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Longtime friends work to help the unemployed 

DiverseCity

These days, Robert Andrews and Juaquin Mobley, both 35, are pillars of their community — two childhood friends who went to college, became successful, returned to their old neighborhood in Southeast Colorado Springs and now work to provide economic opportunities to folks in Colorado Springs and Denver.

It wasn’t always like this. The two met at Giberson Elementary School in the second grade. The Southeast was an area with few opportunities for growing boys. Andrews says that he can’t name a teacher after fifth grade who thought he’d go on to be a college graduate. For kids like him and Mobley, the military or sports were considered the best opportunities.

“Athletes or military were the local celebrities, and the athletes wouldn’t come back,” he recalls. “But the folks in the military had nice cars, money in their pocket — we thought — girls, and they lived up north. When we were coming up, to move up north, that’s how you knew someone had arrived. If you lived on Carefree and Academy you had kind of arrived, if you lived off Research, you were rich!”

Andrews’ father served in Vietnam and his grandfather attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Andrews is proud of them, but it wasn’t the path he wanted to take. So it was hard when he was pursued by recruiters and military members, including those in his family, were the only successful people he saw. He says he and other kids of color felt pressured, as though the military was their only option.

Mobley says he carried a 3.5 to 3.8 GPA in school and was more inclined toward business. But like many promising black males, guidance was in short supply as he tried to make a life, so he looked for opportunities on his own. So even as he attended college, he also turned to selling drugs and spent close to eight years in prison for armed robbery.
Roberts remembers that time being hard on everyone: “When Juaquin went away, it hurt everyone. Everything just fell apart.”

The moment Mobley was released to a halfway house in 2013, Andrews was there. Together they spent hours in Andrews’ basement fleshing out plans and ideas for programs and businesses. Some have yet to be realized.

By that time Andrews had earned his bachelor’s degree from Hastings College in Nebraska. Mobley had college credits from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. The men incorporated their commitment to community into their work: Mobley is now vice president of SpringsWorks and Andrews is the executive director of DenverWorks. Both organizations are part of CommunityWorks, a faith-based program founded in 1995 that helps unemployed people get the skills they need for a career and connect with employers.

In mid-August, SpringsWorks will launch a Drug Dealers Anonymous program, with hopes to expand into 10 states in the next five years. The focus will be on reaching youth ages 18 to 24.

Mobley says they are taking a similar approach to Alcoholics Anonymous: “We want to use that same kind of method as an approach to a person who is addicted to selling drugs.”

Mobley says he knows he and Andrews can built rapport with the participants, meeting them where they are. When doing outreach, he often shares his background — he sees it as an encouraging story of how the skills of being an entrepreneur are transferable. And he wants to let youths know he understands the draw to money and significance, but that it doesn’t always work out.

Mobley says young people need help, especially because it can be difficult to follow a straight path in communities with socioeconomic challenges.

“We couldn’t go to the bank and get a loan to start a car wash,” he says. “That wasn’t even a viable option at all. We started with the little that we had with the intention of building up enough to start a legit business.”

Andrews says growing up in the Southeast instilled in him the drive to give back.
Thankfully, Andrews and Mobley continue to bring out the best in one another, and drive each other to do the same for the next generation.

Pikes Peak Community College supports conversations about diversity. To learn more, go to ppcc.edu/diversity.

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