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Political News in Virginia

Majority Black City Mayors Take Lead In Helping At-Risk Children

By Rosaland Tyler

Associate Editor

New Journal and Guide

Black mayors in several cities are creating opportunities that will help more at-risk youngsters climb the ladder of success.

For example, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recently rolled up her sleeves and sponsored a mentoring program. For one day she put 25 girls from Baltimore high schools with influential women in the city; Rawlings-Blake told the girls to “take a deep breath and exhale,” according to The Baltimore Sun. The mayor said she offered the advice because after she shook hands at age 14 with the famed civil rights leader Juanita Jackson Mitchell, it changed her life.

“That was the most powerful handshake,” Rawlings-Blake recently said, in the Baltimore Sun. “She said something to the effect of ‘I can see you being a lawyer.’ Her seeing that in me meant something to me. I still remember that to this day.”

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The Baltimore mayor also recently held an anti-crime forum with a cross-section of city leaders, who met with the mayor at Empowerment Temple AME Church which the Rev. Jamal Bryant pastors (the city’s murder rate climbed to 211 last year).

Other efforts are closer to home.

In Portsmouth, Mayor Kenny Wright said the city recently purchased the Old Frederick Military Academy, a former prep school in Portsmouth. The facility could solve several pressing problems for at-risk youth.

“There is a lack of programs and community centers in Portsmouth,” Wright said. “We are losing our children from about 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The old Frederick Military Academy has a gym, pool, meeting rooms, shops for learning.”

Records show the Frederick Military Center was a prep school that opened in 1958 and closed in 1985. Wright said, “It was a huge acquisition that cost about $4 million. We are talking to civic leagues and various groups asking, ‘What do you guys want us to do?’ There is one pool in this city. It is in Cavalier Manor. It is sad.”

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“There are nearly 15,000 students in our schools,” Wright said. “We need recreation centers, mentors, other programs, and services. I have talked to sororities and fraternities about holding male development conferences. They have been magnificent. The problem is huge.”

“But we need facilities,” Wright said. “You can’t teach conflict resolution, anti-bullying, and the dangers of teen sexuality until you create a cool place for them to come and enjoy themselves. This is the goal.”

“We want to mix learning and playing together,” Wright said. “There has to be a happy medium. Otherwise you have an increase in crime and other problems.”

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Across the bridge in Newport News, Mayor McKinley L. Price is helping more at-risk youngsters there climb the ladder of success.

For example, the Summer Program for Arts, Recreation and Knowledge is a new pilot program that will serve 2,000 students who live south of Mercury Boulevard. SPARK, as the free-summer-pilot program is called will help youngsters master the basics in the morning. In the afternoon, youngsters will choose from an array of activities ranging from art and sports to field trips and technology activities.

“This is the first year for SPARK,” Price said of the program that will run for six weeks during July and August from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. “Flyers are going home to each student. You can register online. There are no tuition costs.” Free transportation and three meals a day will be provided.

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While the Newport News School Board recently said the price tag for the pilot program will be $2 million, which will come from school funds, according to the Daily Press, the pilot project is also included in next year’s school budget which contains $500,000 more in spending for the summer program, and a $3 million total contribution from the city.

The point is that 20 percent of the funds for the pilot program (or $200,000), will come from a $1.1 million plan Price proposed and helped to pass while he was a council member. This means McKinley was a council member when he targeted youth violence.

Now, he is the mayor. Still concerned about helping at-risk youth, he said, “This youth violence thing is a passion of mine.”

Elected mayor in 2010 and serving his second term which ends in 2018, Price said, “We have a lot going on.”

For example, an anti-crime program has operated for three years in Newport News. “Three street coordinators (males) knock on doors and target young people in gangs or those who have the potential to become gang members,” he said.

“Some who work in the program have been in street gangs themselves. Whatever a student needs, we try to provide it such as housing, grades, health service, etc. We try to meet the need.”

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So what is the impact? “The crime rate is down but we still have too much violence,” Price said. “We have already had 10 murders this year. In this program we try to teach many skills including conflict resolution. The police and people in the community work together. The goal is to build relationships with young people.”

This means some of the impact is measurable. Some of it is not. “But, I think if you save one kid from a violent tragedy then it is worth it,” Price said.

The third part of the puzzle is to help more young adults become part of the political process, said Price who is the brother of Congressman Bobby Scott. His daughter Marcia Price is the only Democrat who is running in the 95th District, a seat that is held by Del. Mamye BaCote, who is retiring.

“But we have had trouble getting young people involved in government,” Price explained. “I think many question if it is worth it. That has spilled over to a lack of voting but we need to get these young people involved. We are trying to help more get involved.”

Meanwhile, Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones decided to help at-risk youth by launching The Mayor’s Youth Academy in 2010. Applications are now being accepted, according to the academy’s website. Last year, the academy served about 450 youth.

The academy seems to be making an impact. For example, about 89 percent of the academy’s graduates went on to attend two-or four year colleges. And 21 apprentices from the academy received certificates for completing 10 hours of training at the 4H Health Rocks Institute.

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In 2014, 22 academy members earned three college credits in the ECPI University Technology summer program and also received a new mini i-Pad. In 2014, MYA provided transportation and job training for 40 youth employed by Kings Dominion. In 2014, 22 teens participated in the academy’s pilot STEM program.

For more information regarding this youth summer employment opportunity, please contact the MYA office at (804) 646-7480 or visit www.RichmondGov.com.

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