Growing up in Long Beach, California, Shawn McClondon was surrounded by gang members, drug dealers and drug addicts. He was raised by a single mother and can still count on one hand the number of times he saw his father.

In short, his everyday experience as a child was similar to the lives of many of the students he teaches in Youth Campaigns “Finding Voices” program.

“Although there was a lot of negativity in my life, I drew off the positive foundation that my mother instilled in me, and looked to my positive role models, such as my older brother,” McClondon recalled.

A football scholarship to Fresno State helped McClondon move away from the struggles in Long Beach and attend college. After earning his degree in computer science, McClondon moved to San Diego to live with his older brother. He spent three years as a consultant educating businesses and nonprofit organizations about the importance of social media strategy and messaging.

During this time, McClondon recognized that very few people of color held digital marketing positions.

According to Youth Campaigns, less than 5 percent of all minorities in America have a job in the tech industry.

Helping Tomorrow’s Leaders Discover Their Voice

This lack of opportunity, coupled with under-representation in media and emerging tech jobs, creates the feeling for minorities that they have no voice, expressed McClondon.

In July 2013, the Long Beach native founded the nonprofit organization, Youth Campaigns, so he could bridge this digital divide.

Youth Campaigns Classroom

Youth Campaigns “Finding Voices” program trains disadvantaged youth about how to discover their voice and utilize advanced social media skills to amplify their voice for career advancement, entrepreneurial endeavors and community engagement.

“I personally believe that if organized, social media can help underserved communities create socially-conscious campaigns that can be heard by large audiences,” McClondon explained. “That’s the movement that we are trying to start.”

The program aims to achieve its objective through social media certifications, work experience with partner organizations, and internships with local nonprofits and digital marketing agencies.

Since January 2014, McClondon has taught five sessions of the program and reached more than 100 at-risk students between the ages of 16 and 21. Students in the current program, hosted at The San Diego Foundation, have created social media campaigns for local nonprofits, including  Break the Silence against Domestic Violence and The Chocolate Voice.

Youth Campaigns Students

“I now know that there is more to social media then just being social,” commented Forrest Ramon, a student in the Finding Voices program. “What I’ve learned is that social media can be a very powerful tool worth investing in if you know how to properly use it.”

Student Monique Quero added, “This program has helped me see how useful social media can be. The most enjoyable part has been learning about the process of the projects.”

“Finding Voices” for the Future

In the short term, McClondon plans to reach an additional 200 youth through the program in 2015, and also raise community awareness for career opportunities in technology. His broader goals are to help San Diego lead the way in diversity in the tech industry and have “Finding Voices” be represented in major urban cites across the country.

“As America loses ground every day to other countries in technology, we need to start providing opportunities for historically-underrepresented communities to be educated and empowered so that they can contribute to the growth of America’s tech industry,” McClondon said.

Learn About the Finding Voices Program