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  • Writer's pictureBarak Bomani, Ed.M.

Los Angeles Urban League Partners with JTM Pre-Apprenticeship Academy

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

Longtime standing pillar in the African American community offers adult education classes in the construction trades & utility sector during the pandemic

Officers of the Los Angeles Urban League, Staff Members of JTM Academy and Students from the 1st Cohort of the Construction Career Academy.

During Covid-19, most non-profit organizations are shutting down programs and scaling back. The Los Angeles Urban League in partnership with JTM Academy is expanding offerings to effectively deal with the rising unemployment numbers.

Maybe you are like the 16 million people in California who are looking for a livable wage job during one of the worst pandemics in world history. 13% of residents in the sunny state are jobless, close to 150,000 are homeless and so begins the economic downturn that people have been fearing. However, the citizens of Los Angeles can breathe some much-needed hope with initiatives like the Construction Career Academy, spearheaded by the Los Angeles Urban League and James T. Mitchell Academy. The CCA, a pre-apprenticeship program started in 2019 as a pilot program, has since gained some local recognition for preparing adults for actual construction trade jobs and utility sector work.

The original project was designed by co-founder Mr. James T. Mitchell in 1967; it was called the Labor Education Advancement Program (LEAP). LEAP was a collaborative effort between the Los Angeles Urban League (LAUL) and multiple construction and building trade local union halls. The goal of LEAP was to prepare members of the African American community to pass the union entrance exams. Mr. Mitchell and the LAUL continued LEAP into the early 1980's, and they were able to help change the lives of a few thousand Black Angelinos. After Mr. Mitchell's death in 2019, the project was named after him.

"This is exactly what Mr. Mitchell would have wanted and why he started the original class over 50 years ago. Mr. Mitchell had a desire for African Americans to have a fair chance at passing "the test". The test usually included foundational math and spatial analysis problems so Mr. Mitchell created his own curriculum to help aspiring Blacks get a foot in the construction field door," shares Amare El Jamii, the Executive Director of the JTM Academy.

Since 2019, the Construction Career Academy has opened doors to a diverse population of students who have decided to go back to school; some of them haven't seen a classroom in years. The fear and anxiety levels are real, which is why there is a mandatory social emotional check-in at the beginning and end of every class.

Retention Specialist Miss Gigi proudly shares, "Everybody is welcome here. We don't turn away anyone who wants to do the hard work. Just this year, we had Blacks, Latinos, Whites, high school seniors, women and senior citizens show up three times a week for evening classes. Everyone was on a team, and the teams built rapport and unity within the cohort."

The CCA model is not like traditional education where students come to take lecture notes and may not participate during the instruction. Students are broken into teams and compete against one another to solve math problems, play games and ultimately learn about the trade in which they are interested.

"This past year has been overwhelming. To watch formerly incarcerated individuals log on to Zoom for class, share their problem solving with classmates, and eventually get a paying job is why I decided to continue this very important work," boasts the UCLA graduate with a degree in Statistics. "If we don't help our people, who else will? This is not a job; it's definitely a calling."

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