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LOCAL News :: Baltimore MD : Education

From Youth Offer Dixon an Opportunity to Act

All eyes are on Mayor Sheila Dixon and the group of young people known as Peer-to-Peer Enterprises following the suspension of the student hunger strike. The strike went on for 5 days before the mayor agreed to sit down and discuss the students’ $3 million demand. In a bold move, the city council then called off the budget vote Wednesday night—buying some time and possibly signifying that the mayor and the council may now understand the importance of what could be the most revolutionary development in youth employment programs to date.

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The first step to weighing the importance of the Peer-to-Peer Enterprises is understanding how it is different from existing youth employment models. Both the media and the mayor’s office just can’t seem to get it right.

Peer-to-Peer is not one youth group, it is a coalition of youth groups who want to work together and share resources to provide 700 – 1000 new youth jobs. It is not an after school or summer program either. It is a plan for year round youth employment in a knowledge-based economy. That means that these jobs are not at McDonald’s or Target or some obscure telemarketing company; they are mentoring and tutoring jobs in which young people share knowledge and skills with other young people who learn and become tutors and mentors themselves. What better investment could this city make in its youth. These are jobs that also allow young people to improve the quality of their own education while they earn.

Mayor Dixon has put 14 million dollars into youth programs for the year and says there just isn’t any more money, but do her programs even come close to accomplishing what Peer-to-Peer has proposed? At the Mayor’s Night In on June 2nd, Dixon invited youth leaders and adults to come discuss “Youth/Adult Partnership for Community Development”. The result of these discussions was overwhelming support for the Peer-to-Peer proposal, but this isn’t the outcome the mayor had anticipated. Ironically “Youth/Adult Partnership Engagement for Community Development” (Mayor Dixon’s Term) is exactly what these young people are doing, and they seem to be much better at it than the mayor herself.

Some have argued that the Mayor can’t just give in and turn over $3 million to these young people, because it would show weakness and wouldn’t sit well with investors, but there is another way to look at it. When one considers the amount of money that certain foundations and non-profits have dumped into many of these youth initiatives to realize new groundbreaking solutions to the challenges that they are up against, the city’s refusal to invest the same is outright offensive.

Those of us who care deeply for Baltimore’s youth and their ability to secure a future for themselves can only hope that the Mayor’s interest in working with them to empower themselves is sincere. By postponing the budget vote, the City Council has handed Mayor Dixon an opportunity to begin building a legacy of hope for young people and set an example for cities across the country. Lets hope she takes it.

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