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Cedric Washington, a core member of My Brother’s Keeper Lake County

Taking a cradle to career approach for boys and young men of color

Contributed By: The 411 News

My Brother's Keeper on the horizon in Lake County

Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter and Dr. Danita Johnson-Woods, CEO Edgewater Health, center, at the announcement of My Brother’s Keeper.

Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter has the title of champion for My Brother’s Keeper Lake County, an initiative seeking to improve the lives of boys and young men of color in northwest Indiana.

Carter picked up that title from the board room at Edgewater Health, where the initiative began to take shape nearly 9 months ago.

MBK Lake County is a member of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, a national effort formed by President Barak Obama to address opportunity gaps that exist for boys and young men of color. It’s at the community level, the Alliance contends, where changes can be made.

“We’re coming up on our 50th anniversary,” Edgewater CEO Dr. Danita Johnson-Woods said Tuesday morning, April 9th, to a gathering of Lake County leaders who have signaled they were ready to join My Brother’s Keeper, to help provide more opportunities and make a difference in the lives of these boys and men.

“In our next 50 years, we want to impact children, help them grow and have a positive life,” Johnson-Woods said.

“It has always been my desire to have something like this,” said Carter, who has never been shy in pointing out that the majority of inmates in the Juvenile Detention Center and Lake County Jail are boys and young men of color. Much of the reason for that, he says, is the absence of a father in their lives.

“When you have a 13 year-old out at two in the morning with a handgun, there’s a failure in that family. It shows a father was not there to guide and direct him,” Carter said.

Throughout his career as prosecutor, Carter has repeated this message in schools, churches, and other arenas, that the odds were against boys and young men for a successful and productive life once they enter the criminal justice system.

“By establishing an MBK county-wide presence, we can create a network of support and mentorship that can help these young men navigate these challenges and realize their dreams,” Prosecutor Carter said.

Six milestones guide MBK’s cradle to career approach. Starting out, children should enter school ready to learn. They should be reading at grade level by the 3rd grade. They should graduate from high school. They should complete education or training after high school. All youth out of school should be employed. All youth should be safe from violent crime.

MBK is not trying to reinvent the wheel, said Dr. Karen Bishop-Morris, vice chair of the MBK Leadership Forum. “We are not creating any startups to provide direct services. We are not starting a mentoring program. We want to support those organizations already doing the work, by facilitating collaborations and establishing connections.”

Dr. Steve Simpson, a retired pediatrician and founder of the Gary Literacy Coalition, has taken the lead role in MBK’s early learning and literacy milestones. For nearly 24 years, the GLC has put books in homes where there are children, from 6 months to 6 years old.

In his overview of today’s education landscape, Simpson said the 2024 Indiana legislative session provides some directions for MBK Lake County.

Senate Bill 2 adds funds to increase the number of seats in early childhood learning centers and it pays teachers to learn additional instructional methods to teach reading, while also setting goals for 3rd grade reading levels. Third grade students who don’t pass Indiana’s I-Read test will have to repeat the grade.

“My concern is getting the funds to where the problems are,” Simpson said. “School corporations in Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, Whiting, Lake Ridge, Merrillville, and Crown Point need access to those funds.”

Evidence is needed that daycare centers certified as early learning centers are meeting their reading goals, Simpson said. “We have the Geminus organization that is supposed to certify early learning centers. But no one follows up on that to say whether or not they met the requirements.”

Jose ‘Lupe’ Valtierra, of the Lake County Purdue Cooperative Extension, hosted the meeting and is MBK’s lead on employment for youth after high school.

“As a community, we have already been doing this work. We have been effective in many cases and ineffective in many more cases,” Valtierra said. “Since the family and youth are at the center of our efforts, we need to hold each other to task, make each other stronger so we can help them.”

For this milestone, MBK will find employers who can work with schools to ensure curriculums prepare students to be work-ready. MBK will find employers who can provide life skills to help young men become productive members of society.

“This requires being methodical and focused,” said Valtierra. “We can’t have 27 different things going on by 27 different organizations.”

Cedric Washington’s mentoring program, NERD (Nurturing Education Rewarding Determination) Youth Services, is a partner in MBK Lake County. “Mentoring is not just for youth in single-parent or broken homes or youth in volatile situations. It’s about how teenage boys develop themselves into young men.”

His program is in operation at Lake Ridge’s Calumet New Tech High School and Aspire Charter Academy in Gary.

MBK Lake County core members Lupe Valtierra, l-r, Dr. Karen Bishop-Morris, and Roy Hamilton

MBK Lake County core members Indiana State Police Major Jerry Williams, left, and Dr. Steve Simpson

Story Posted:04/14/2024

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