselves and directly attack barriers that our Opportunity Youth face each day, with the intent of more aggressively and quickly eliminating racial barriers inside and outside our organization.
  • Accelerating racial equity education for all our leaders and managers.
  • Articulating more clearly to our staff that they have the right to expect a workplace that is not only bias-free, but one that is more inclusive, equitable, and engaging – and outline steps they can take to ensure management is held accountable when that is not their lived experience.
  • Calling on business leaders to join OneTen. Participation in this coalition will require not only a “pledge for progress” but clear commitments to action. Now is the time to take action so that we can rebuild an equitable and just society with economic mobility for all Black Americans and other underrepresented groups.
  • Joining other employers in voicing support for the Floyd, Arbery, and Taylor families’ call to draft bipartisan legislation that will take real steps to end racial violence and increase police accountability.

These are just the steps we are taking today, and we know that we will have more steps to take tomorrow to be a part of creating sustainable change. We do this on behalf of our students, our alumni, our employees, and all those in need of an opportunity. As DeRay Mckesson once told me: “Systems don’t break all at once. They break in pieces.” We are committed to breaking every piece within our reach, and we will be challenging you to use your voices, power, and privilege to do the same. We must rebuild our country into a more just, more inclusive America where power and privilege are shared more broadly and fairly.

Our children and grandchildren and the generations to come will read about this moment in history, and my hope is that they read about this as a moment of redemption for our nation. A moment where we took action to fight racial injustice, expand economic opportunity, end police brutality, care for those being crushed by racism, poverty, and oppression, and make real our nation’s promise of liberty and justice for all. That requires all of us choosing to use our voices and having courageous conversations with our loved ones, our communities, our leaders, and ourselves – especially ourselves. That feels like the right choice to me, and it is the choice I am making today. I hope you choose the same.

Gerald Chertavian
Founder and CEO of Year Up

It’s time to prioritize the most economically at-risk Americans

By Gerald Chertavian | March 27, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has swiftly disrupted life and work across the globe. We are all grappling with uncertainty around how long this will last and what enduring ramifications we will see across our communities. In a country already suffering from rising income inequality, it is more important than ever to ensure that the most economically vulnerable Americans do not fall further in the months and year ahead. As America braces in the current moment and recovers in its aftermath, non-profit organizations and civic leaders will be on the frontlines of supporting the most at-risk groups.

Research shows that the coronavirus will exacerbate economic inequality and will have the most detrimental impact on those who were already vulnerable before the pandemic. This includes low-income workers, part-time employees, and contractors – and, in particular, individuals who have not had access to economic opportunity and/or mobility because of their race, gender, educational background, or lack of social network.

Opportunity Youth (the nearly five million young people disconnected from education and the workforce) exemplify the group of workers most likely to be adversely affected by Coronavirus. Most of Year Up’s talented students work in retail or food service in addition to their full-time commitment to our program, which offers a modest stipend. On a good day, this requires a grueling schedule, a lot of grit, and diligent budgeting to make ends meet. Now, that diligent budgeting will face gaping holes as students start to lose their part-time jobs for reasons beyond their control.

Moreover, as we collectively shift to virtual work and learning environments, we know that many Opportunity Youth and other vulnerable populations are likely to experience unstable home environments or lack access to reliable resources like stable internet and daily community support. We, like so many organizations, are creatively managing these challenges. But we know that our students will be under severe mental and economic stress during this time, and that the promise of transforming their lives – the very reason they joined Year Up to begin with – may start to feel elusive to them again.

Like healthcare workers, many non-profit workers will need to offer “expert mercy” – a combination of expertise and empathy, as global health expert Paul Farmer so aptly calls it – to their beneficiaries in the coming months. Even as government measures start to offer relief, civic groups on the ground will fill the gaps in myriad ways to provide additional financial support, food and shelter, physical and mental health resources, and ongoing coaching. As a part of the backbone of strong communities, non-profit organizations are well-positioned to do this work. It is essential that governments at the local, state, and federal levels provide significant support for non-profit organizations in this moment.

As we look to the future, preserving and growing proven programs that lift people out of poverty and place them into gainful employment will be paramount. Some estimates predict that the unemployment rate could climb to as high as 20-30% by the end of the year. Job training programs will be critical intermediaries in helping millions of Americans reskill and restart, increasingly through digital delivery. Our ability to include all people – regardless of their zip code, race, or education level – in economic recovery efforts will rest on tight coordination and partnership between government, business, and non-profit organizations who serve the most vulnerable.

In this time of crisis, we have an even greater responsibility to live up to our values. We must double down on our collective action to protect those most vulnerable to the economic impact of this disease. Our recovery and prosperity as a nation depend on it.

Read more of Gerald’s work here.