T.D. Jakes Takes on STEAM Education and Training

Bishop T.D. Jakes creates new foundation to help people get STEAM jobs.

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T.D. Jakes has already amassed a slew of titles: pastor, author, filmmaker, entrepreneur, thought leader. With the launch of his eponymous foundation, he’s adding another one to the list: chairman.

After 40 years of building deep connections in diverse communities in the United States and globally, Jakes is launching his nonprofit, the T.D. Jakes Foundation, to provide STEAM education and training to underserved communities. He’ll take on the title of Chairman of the Board, passing the day-to-day responsibilities of running the foundation to Hattie Hill, a veteran executive who has helped develop diversity and gender equity strategies for large corporations and nonprofits.

For Jakes, the foundation isn’t just another achievement in a lifetime of accomplishments. It’s the culmination of a career spent lifting people up and bringing disparate communities together. And it couldn’t come at a more opportune time.

According to Oxford Economics, by 2030, the rise of automation is expected to displace 20 million global manufacturing jobs.

To meet the needs of the changing workforce, the T.D. Jakes Foundation will focus on those communities that have been historically left behind. Through its three pillars—business partnerships, workplace readiness, and community building—the foundation will offer the skills, training, and connections to help women and people of color successfully compete for the jobs of the future.

It’s a proposition that companies should embrace, not simply for feel-good reasons, but because it’s a business imperative. Jakes argues that businesses have no choice but to invest in diverse communities if they want to compete for the best workers.

“We’re headed toward an economic train wreck,” Jakes said. “With the rise of automation, unemployment will increase—especially in communities of color. But the loss will not be just to individual communities; it will be a tremendous loss to the country in general. You can’t build inclusive societies if people can’t keep up intellectually.”

In many ways, we’re already there. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 700,000 unfilled technology jobs in the United States, representing tens of billions of dollars in potential wages. Putting people to work in this environment will require a massive amount of coordination. And if there were ever a person to champion this cause—rallying public officials, private enterprise, and nonprofits—it’s T.D. Jakes.

Jakes is the last of a dying breed, a bridge-builder living in a highly polarized world. He takes great pride that, during his long career in public life, he’s worked with people of all races and backgrounds and across the political spectrum.

“We are two different worlds experiencing the same things,” he said of working-class people of different races struggling to get ahead. “This is not just a black problem or an American problem or a Kenyan problem. It’s a problem around the world.”

While the idea of his foundation isn’t novel, its approach is. Jakes isn’t looking to recreate the wheel. Instead, he wants to leverage his large network—he’s got nearly 4 million followers on Twitter—and connections to business and entertainment luminaries such as Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, and AT&T’s Randall Stephenson to connect people to resources. 

Over the years, Jakes has developed and led several highly successful nonprofit programs. One of the most notable is the Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative (T.O.R.I.), which has received federal, state, city, and community recognition for its success in preparing former inmates convicted of non-violent crimes for the workforce. Last summer, as a preview of even bigger things to come, Jakes’ global humanitarian organization and 30,000-member church, the Potter’s House, launched STEAMLife, a summer camp for students, age 5 to 16, to expose them to hands-on projects in robotics, science, health and nutrition, entrepreneurship, and performing and visual arts.

To take this concept to its next logical progression, the T.D. Jakes Foundation will create Dream Centers, which will offer a host of services to residents, both young and old, including financial literacy, apprenticeships, mentorship programs, and more. The first two centers are set to open in Dallas and Chicago.

“We have to expose people to the possibilities, to get them to see opportunity where they live,” Jakes said. “You can’t dream what you don’t see.”

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