Louisville and MBK: Building on What Works

By Greg Fischer, Mayor of Louisville, KY

President Barack Obama describes the mission of My Brother’s Keeper very simply: “Helping more of our young people stay on track. Providing the support they need to think more broadly about their future. Building on what works…”

My city eagerly signed on for the MBK Community Challenge in 2014 because its mission, its goals — and its struggle — match our own.

As in communities throughout the nation, too many young men and boys of color in Louisville are on a tragic path destined for violence or incarceration or both. Too many drop out of school, or are suspended.

Hoping to help light a different path, my administration in 2013 created the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, which works with community partners to reduce the number of homicides, suicides and drug overdoses in our city.

We joined the MBK challenge a year later, and have found its milestones overlap with work we are doing, including initiatives like One Love Louisville and Cradle to Career.

One Love Louisville encourages all citizens to “Be the One to Make a Difference,” to take personal responsibility for helping make Louisville safer, by mentoring those who need it. The work that MBK does around mentoring is helping us frame that effort.

An important piece of One Love Louisville is our Zones of Hope, a place-based strategy designed to create better outcomes for young men and boys in five poor, predominately African American neighborhoods. One success is a program called “Coding at the Beech” – a 12-week class that teaches HTML, CSS and JavaScript to high schoolers who live in a local public housing complex.

Some of those students put their skills to use immediately by starting their own web services company, which had 25 client projects in the first few months. That’s success we can share.

Cradle to Career, meanwhile, focuses on identifying key barriers to success at four stops in the education to workforce pipeline: Kindergarten Readiness, K-12 Success, Postsecondary Success, and 21st Century Workforce.

We know the workforce of the future will require some form of post-high school education or training. But too many of our children aren’t even ready for kindergarten. They’ve grown up in environments where they’ve not been spoken or read to as much as their peers. That’s a disadvantage that can follow them into adulthood.

Cradle to Career’s community partners identify those challenges and then coordinate with educators, parents, health and social service providers to make sure kids’ basic needs are met so they can focus on learning.

So what are our biggest lessons learned so far as we partner with MBK to help our young people start on the right track and stay there?

First, government has tremendous convening power, but cannot fix everything. We need community partners to tackle what can seem like intractable challenges.

Second, the first step in creating those partnerships is to establish an honest, respectful, two-way dialogue with people who live, work and learn in our most troubled neighborhoods.

We are proud to embrace MBK and to receive guidance from the MBK Alliance to help us in this critical journey. We look forward to participating in MBKA webinars and other opportunities to share best practices with communities across the nation and strengthen our efforts in Louisville.