Editor's note: This piece has been updated to reflect the author's preferred email address. 

For a brief moment, my well-protected and — frankly — cushioned world stood still. Protestors stopped traffic in New York City in response to a grand jury's decision not to indict in the homicide of Eric Garner. I watched as a Caucasian woman answered a news reporter's question as to how she felt about the traffic jam that inconvenienced her, preventing her from getting home.


"I will sit here all day for this," she said, unequivocally. "What is happening in this country to people makes me physically ill. We must do better."

The reporter was stunned; clearly, this did not fit the narrative he was framing. But she made me smile; humanity, I believe, trumps race every time.

I thought back to two years ago. My friends gathered their children, hustling to downtown Morristown, N.J., to protest the jury's findings in the Trayvon Martin case. I wouldn't let my older son go for fear it would turn violent, but my anxiety didn't prevent us from having the very difficult, multi-layered conversation with him about race and equality in America — something my non-black friends with children are intrigued by and admit they don't fully understand.

Then, last November, Ferguson happened. I called inquiring about the safety of my St. Louis-based godson, home from college. Was he OK? Then, Baltimore erupted. As the mother of two African-American sons, and the wife of an African-American spouse, I was deeply frustrated by what was happening to young black men.

Shortly afterward, an email was forwarded to me from a colleague at Morgan State University, our partner in the Minority Male Makers program, designed to give middle-school African-American and Latino males a path to professional or personal entrepreneurship by teaching them coding, business development and collaboration skills. She quoted Morgan State radio host Richard Rowe, who identified the problem and remedy — and not just for Baltimore:

"Our youth need, no they deserve, much, much more than superficial rhetoric and tepid commitments. They need to believe that they are as important to the city as are the sports stadiums and gambling casinos. They need to feel valued and treated as if they have unlimited potential by highly functioning and nurturing families; safe, effective and excellent schools; benign, caring, and generous corporate partners and a police department that has not locked arms against them, or that views their development and growth with hostility. So, unless critical, long-term corrective measures are developed and implemented … then not only will their lives and future remain in jeopardy, but the quality of life for every citizen living in metropolitan Baltimore will be adversely affected. Enough is enough!"

This made me ask, as a business leader: How can we help? What's within our reach?

We can be "benign, caring and generous corporate partners." And in that role, we should help make schools and education safer, excellent and more effective for our young men, who face tremendous obstacles navigating the American education system.

The STEM economy — one of the fastest growing employment fields for the rest of America — is largely closed to our minority men. Minorities are less likely than Caucasians to pursue college. Only about 6 percent of African-American men earn science or engineering bachelor's degrees; in 2010, African-American men made up only 3 percent of scientists and engineers.

We can't let this continue. We in corporate America must support education programs that provide direction, vision and skills relevant to our community's needs, grounded in the experiences and hopes of our students; education programs in technology that help African-American men achieve success in school today and in the jobs of tomorrow.

After reading Mr. Rowe's comments, I realized that we were on the right track, but we need company: other businesses and agencies willing to collaborate on scalable programs giving minority men hands-on technology experience they would never otherwise have access to at their young age, opening their eyes to STEM career possibilities they might never have considered — including college, high paying careers and the chance to be their own bosses one day.

When you walk into a classroom of young minority men engaged in programs like this, it's extraordinarily exciting. You feel energy, focused and pure. You hear voices that are expectant, infused with the hope that comes from possibility. It's critically important that these young men don't fail. And, in American business, it is our urgent obligation to take the lead. It's what must be done to ensure that minority men begin to reach their full potential and have the chance for a brighter future.

Rose Stuckey Kirk is chief corporate responsibility officer for Verizon. Her email is Rosekirk@verizon.com.