Photos by Keeley Smith.
Embracing the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) challenge began as a mere agenda item, pushed through Long Beach City Council by councilmembers Rex Richardson, Lena Gonzalez, Roberto Uranga and Al Austin as a means to close achievement gaps faced by Long Beach’s youth and eradicate violence at its root.
Now it appears to be a fully matured movement.
At its launching ceremony last week, the likes of Mayor Robert Garcia and Molina Healthcare’s John Molina mingled alongside the White House’s Elias Alcantara and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Theron Pride, each elaborating on the program’s importance and the plight of urban youth (with notable opportunity gaps, chiefly among young men of color), throughout the country.
“Why do we accept this challenge?” asked Garcia. “We almost always say yes to challenges. We are a ‘yes city’ on President’s initiatives and challenges. We have a responsibility to help all people in the community.”
“Our participation was inspired by how unique Long Beach is to handle challenges,” said Richardson. “We wanted a smart plan. We’re proud that at each milestone, we’ve worked hard.”
Alcantara emphasized the plan’s focus on “evidence-based approaches.”
“The president is focused on data,” he said, indicating the data applies to all 200 participating communities.
The finalized plan focuses on solutions to six key areas meant to measurably reduce youth violence by 2020, as recommended by the Obama administration:
- Ensure that Long Beach youth are physically and mentally prepared to start school | Creating a Long Beach home visitation collaborative, universal pre-school and establishing a citywide early childhood education plan.
- Read at grade level by the third grade | Continue the Long Beach campaign for grade level reading, LBUSD local control accountability plan and begin to implement reading partners and literacy mentors.
- Graduate from high school | Continue Long Beach College Promise and LBUSD “All In” Campaign; Begin mentoring programs aimed at improving graduation rates, especially among young men of color.
- Complete post-secondary education or training | Continue LBCC Programs, the Student Success Plan, Promise Pathways, Associate Degrees for Transfer and CSULB minority retention programs; Create coordinate infrastructure for youth training programs and opportunities.
- Successfully enter the workforce | Continue Mayor Robert Garcia’s Long Beach Internship Challenge and the Youth Jobs Program; Create coordinated infrastructure for youth training programs and opportunities and Long Beach First, focusing on locally sourcing new hires.
- Remain safe from violent crime | Continue restorative justice programs (adopted in October 2014); begin Promising Adults, Tomorrow’s Hope (PATH), and initiating comprehensive juvenile detention reform.
While the White House launched MBK in February 2014, Long Beach was required to take part in multiple steps in order to fully develop and implement the plan outlined for 2016.
The official plan alludes to Long Beach’s status as one of the most diverse cities in the country, making it a prime community for the MBK challenge. Fitting within the Safe Long Beach framework, for which the city received additional grants meant to tackle youth violence prevention last year, the city joined MBK in January of 2015, participating in a Local Action Summit that May. From last July until February of this year, the MBK Task Force has conducted meetings to organize a comprehensive plan.
The task force will evolve into the MBK Advisory Council over time, working with Safe Long Beach to “ensure ongoing police and strategic alignment, as well as facilitate direct lines of communication to the Director of Development Services, the City Manager,” according to the plan.
Full implementation to the plan is set to occur in approximately 90 days, with a focus on youth of color and especially regarding specific subgroups, including LGBTQ, Cambodian and undocumented youth.
“Youth violence is not inevitable […] it is preventable,” said Pride at the launch. “Do not give up. Thank you for what you are doing.”
Richardson summarized the plan’s intent in a statement forwarded by the city.
“The City’s commitment to President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative brings together every corner of our City to harness the success of young people from cradle to career,” said Richardson in a statement. “This collaborative process builds on the many existing programs and services the City offers to create more opportunities for young boys and men of color.”