Breaking barriers for Charlotte college students of color

Most nights you can see the shiny buildings lighting up the sky in uptown Charlotte.  The skyline seems like an open invitation to opportunity, but that space isn’t always an easy path for Black and Brown college students to navigate.

“For the last 50 years college students of color were most likely to graduate unemployed,” said Jonathan Gardner, founder of GardHouse.  “When I entered the professional world in Charlotte that’s when I really realized that this was an issue not only I was facing but a lot of my peers were facing. I created GardHouse to combat that.”

GardHouse is a nonprofit organization that provides work based opportunities for college students of color.

They do this by connecting them with minority owned businesses in the fall and spring. During the summer, students are connected with GardHouse partner businesses to gain social capital.

This weekend, GardHouse premiered “Breaking Barriers” at its annual family dinner and movie night fundraiser.

“Breaking Barriers is a documentary that followed four students through the course of the coronavirus pandemic to look at what it’s like to be a college student of color trying to find employment,” Gardner said. “I wanted to show what it takes for a college student to achieve their dream.”

The premier was held at Black Classics drive-in theatre. All attendees received a delicious meal and a box packed with movie snacks to make the experience even more memorable.

Black Classics provides access and exposure to independent and nostalgic minority films that aren’t typically spotlighted.

GardHouse launched in Charlotte to assist the city in climbing out of an economic mobility deficit. Ranked 50 out of 50 for upward economic mobility, Charlotte’s community leaders developed recommendations that could create necessary change.

“(We) try to find professional and personal development and to see if there are any internal barriers for the student,” he said. Usually you’re given a template as to what professionalism is especially as a person of color.”

Through GardHouse social capital workshops they find out the barriers that students are facing and find what those barriers are that keep the student from being successful.

“We want to make sure that our students feel that their lives have been changed for the better,” Gardener said. “We want them to feel that they are equipped to walk into any community prepared and ready.”

The documentary was a glimpse into the roadblocks that are in place for students of color but dug deeper into how the program helps them steer clear of pitfalls but always move forward.

GardHouse’s team leveraged the stories of peers and industry expert opinions to identify key factors that led to this systemic crisis that college students of color were lacking the social capital to further connect them to opportunities.

“It’s my hope that our students know that in GardHouse they have a family of support that is behind them,” he said.

Gardner hopes to increase postgraduation employment opportunities for college students of color by maximizing work-based programs. Its goal is to eliminate the barriers that may foster unemployment for degree-holding students of color.

If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at