5 Reasons Soledad O’Brien is Empowering Latino Youth to Graduate

TK Reasons Soledad O’Brien is Empowering Latino Youth to Graduate

Every 26 seconds a U.S. student drops out of high school – that’s 1.3 million people, many of them impoverished Black and brown youth. In an effort to combat the country’s dropout crisis, PBS launched American Graduate Day, a national campaign and live program dedicated to helping students stay on track to graduate, five years ago.

This year, the event, which takes place on Saturday and will be hosted by Soledad O’Brien, will center on mentorship.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity to learn more about mentoring,” the part-cubana journalist and producer told us. “It’s going to highlight organizations and individuals doing tremendous work and give viewers an eye of the different forms of mentoring that exist and encourage them to become mentors.”

For O’Brien, who has for many years mentored young women through her scholarship, the Starfish Foundation, and aspiring journalists across the country, empowering Latino youth to graduate is hugely important. Here’s why!

PLUS: Latino High School Graduation Rates Increase by 10 Percent

1. Options: “Graduating high school allows people to make choices about the path they want to take. It allows them to decide if they want to go to college or go straight into a job that will lead them to their career,” O’Brien said. “Those who drop out, unfortunately, don’t have the opportunity to make that choice, because college, which isn’t necessarily for everyone, isn’t available to them.”

2. Skills for Jobs: The economy has shifted. Manufacturing jobs are not the basis anymore. Young people need to have the right skills to be successful in their jobs and careers, and, according to O’Brien, high school prepares you for that.

3. Lifting Ourselves and Our Families Out of Poverty: “So many kids of color, especially Latinos, contribute to their families’ income,” she said. “I run a small scholarship for young women, and so I see how sometimes it’s the parents standing in the way of the child’s education because they need them to work.” That’s why O’Brien often has conversations with the parents of her scholars, who are making about $10 thousand in their after-school jobs, to tell them that the money their children can make if they go to college can lift them out of poverty. “We have to think of the long-range instead of the short-range, which could be hard to see when you’re struggling,” she added.

4. Mentoring: “Young people can mentor from an early age. It’s as simple as helping someone get through a certain time. My scholars, who are just getting into college, find it rewarding to mentor younger students, high school freshmen and middle-schoolers, because they just went through this experience and they are a living example of what success looks like,” O’Brien noted. As someone who has interviewed numerous successful leaders throughout her career, O’Brien says one thing they all have in common is a mentor of their own, sometimes as many as 10. To her, a mentor is a person who will help you when you fail, get you back on track, assist you through hard decisions, look over your work and celebrate you and your accomplishments.

MORE: What It's Really Like to be a First-Generation Latina College Student

5. Civil Rights: “When you talk about civil rights, this is the whole ball game,” O’Brien says. “Education is the only real way to move people out of poverty and into prosperity, outside of winning the lotto.”

American Graduate Day PBS will air on Saturday, Sept. 17 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET on public television stations across the country, so check your local listing. While watching, make sure to also follow and engage with #AmGrad on Facebook and Twitter, and be an American Graduate Champion by becoming a mentor.