Ike Griffith directs the City of Memphis Office of Youth Services, which operates the MPLOY Summer Youth Experience - now cancelled for 2020. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

by Ike Griffith, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Memphis youth is one of Mayor Jim Strickland’s top priorities since the beginning of his administration. During the Mayor’s first term, summer employment for youth grew from 1,000 to 1,750 (a 75 percent increase) for the MPLOY Summer Experience Program that lasts six weeks during the summer.

Additionally, MAP (Memphis Ambassadors Program), the Memphis Office of Youth Services’ year-round program, has increased from 330 to 500 youth. The MPLOY and the MAP programs compensate our youth and are designed to prepare students in becoming productive individuals in society.

We have 40,000 youth in our city living in households earning less than $10,000 a year and the efforts of MPLOY and MAP aren’t enough to solve this financial ill. This can’t be a burden on City Government alone. There is an urgent need for businesses and the faith-based communities to unify with City Government to support the youth of Memphis to resolve this dilemma.

In December 2018, the Memphis Office of Youth Services held its registration period for summer employment. Ten thousand (10,000) Memphis youth registered for 1,750 jobs that will be funded by the city. Consequently, 8,250 Memphis youth who desire to work won’t be afforded the opportunity.

We must invest in our youth and realize the urgency to provide summer employment for our youth. We want our children to return home after graduating from college to work and live, but that won’t happen if we fail to support them at this stage of their lives.

Other city youth programs employ 15,000, 18,000 and more. In Chicago, 24,000 employed youth contribute over 2,585,734 hours to Chicago’s social and economic progress. This is done by businesses and faith-based communities hiring and compensating their youth over the summer months.

We can’t expect any other entity to provide employment opportunities other than Memphis. This process isn’t rocket science; just know it does take a village and sacrifice.

Memphis, can’t we do the same for our youth for (only) six weeks?

Are we Memphis strong or Memphis weak in supporting our youth?

Having many Fortune 500 companies and a hefty faith-based community in our city, are we going to allow 8,250 youth with the desire to work remain idle during the summer?

If the answer to this question is yes, then stop complaining about the youth of our city. Memphis, I admonish you to accept the challenge to at least match Mayor Strickland’s youth summer employment commitment of 1,750.

Let’s make a difference in the lives of our youth! We are Memphis with a mission! We are Memphis STRONG!

(Ike Griffith directs the City of Memphis Office of Youth Services.)