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Did you know that nearly 40% of Milwaukee’s residents are under 24? This generation is literally the future of our city and yet we have systematically underinvested in our youth.
The Wisconsin Public Policy Forum’s report on funding for youth development in Milwaukee, commissioned by Beyond the Bell in 2017, cited the lack of local investment in youth programming. The $394.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds received by the City of Milwaukee represent a historic opportunity to make BOLD investments in youths’ physical, mental and social-emotional health as part of our city’s equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and historic levels of violence.
Milwaukee’s youths have been significantly impacted by COVID-19 and continue to be highly vulnerable to the persistent challenges of interpersonal, community and systemic violence. Our youths’ needs and interests have been well documented over the years in the various neighborhood, city, county and community-academic plans*.
Our city has many individuals and organizations doing outstanding work to advance the health, well-being and long-term success of our youth. Unfortunately, many of these programs and services are under-resourced. Additionally, the pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on the staffing and capacity of these programs at a time when our city needs them the most.
We acknowledge the mayoral recommendations of $3.8 million toward summer jobs for youths and $1 million for racial equity training and equity data collection. However, there needs to be a stronger commitment by the city to investments in youth engagement and violence prevention.
We need the City of Milwaukee to commit to:
1. Prioritizing youth in all ARPA allocations, annual budgeting and city planning
2. Making an immediate investment of $30 million of ARPA funds to provide adequate funding and resources to scale youth-focused strategies commonly identified in the above-referenced plans, such as:
- Comprehensive mental, spiritual and physical health from birth to early adulthood
- Increased access to information about youth activities around the city
- Positive youth development, recreation and sports programs
- Year-round internships, job training, and employment at a living wage
- Neighborhood-based arts, culture, and civic engagement/social justice-based opportunities
- Creating networks of mentoring and focused culturally responsive youth socialization opportunities, and strengthening the quality and access of these opportunities
- Coordinated action to connect youth to driver’s education, swim lessons and financial planning tools.
Keys to the success of this investment are the following elements:
- Recognition that a majority-minority population and a seriously segregated city require that racial equity leads all investment.
- Work with the community, Milwaukee County, Milwaukee Public Schools, the State of Wisconsin, local foundations and other stakeholders to create and strengthen scalable solutions.
- Create a set of outcomes for youth development that all stakeholders are invested in and that are publicly reported on over time to ensure that investments are understood, monitored and clearly linked to outcomes and success.
- Adequately fund and staff a coordinating body such as Beyond the Bell to support this citywide investment.
We represent organizations and individuals brought together by Beyond the Bell Milwaukee, and we have a shared commitment to the city’s young people. We hold the belief that the needs and interests of Milwaukee’s youths must be a top priority for the City of Milwaukee as we work to recover from one of the worst global pandemics in modern history.
We call on city leaders to act now on behalf of children and youth in our city with an immediate investment of $30 million dollars of ARPA funding. We invite Milwaukee youths, other residents, youth development providers, and community leaders to join this advocacy campaign by signing this letter.
Terry Murphy and John Rakowski are co-chairs of Beyond the Bell’s policy working group.
*Plans including but not limited to Milwaukee’s Blueprint for Peace, Milwaukee’s My Brother’s Keeper Action Plan, Medical College of Wisconsin’s Violence Prevention Initiative, Amani, Metcalfe Park, Muskego Way, Lindsay Heights, Layton Boulevard West and Clarke Square Neighborhood Plans (funded by Northwestern Mutual Foundation and Zilber Family Foundation).