New possibility for at-risk teens

Students work on video project in Toyota Connections program

Students work on video project in Toyota Connections program.

Toyota, Urban League connect to teens

through technology, peace building

BOND HILL – The bullet hole in the window and gouge in the drywall where police removed a slug are reminders of the world outside for these 11 teen-agers.

So is the roll call of names of friends who’ve died in gunfire in recent weeks on Cincinnati streets: Nathaniel Scott Jr., 15 … Robin Pearl, 18 … Justin Crutchfield, 18.

The 11 Cincinnati high school students comprise the summer Toyota Making Connections class, co-sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Urban League and City of Cincinnati, at Woodward Career Technical High School. For two hours a day, they are learning advanced technology – circuitry, programming, 3-dimensional printing, milling machines – before switching gears for another two hours of peace-building and job-readiness training.

These 11 teens are among the 265 employed through the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s Summer Youth Employment program, paid for by a city grant. This particular group of students meets downstairs at Woodward, adjacent to its advanced manufacturing lab, before walking upstairs for peace building in the school’s media center. It’s there they see the remnants of a recent shooting spree, including a window pane so badly shattered that it has been replaced by plywood.

“Everyone in the community I live in,” said 17-year-old Niehah Alfqaha of Avondale, one of the 11, “we know we’re not going to see 20. Everybody’s just trying to get some money. That’s why all the shooting’s happening. Once I’m done here, I go straight home. I’m paranoid. A bullet ain’t got no eyes. No one hesitates to shoot.

“It’s by the grace of God I’m still alive.”

Through June 20, Cincinnati had experienced 36 homicides, compared to 37 in the same period in 2014. Shooting victims, however, are up 29.1 percent, from 165 in 2014 to 213 this year, according to Cincinnati Police data.

Still, against such odds, these 11 students work this summer for their futures, making plans that now include the possibility of engineering or technology.

Toyota commits resources

The relationship between Woodward and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing, Erlanger, Ky., dates to 2012, when engineer Andy Inman of its Maintenance, Standards & Parts staff started to mentor students.

Earlier this year, Inman worked with his division leadership team to develop the Woodward Summer Intern Technician Program. The goal is to show students a real-world application of how an idea can start simply but evolve in a few weeks into a problem-solving method. Up to five Toyota employees, including classroom teacher David Ford, an engineer, are on site at Woodward each day.

What started June 2 will culminate July 9 with the presentation of T-shirts and a group photo and July 10 with a brunch and graduation ceremony at Woodward.

For Niehah, who will attend Woodward or Hughes STEM High School – a science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum – the Making Connections program has “introduced me to a new world. … Most of us are now considering doing something with engineering.”

She has experience hanging drywall and doing electrical work through the Lawn Life youth employment program. Niehah plans to attend Cincinnati State Technical and Community College to study project management and construction.

She and her classmates are currently working in teams designated as lights, sound and motion to develop a video that combines the various technologies they’ve studied this summer.

Kish Richardson, 15, of Golf Manor, who will be a junior at Walnut Hills High School, worked this week on motion for the video. He plans to attend Ohio State University for a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before going to Harvard Law School. He wants to be a merger-and-acquisitions lawyer.

“It has opened me up to a new experience,” Kish said of the program.

`We’re not all ‘hood rats’

The Greater Cincinnati Urban League is providing the site coordinator, Deborah Brock-Blanks, as well as travel expenses and students’ hourly wage, part of the summer youth employment program the local league runs through the City of Cincinnati grant.

In conjunction with Toyota, Woodward is a summer worksite for these 11 students, who earn $8.10 an hour. The peace-building curriculum comes through the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s Community Police Partnering Center – created as part of the 2002 Collaborative Agreement – that provides resources and techniques for community residents and the police to work together to solve neighborhood crime problems. Peace building, once its own program, has evolved into a philosophy that the local Urban League uses in all of its youth programs.

“This program has broadened their perception of themselves,” Brock-Blanks said. “They see themselves as more capable and able to take a more optimistic view of their lives. They think they are terribly at risk and are trying to stay out of the way.

“We have seen more personal responsibility emerge. You see leadership and a self-management coming out.”

Ramelo Robinson, 17, of Elmwood Place, who will be an Aiken High School junior, plans on being a nurse but has enjoyed the technology-peace building program more than he had anticipated.

More than engineering, he has learned about himself. “I have a lot of self-respect,” Ramelo said. “I know I can make my neighborhood better. I can talk to people. I can keep the streets clean. I can’t stop all the drugs, but maybe I can steer some young folks in a more positive direction.”

He works 21-25 hours a week, usually 5 p.m. to midnight, at the McDonald’s restaurant in Walnut Hills. Yet despite his work ethic, ambition and productive summer, he says he knows that many outsiders view him and his classmates through a lens fogged with negative stereotypes.

“We have unique thoughts and emotions,” Ramelo said. “We’re not all ‘hood rats.”

Citizens speak; Blackwell listens

Jeffrey Blackwell

AVONDALE — An audience of more than 100 citizens — not counting a dozen police officers and handful of elected officials — squeezed into the Urban League of Southwestern Ohio’s Community Room on Friday morning to give Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell their solutions to the city’s recent spate of gun violence.

Blackwell had listened in a meeting Thursday night at New Prospect Baptist Church, Roselawn.

As of May 24, 162 were injured this year by gunfire, more shooting victims than within that time frame than at any time in the previous 10 years, according to a report presented to City Council. And as of May 30, the city had experienced 30 homicides, compared to 33 during the same period in 2014, according to Cincinnati Police data.

“Shootings are up 25 percent. Homicides are down 10 percent,” Blackwell said in brief opening remarks.

Some members of council have criticized Blackwell for the city’s violence, and The Cincinnati Enquirer reported in late May that Blackwell had been handed resignation papers, which he refused to sign. He has received many votes of confidence from citizen and organizations.

On Friday morning, during the two-hour meeting, citizens were split into several small groups and instructed to come up with three solutions to the root causes of ongoing violence, especially experience in the city’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods — primarily Avondale and Walnut Hills in recent weeks.

Citizens presented several ideas — which were written on notecards and handed to Blackwell’s staff members. Themes centered on illegal gun control, job creation, better parenting of children, and better communication and collaboration between city services.

“This is not a Chief Blackwell issue. It’s a community issue,” said Tracie Hunter, Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge and Westwood church pastor.

Other community members offered various proposals: Make the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) more effective or get rid of it. Curb access to violent video games in which youths are desensitized to gun play involving police officers. Create a scared straight-type of program that would take young people to emergency rooms, prisons and the morgue to witness first hand the effects of gun violence. Community meetings such as those held Thursday night and Friday need to be a consistent happening, addressing concerns and celebrating successes.

Jobs and economic conditions came up repeatedly.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday that the nation’s unemployment rate stood at 5.5 percent, yet it is double that among African-Americans.

“We know that 1 percent of people commit 85 percent of crime,” said DeAnna Hoskins, director of Hamilton County’s reentry program, which helps returning citizens remove barriers to employment. “We have to give them a reason to put guns down. We have pushed individuals into violent crime. We have to change the culture. Reentry is not a program. It is a process.”

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation of Corrections released more than 21,000 prisoners in calendar year 2012, not counting inmates under local transitional control, such as parole and probation. That year, 1,940 prisoners from Hamilton County came home, in addition to another 1,203 from adjacent Butler, Clermont and Warren counties.

The Urban League specialty

The Urban League — nationally and in Greater Cincinnati — is the industry leader in job-readiness programs that help graduates find and maintain employment and advance on career tracks.

As a recipient of Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley’s Hand Up Initiative grant, the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio is offering an additional 11 SOAR classes in different neighborhoods. The initial three-week course — co-sponsored by the Uptown Consortium — will begin June 15 at the Hampton Inn in Corryville. Courses during the next year will be held in several neighborhoods: Madisonville, East Price Hill, CUF, and Mount Auburn. These classes also will provide, for the first time, customer service certification from the National Retail Federation.

SOAR stands for Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention, and recent graduates found work that paid an average of nearly $22,000 in the first year. Many SOAR graduates move into the League’s Construction Connections program — which offers several construction certifications, including heavy equipment operation.

The Urban League’s call center training program – Accelerated Call Center Education (ACE) – led 2014 graduates to jobs that paid an average of $11 an hour. From 2010 through 2014, the Urban League in Cincinnati welcomed 12,000 participants through its doors into its workforce, youth, small business and women’s business programs.

Community, police find solutions In addition to leading in job-readiness programs, the Greater Cincinnati Urban League houses the Partnering Center. Created as part of the city’s groundbreaking Collaborative Agreement of 2002, now seen as a national model, the center brings residents, business leaders and police together to develop solutions to neighborhood crime problems, said Dorothy Smoot, executive director of the center and the local Urban League’s director of programs.

The Collaborate Agreement resulted from months of long negotiations that came on the heels of a police shooting of an unarmed black man, Timothy Thomas, in April 2001 in Over-the-Rhine. Days of civil unrest and a declaration of martial law followed.

“Cincinnati has a more accountable and transparent policing process in 2015 that makes the community partners in keeping it safe,” Smoot said Friday morning.

Community meetings involving police are planned for later June in Avondale and East Price Hill, Smoot said, meetings that will make use of the process known as SARA — scanning, analyzing, responding and accessing.

“Neither Chief Blackwell nor the police can do it by themselves,” Smoot said. “We have shown that when the community is an engaged partner in public safety that crime goes down.”

Avondale, Bond Hill, Corryville, Madisonville and Northside are Cincinnati neighborhoods within the past decade that have successfully employed the Partnering Center and the SARA process to develop successful solutions to crime problems.

State Sen. Cecil Thomas, a Democrat who represents District 9 in Hamilton County, attended the session and said Cincinnati has a process to involving citizens and police to reduce crime problems.

“This is part of that foundation,” said Thomas, a long-time Cincinnati Police officer.

For his part, Blackwell — though he faced a weekend of writing a 90-day plan to reduce violence, due to City Manager Harry Black on Monday — said he was enthused by community response during a tense week.

“This (meeting) demonstrates how much love this community has for each other,” he said in closing remarks. “It’s not about me. It’s about us. A negative has been turned into a positive. “Violence is not as high here as in other cities. I’m encouraged that this city is going to get this under control.”

Information on ACE, SOAR, Construction Connections and the League’s other workforce, youth and economic development programs is available on this Website or by calling (513) 281-9955.

These Companies are Transformational Supporters of the Urban League’s Corporate Heritage Annual Giving Program.