“The OIC was born out of a struggle, out of organizing poor people into standing up for their human rights and we continue to do that,” explained Louis King, CEO of Summit OIC in North Minneapolis.
King has been the CEO of Summit Academy OIC since 1995. “This is my life’s work—I was delivered here to help my people continue [an] epic journey. We’ve already overcome slavery, and Jim Crow—and now we’re gonna take care of that economic apartheid.”
Much like the Great Migration of Blacks fleeing the racism and lack of economic opportunity in the South that occurred in the earlier parts of the last century, King envisions a Tech Migration.
According to King, economic freedom was at the heart of this and today, Summit Academy OIC sees the Tech Migration as the next critical wave for achieving economic mobility for African Americans and low-income People of Color. “The impact of technology on work and on our lives cannot be overstated. Hashtag Blockbuster,” he said.
“Technology doesn’t have boundaries, it is embedded across all industries and moves people into occupations with starting wages of $36,000 and above,” explained King. “From a paid internship to strong starting wages and benefits, graduates have the tools and skills needed to kick-start their careers. No degree required.”
Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America (OIC) was founded by Rev. Dr. Leon Sullivan in 1964 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and came on the heels of an African American boycott against the Tastykakes, which refused to hire Blacks, though Blacks were large consumers of its product.
Recognizing that even though they had success with the boycott, many in the community did not have work experience, Sullivan bought an abandoned jail for one dollar and established the first OIC to provide workforce training.
King’s favorite slogans is, “the best social service program in the world is a job,” which can also be found on the organization’s website.
“I don’t know anyone that wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I wanna get more welfare; I wanna get more services.’ Poor people want to move on and not have to report their income. They want good things for their children; they want a future, and that’s why we’re here to help people cross that bridge from poverty into prosperity,” said King.
While programs do exist to aid those in poverty, Summit OIC pushes to solve the root cause of the issue by helping train low-income students. Practically anyone can be eligible for Summit’s programs, which are of no cost to the student.
“The actual tuition to attend Summit is filled through [the student’s] Summit grant and through fundraising, so there is no cost to attend for a student,” explained Anne-Marie Kuiper, Summit OIC’s director of Strategic Management. The majority of students are 200% below the federal poverty line.
“We have this vehicle to move low-income People of Color into the workforce into strong jobs,” says Kuiper. Summit has several post-secondary training programs, including GED and a 20-week program that will allow students to enter into the workforce quickly after they complete training. According to King, 92% of students enter the workforce and start earning a wage of $16 per hour or greater.
There are four different types of programs. “One in healthcare, two in construction, and our latest addition is information technology,” Kuiper explained. The IT program has been a popular choice for many.
The training center is probably best known for its pre-apprenticeship program, which has allowed many of its graduates to gain entrance into the construction industry.
Next year, Summit OIC plans to add a Best Buy Teen Tech Center for teens ages 13-18. The Center will allow youth to take advantage of the latest technological tools, from 3D printing to graphic design, and allow them to design, experiment and innovate.
Summit, along with 11 other organizations on the Northside, is organizing what they call a Northside STEM District, which will include Early Learning (pre-K), and after and out-of-school programming, including “STEM Saturdays.”
Da’von Carson is currently in the 11th week of the IT program. “With IT, it’s a good stepping stone; you can branch-off and do multiple fields with it,” she said. Carson was motivated by his family to return to school. “My cousin, she went to a Summit program for a GED and she talked me into going to the informational session.”
Carson’s story is not unique.
Many students find out about the school through friends and family that have used the program and become successful. According to Summit staff, word of mouth and a solid reputation in the community is what continues to attract prospective students.
Along with being diverse, there is still a strong sense of community within the school. “Everyone wants to see each other’s success—it’s like a family, almost,” said Carson.
Jason Sandifer, an IT instructor, seconded the sentiment. “I think there’s a good sense of community here. Even within the staff. I’ve never had so much fun on a job as I have here, honestly.”
King explained what he believed to be the reason for this feeling: “Everybody has one common goal and that is to get up and out of poverty. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from, you are now one of us.”
For more info on Summit OIC in North Minneapolis, visit www.saoic.org.