Fort Wayne accepts White House challenge

File Photo. Downtown Fort Wayne.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The city of Fort Wayne is one of a hundred communities that has accepted a challenge from President Obama. Back in February, President Obama launched the “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative. The program works to help minority boys and men overcome barriers and achieve success.

“It’s not unusual for me at a delinquency hearing to open a file and see a defendant reading at a third grade level when he is 16,” Judge Daniel Heath of the Allen County Superior Court said.

Heath said there are about 80 kids in the Allen County Juvenile Detention Center. Most of them are boys, and almost 40 percent of the youth are minorities. It’s similar statistics across the country that the President hopes to lower with the initiative.

“A lot of young African-American males are dying in our streets, goodness some 45 murders in our city last year, and the vast majority of those were young black males,” Heath said. “In most cases, they had come through our juvenile center at some point.”

Mayors, county officials and tribal leaders were called to accept the challenge. The initiative includes goals such as making sure children enter school cognitively, physically, socially, and emotionally prepared; read at grade level by third grade; graduate from high school; complete post-secondary education or training; become employed; and are kept safe from violent crime.

“All of those goals are very laudable,” Heath said. “They take a lot of work, they take a lot of collaboration, and I think the President recognizes that.”

Communities have 45 days after signing up to decide which and how many of the goals they want to tackle. Then, they have six months to make a plan, and the government will help provide resources. John Perlich with the Mayor’s Office released a statement saying “As we continue to enhance the quality of life in our community, it’s important that our youth experience that success as well, so that families in Fort Wayne become stronger and our neighborhoods become more connected.”

However, some city leaders said there are lots of programs already in our community that align with the “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative. For example, the Allen County Juvenile Detention Center started a program called “Bright Star” that aids young parents that come through the paternity court. It provides them with resources to help develop their young child in order to prepare them to enter grade school. Leaders with the Urban League also said the initiative mimics programs they have in place, so they are hopeful the new goals will have a positive impact.

“An initiative like this if you can do anything that provides hope, a living wage job, these are some of the things that alleviates some of the stress, some of the down time for some of these young men have,” John Foster, the Director of Youth Services at the Fort Wayne Urban League, said.

The city will be releasing more information on its role in the initiative Wednesday. Also, Fort Wayne already has a “My Brother’s Keeper” program. It is not related yet, but organizers said they are making every effort to connect the two programs.

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