Barry White and the Power of Partnerships

One of my all-time favorite singers is Barry White. If he’s before your time, I’ll just note that he ushered in the Disco era of the 70’s, and was one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time. He had this great low rumbling voice – someone once said that “if chocolate fudge cake could sing, it would sound like Barry White.” (See for yourself here! Trust me, it’s worth it.)

For someone who sang about nothing but love, Barry White actually had a pretty angry childhood. He was born in Galveston, TX but he grew up in South Central, LA. His brother Darryl, who he was very close with, was murdered in a clash with a rival gang, and at the age of 17, Barry White served four months in jail for stealing $30,000 worth of Cadillac tires.

While he was in jail, White heard Elvis Presley singing “It’s Now or Never” on the radio, and later on he said that the song had changed the course of his life.

I think a lot about that young Barry White sitting in South Central, LA falling in with the wrong crowd and not realizing the incredible gift that was inside him.I think about how many thousands, or even millions, of young people are out there, just like him, ready to follow the right path if they could just be reached.

Barry White happened to hear the right song at the right time, but for most kids it will be a caring adult that provides that opportunity; and that’s the unique value of partnerships.

There’s plenty of evidence to back that up. For example, after launching its partnership-driven Academy model, the Nashville school district saw the average age of a gang member increase from 16 to 22. Meaning that young people were finding purpose and relevance through their schools, and not through gangs. Data on mentoring shows that students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school, are 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs, and are 27% less likely to start drinking. In a 2006 survey of recent high school dropouts, The Gates Foundation found that 81% said that opportunities for real-world learning – like internships and other partnership-based efforts – might have kept them in school.

The bottom line is that partnerships are proven time and again to have a major impact in the lives of children and young adults. For all those young people out there making decisions about their futures and about who they want to be, like that young Barry White, connecting with a caring adult may be the single best way to help them make the right choices.

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions ( NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

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