Changing the Opportunity Landscape by Networking Youth of Color: An Interview with Brioxy Founder B. Cole

17 Jun 2016 |
Changing the Opportunity Landscape by Networking Youth of Color: An Interview with Brioxy Founder B. Cole
Above: Participants at the Brioxy White House Summit for Innovators of Color (Photo courtesy of B. Cole).

As the first person in her family to go to college, B. Cole quickly discovered that success was determined by more than talent and hard work. It often required navigating the thousands of unspoken rules that govern how to get ahead, like knowing the right scholarship to apply for, which job to take, or how to find someone to invest in your idea. She looked around and realized that many youth of color were likewise struggling with how to access the kind of social capital — interpersonal connections that connect someone to key information and opportunities — enjoyed by their peers who come from more privileged backgrounds. Youth of color make up a growing majority of the 21st century workforce, so Cole knew it was crucial to figure out how these youth could replicate for themselves the kind of built-in advantages that help those from wealthier backgrounds succeed.

Enter Brioxy, an organization founded by Cole in 2015 that seeks to empower young professionals of color by connecting them to the peer network, practical advice, and insider knowledge that can help them thrive in the education and employment landscape. Through an online and mobile networking platform, Brioxy aims to invest in and empower the rising generation of youth of color, while creating a forum for them to organize around systemic change in policy and practice. This May, Brioxy brought its online network to Washington, DC, where it hosted its inaugural White House Summit for Innovators of Color, convening 100 of the country's top innovators of color to discuss a potential policy agenda targeting advancements in health, education, and economic opportunity for this growing group.

A graduate of the London School of Economics, Echoing Green Fellow, and nationally known life coach, Cole spoke with America's Tomorrow about her vision for using Brioxy to build communities of opportunity throughout the nation. 

Where did the idea for Brioxy come from?

I've been coaching people individually since I was in high school, which helped me see how important it is to connect youth of color to a certain kind of social capital — the networks that provide knowledge and opportunities that often come built-in for people who come from wealth or from families where someone has already gone to college or found a job in a particular industry. 

There are all of these hidden rules around the way that you were supposed to show up in our culture, and many of us have no clue how they even operate. It doesn't matter if I just give you the opportunity to apply for a scholarship — if you don't know how to compete for it, you don't know how to ask for the right advice, you're not going to be successful regardless of your talent. And that's the same around job interviews, buying a house, taking out business loans, and so on. So I had made it my life's work to do this coaching individually, but I'm only one person, and I wanted a way to scale it up. I wanted to build a peer network and a platform for sharing information that would provide young people of color with a kind of insider guide to the world.

For $25 a month, Brioxy members have access to a database of fellowships and internships, discounts on travel and events, personal life advice, homeownership support, and a peer network of over 500 users. How have you seen these resources impact the lives of members?

We've helped people raise their credit scores by 50 points in the span of months, buy their first home, or renegotiate their student loan rates. We've helped companies hire people, and nonprofits get access to resources. Those are just a few examples, but more broadly it's become this space of advocacy and organizing where you are introduced to a community you can connect with, build with, learn from, and strategize with.  It can be hard to communicate to others how this space is so crucial. I remember when I was fundraising for Brioxy, I found myself trying to communicate to a room full of White men who just couldn't wrap their heads around what I was doing because it's a problem that has never existed for them. But when the growing generation of innovators who will be the architects of this country's future can't get on the path to build the next brilliant solution or find the next big company because no one in their family has filled out a college application before or their parents don't have a certain connection at work or whatever — that's a huge issue. Brioxy is becoming a place where young professionals of color can access that information.

How does Brioxy seek to foster what you refer to as the “Ready Generation”?

The broader vision for Brioxy is to be a catalyst for changing the opportunity infrastructure within communities of color and to ensure that youth of color are driving growth within their own communities. The rising generation is more diverse than ever before. Youth of color will be the ones shepherding the economy in the coming decades, and you have this cohort of incredibly talented young people in this country who are standing ready to lead, to develop, to build all kinds of things. And we're not going to wait for someone else to give us what we need. We're going to organize ourselves. We have to all link up in order to make that happen for each of us, and that's really where Brioxy comes into play.

There have been generations of the classic strategy of giving resources to well-intentioned, mostly White, young people to go into communities of color to run a nonprofit or provide a service. These experiments have failed, quite frankly — largely because we're not building leaders of color and we're losing out on this intergenerational transfer of resources, knowledge, and wealth. So beyond connecting youth to resources, it's about building intentional communities of young people of color who invest in the neighborhoods they grew up in. We want them to become the first in their family to own a home. We want them to launch a company or nonprofit in the neighborhood and hire people locally. To get there you need to deal with the logistics of the real world — helping someone improve their credit, or access a loan, or find seed capital for their company.

What is your vision for expanding Brioxy and entering the policy arena?

The White House Summit was our first opportunity to really discuss the policy implications for our work, not only among a group of young innovators but also with White House staff. We were able to use our policy brief, The ReadyGeneration: Millennials of Color and the Moment for Equity and Prosperity, to guide the discussion, setting out four key areas where we think policy solutions can help change the opportunity infrastructure for youth of color: promoting home ownership, creating pathways to citizenship, ending the student loan trap, and investing in seed capital for innovators of color. Though we're just at the beginning of our policy discussions, we're very focused on building our network to 10,000 over the next three years, to help us connect to the incredible work that innovators of color are already doing and help strengthen the opportunity infrastructure of this country for young people of color.

For more information or to become part of the Brioxy network, check out their website.

equity, race, youth